Adele gets to transcend genre because she is white. It is because of white privilege that white artists are able to be individuals, moving beyond categorization. Our privilege allows us to be just us, rather than seen in comparison to the social groups we belong to. It is no different than any other profession. Often times, we are rewarded for work that is really mediocre - our privilege gives us that extra bump up.
I think Adele is a genius. I love her music. I have rolled up my windows and driven along passionately singing the chorus to hello many a-time. So this isn’t a knock on Adele. It is an acknowledgement that Adele, and all white artists such as myself, benefit from white privilege in all aspects of our careers.
Our biases affect how we perceive an artist and their work. As soon as we find out the gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or body type, and all the other aspects of their identity, our minds immediately place them into the boxes our collective and personal biases have created. For most people, this process happens without our realization, or even permission, and is formed through our subconscious and implicit biases.
If Adele was a Black or Brown Women, perceptions of her, and her music, and the words used to describe her and her music, would be completely different. Her entire experience of becoming a rising star would have been different. And it is hard to imagine that she would have received the amount of awards she has this far. Rather than being a star in her own category, she would constantly be compared to other Black or Brown Women who vaguely sound and/or look like her.
Let’s check the stats: only 10 black artists have won Album of the Year in Grammy history: Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Lauryn Hill, Michael Jackson, Natalie Cole, Lionel Richie, Outkast, Whitney Houston, Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones.
We all remember Macklemore’s Grammy night. Macklemore has won more rap grammy awards than “2Pac, Biggie, Nas, DMX, Busta Rhymes, KRS-One, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Big Pun, Jeezy, Ja Rule and Kendrick Lamar, combined” (Complex, 2015).
I’m not saying Mack is terrible either, I’ve enjoyed his music often. But I know, you know, he knows, we all know, he is not better than all of those rappers combined. That’s the bump white privilege gets you.
Of course, Adele’s wins were in stark contrast with Beyonce not winning. Adele even gave a great speech acknowledging how messed up (racist) the Grammy process is. Lemonade was a cultural, musical, and cinematic work of genius. You don’t need me to talk about how powerful, empowering, revolutionary and impactful Lemonade is. That much is obvious. Lemonade was also Black. Beautifully Black. Brilliantly Black. Boldly Black. Black Girl Magic Black.
But white supremacy does not recognize Black. White supremacy denies Black, while claiming all lives matter.
The Grammy’s won’t reward that. The Grammy’s are just another night of white privilege at play.