The 2017 GRAMMYs marked a major night for artists like Adele (who took home all five awards she was up for, including Album of the Year for 25) and Chance the Rapper (he scored three awards including Best New Artist). Even Beyoncé, whose Lemonade not winning Album of the Year was the ceremony's huge shocker (and her friend Adele tearfully agreed) picked up two gramophones. But the biggest robbery of the night undoubtedly belonged to Rihanna, one of the most influential artists of our time who never truly gets her proper recognition.
The singer's eighth album, ANTI (released last January), was up for six nominations including Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Work" and Best R&B Song for "Kiss It Better." Her other two nods were for collaborative features with Drake and Kanye West. It was the most she's ever received for a single project, and rightfully so. ANTI is Rihanna's riskiest, most cohesive, genre-bending and fearless body of work to date. But the middle-aged white men sitting too comfortably on the Recording Academy committee couldn't shake off their frustratingly traditional mindset and felt it wasn't worth a GRAMMY, and Rihanna left the ceremony empty-handed.
Pushing its visionary sound aside, the singer proved that she could make an experimental album just as successful as her previous, mainstream LPs of year's past. ANTI is certified 2x platinum by the RIAA, peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 twice and spent 33 weeks in the top 10 (it's currently in its 54th week on the charts). Lead single "Work" made history last spring when it broke The Beatles' Billboard Hot 100 record, claiming the second-most cumulative weeks at the No. 1. At the time, it gave Rihanna a total of 60 weeks spent at No. 1 in her career.
"Needed Me," the song that had every girl flexing her savage ways, became her 29th top 10 single on the Hot 100, which tied her with Michael Jackson for the third-most top 10 hits. And "Love on the Brain," a.k.a the little single engine that could, is slowly but surely creeping up the Hot 100. It is now at No. 14 and may very well become Rih's 30th top 10 track. So what went wrong?
Were the GRAMMYs still bitter about the singer not showing up last year's ceremony to perform "Kiss It Better" due to bronchitis? Or was it the awards show's politics showing their true colors again, where they decided to televise the Best Urban Contemporary Album award in order to give Beyoncé a throwaway win that stigmatized Lemonade as just an "urban" record simply so that Adele could take the Album of the Year title? Or maybe it was the committee continuing to use Black women in pop to boost their own ratings without giving them the accreditations they earned within the general, whitewashed categories.
"What we need so desperately are more reminders of all that binds us together," The Recording Academy's CEO Neil Portnow said on stage last night. "Our shared history, our common values and our dedication to build for ourselves a more perfect union." Yet the industry won't ever be able to fully come together if it continues to award safe, often painfully commercial records instead of praising these artists for breaking their own music boundaries.
The braille found on Rihanna's ANTI album packaging is a poem by Chloe Mitchell titled "If They Let Us." Translated, it reads:
"I sometimes fear that I am misunderstood. It is simply because what I want to say, what I need to say, won’t be heard. Heard in a way I so rightfully deserve. What I choose to say is of so much substance That people just won’t understand the depth of my message. So my voice is not my weakness, It is the opposite of what others are afraid of."
Rihanna, who was birthed into full-fledged pop stardom and frequently dubbed as a "singles artist," knew the expectations the critics had for ANTI. Yet she shattered them all and created a definitive album she could stand proudly behind. If the GRAMMYs can't recognize the powerful statement behind her message after 12 years into her career, well, at this point all we have left to do is drink.
Next up, watch a baby Rih reflect on life in Barbados before fame in this 2006 Fuse interview: