It can’t be a good sign for the Grammy Awards that nominees keep talking about not wanting to win them. Last year, Macklemore received the Best Rap album prize and then texted Kendrick Lamar to say, "you got robbed." This year, the British singer Sam Smith told Rolling Stone that he’ll give Beyoncé the Best Album trophy in the event that the Recording Academy first hands it to him on Sunday night. "She deserves it way more than I do," he said. "I'd be embarrassed if I got it over her."
The world may soon find out whether Smith was being serious. Beyoncé's self-titled record is ahead in the betting odds, but a lot of pundits are calling the Best Album award for Smith’s In the Lonely Hour. That's because although Beyoncé shook up the music industry and served up a trove of innovative yet catchy songs and videos, "Smith hits a time-honored Grammy’s soft-spot," writes The New York Daily News' Jim Farber. "He’s a new star with great ballads and universal (non-threatening) appeal." He also has another thing going for him: He's white.
Smith made history this year by becoming only the 10th artist ever to be nominated in all four “general field” Grammy categories: Best Album, Best Song, Best Record, and Best New Artist. Start looking at the winners in those categories in the past decade, and a certain paleness becomes unmissable:
- A non-white artist hasn’t won Best Album since jazz legend Herbie Hancock took the award in 2008 for a record of Joni Mitchell covers; one who could conceivably be called “contemporary” or “relevant” hasn’t won since OutKast in 2004 (2005 went to a posthumous Ray Charles release).
- Aside from Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers' featured work on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," the Record of the Year winners have all been white since 2005, when Ray Charles won the award with Norah Jones. A rap song has never taken the trophy in that category.
- Song of the Year went to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" in 2010; other than that, the winners were all white after Luther Vandross in 2004.
- The two Best New Artist winners of color in the past 10 years were Esperanza Spalding in 2011 and John Legend in 2006.