Very few people understand what it’s like to walk away with a Grammy. It’s a rare and tangible display of appreciation for an artist’s work. It’s also not an experience everyone gets to have, including those who are beyond deserving. And unfortunately, more often than not, Grammy winners tend to share a similar identity and privilege. So, when Harry Styles won the award for album of the year at the Feb. 5 award show and said “this doesn’t happen to people like me very often,” viewers were confused.
It’s not that Styles isn’t deserving of accolades and praise: “Harry’s House” was a big release of the last year, resulting in several sweet music videos and a world tour that is somehow still going. And with his comment, Styles was likely referring to his upbringing without industry connections in a relatively small English town. Or perhaps he was referring to his boy-band beginnings and subsequent battle to be taken seriously as a solo artist. But ultimately, the comment failed to acknowledge the artists who time and again get snubbed by the Recording Academy — the people who actually don’t get to win often.
It’s worth breaking down some important numbers: Styles is the 33rd white man to take home the Grammy for album of the year in the show’s history. So to say that “people like him” don’t often win was a glaring oversight at best. By comparison, eight Black men and three Black women have won in the category. Though she made history this year as the most awarded artist overall, Beyoncé was largely believed to have been snubbed for album of the year — a category she’s never won, despite being nominated five times.
This comes at a time when award show voting groups are under greater scrutiny. Much like the Golden Globes, which in 2022 had to go on a hiatus, the Grammys have also in recent years been the subject of controversy and criticism over its lack of diversity and “boys’ club” culture.
The tenuous nature of award show voting was evident in a series of anonymous interviews Variety conducted with various Recording Academy members. Though published prior to the Grammys, the piece is again being circulated in light of Beyoncé’s snub, especially because of one voter’s particular quote: “With Beyoncé, the fact that every time she does something new, it’s a big event and everyone’s supposed to quake in their shoes — it’s a little too portentous.” Even at the top of her craft, Beyoncé can’t win.
The flaws in Styles’s comment do not offer an excuse to attack his character, or diminish his achievements as a musician, but it is important to recognize the current imbalance of scales so that artists from a wide variety of backgrounds are continually recognized. As it stands now, wins like these do mostly happen for people like Styles, and whether you’re a fan of his or not, that needs to change.
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