FiveGrammygongs, but Beyoncé missed the big one
All the breathless reports from this year Grammy Awards have it that Beyoncé Knowles was the biggest winner on the night. Beyoncé won six awards, a new record for most wins by a female performer, and she has been duly anointed “Queen of the Grammys”.
What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty. Beyoncé wasn’t the biggest winner on the night – that was a 21-year-old woman who could probably walk down Grafton Street without being recognised. But Beyoncé takes good picture, and in today’s media that’s enough to distort the real story.
Now, nothing against Beyoncé. She’s an amazing singer, a fantastic performer (her live shows are world-class) and nowhere near as inane and vacuous as so many of her contemporaries. Granted, all the “Thank you Jesus for blessing me with such talent” is more than a bit off-putting. But looking at the bigger Beyoncé picture, that’s not a deal-breaker.
Let’s look at what Beyoncé actually won last Sunday night: gongs for Song of the Year, Best Female Pop Performance, Best Female R’n’B Performance, Best R’n’B Song and Best Contemporary R’n’B Album. Some of those are duplicate awards: in today’s music there’s not that much difference between Best Pop Performance and Best R’n’B Performance . The same goes for Song of the Year and Best R’n’B song.
Beyoncé was given all these awards for her work on I Am . . . Sasha Fierce, so you’d think the album would be a shoo-in for the all-important Grammy Album of the Year. Forget every other music award and every other Grammy category – Album of the Year is the biggest gong in the music business. Previous winners include Sgt Pepper’s Lonelyhearts Club Band, Rumours and Thriller. It’s a higher level of award, and the sales bounce is in the multimillions.
For I Am . . . Sasha Fierce, the label and the producer assembled an über-team of songwriters and studio wizards, including the most prolific songwriter alive today in terms of hits: the awesome Ryan Tedder. Unlike nearly every other award, Album of the Year is shared by the artist, the producer, the engineer, the mixer and the mastering engineer. So, if Beyoncé’s album had won (and it was nominated), some 32 people may have risen to accept the award.
There’s also the songwriting question. The Album of the Year always leans heavily towards artists who have written their own material, with few exceptions over the years. While Beyoncé is credited as a songwriter on all but one of Sasha Fierce’s 11 songs, she was not working alone.
This in itself is not always important (Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra didn’t write their own material), but matters in this case because Beyoncé makes a big deal of her songwriting abilities.
For example, she has said that her biggest hit, Crazy in Love, was “really hard to write because there was so much going on. I mean, I had written, what, seven, eight No 1 songs with Destiny’s Child in a row.” True, Beyoncé is credited on some of the Destiny’s Child songs, but her name appears in the credits alongside those of other songwriters.
As for “writing” Crazy in Love? Back in the 1960s Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites wrote Are You My Woman (Tell Me So). You can listen to it on YouTube. Crazy in Love’s producer, Rich Harrison, has given us a new song that, to me, sounds very similar. Jay-Z added a rap and Beyoncé added new lyrics.
It could be boasting like that that lost Beyoncé the Grammy she really wanted. Or it could be that while 32 people were involved in her album, it took only six to deliver the winner: Taylor Swift’s Faithless. And Swift, who’s all of 21, didn’t need any “help” with her songwriting.
The big kiss-off? Beyoncé missed out on the top Grammy