Currently, three women—Barbie, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift—seem to be running the world, or at least the economy, judging by record-shattering tour and box office revenues. But, as in the case of Beyoncé and other female artists of color, this success does not translate to deserved recognition from prestigious institutions.
Feb. 6 is a date now infamous to Beyhive Twitter. I was among those who expected to see Beyoncé’s seventh studio album Renaissance, an homage to house music, ballroom and Black queer creatives. It is the very album that has now sparked a record-breaking world tour and was expected to win Album of the Year at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards. But, when the award went to Harry Styles for Harry’s House, many young women of color like me felt robbed.
The late-night betrayal prompted a deep dive into the Grammy Awards. I discovered that it has been more than two decades since a Black woman was awarded Album of the Year. (Lauryn Hill won for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999.)
Before Lizzo’s 2023 Record of the Year win, the last Black woman to hold the award was Whitney Houston in 1994.
Despite Beyoncé becoming the most Grammy-awarded artist in history, she has only won one award from the four major categories: Album, Record, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. She won Song of the Year for Single Ladies in 2010.
The Recording Academy has often relegated Beyoncé and other Black female artists to discreet categories like Best R&B Song/Performance, Best Rap Song/Performance and Best Urban Contemporary Album—all presumably code for Black.
How has the one-and-only Beyoncé been under-recognized by prestigious institutions, especially given the undeniable genre-building influence of Black artists and female artists of color? The message young women absorb is that unless you are a one-in-a-generation talent like Lauryn Hill or Whitney Houston, female artists of color can kiss goodbye any hope of wide-scale recognition by the Recording Academy. I’m reminded of the phrase girls of color like myself heard growing up: “We have to be twice as good to get half as far.”
The underrecognition and snubbing of female creatives, particularly women of color, transcends the Grammys. During this past Oscars, the Academy nominated no female directors. This repeated offense, called out by many including Natalie Portman in 2018 in part inspired new inclusion standards for films seeking Oscar nominations. But for now, only three women have ever won Best Director and only five have won Best Original Screenplay.
The message young women absorb is that unless you are a one-in-a-generation talent like Lauryn Hill or Whitney Houston, female artists of color can kiss goodbye any hope of wide-scale recognition by the Recording Academy.
As a culture, we place considerable emphasis on awards and national recognition. While the Oscars nominating no female directors and the Grammys snubbing Beyoncé may seem arbitrary, it reflects—and, more importantly, shapes—what the public sees as valid art. When rap and R&B are sidelined during major awards, along with female artists themselves, those institutions signal that these genres and creatives are culturally unimportant, even when they dominate the economy. We all deserve better.
Now amid the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes, these questions of who deserves apt recognition for their labor are especially relevant. Just as writers and actors are the backbone of the entertainment industry, female creatives (particularly women of color) have shaped music, film and TV, but do not see their contributions duly recognized.
The dual strikes have already disrupted the timing of the Emmys, which are postponed until January. I would love to see the unions’ demand for more equitably compensated work go even further than winning fair contracts and delaying the award show season.
Maybe the strikes, combined with the thrilling Barbie and Renaissance summer, will forever change how we see female creatives and artists of color. Then they can finally get their flowers, and we can all watch it play on television screens across the world.
U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.