Explaining Beyonce’s Rock Nomination at This Year’s Grammys

Amongst the approximate 279 nods for Beyonce at the Grammy Awards this year, none is weirder than the nomination she got in the category for Best Rock Performance.

That’s right: “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a song from her Lemonade album is up against “Heathens” from Twenty One Pilots, Disturbed’s cover of “The Sound of Silence,” “Blackstar” from David Bowie and “Joe” by Alabama Shakes.

I know what you’re thinking: Beyonce in the rock category? What the f*ck? What the f*cking f*ck? How did this happen? 

Let me try to explain how the Grammy people made this happen. This is not a defense of their position–I think it’s a dumb choice that damages their credibilty further–but it is an explanation of how they think, as f*cked as that may be.

(1) The National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the organization that runs the Grammys, is quick to defend their inclusion of Beyonce in this category. They say that their membership is made up of music experts–and they are, after all, the people who run the music industry in the US–know a rock song when they hear one, regardless of who the artist might be.

In September, some 70 member of the Rock Sorting Committee–yes, there is such a thing–discussed all the songs put forward for Best Rock Performance and the question of the rockiness of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” came up. Based on the sound, tone, arrangement, instrumentation, the Led Zeppelin sample and nature of the performance, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is a rock song.  And the inclusion of Jack White on the track doesn’t hurt. In the end, everyone said, “This is a rock song.” Motion carried. Be gets her nomination. (The cynical among us might point out that Lemonade also featured a country song, which might be an indication Be’s attempt to get nominated in another category, too)

(2) The membership doesn’t care about the performer’s dominate image. It’s all about the song. Yes, Beyonce is known as a pop and R&B performer, but she went full-on rock for this one and hit it out of the park. “Deal with it,” they say.

(3) The nominations for Best Rock Song are 60% f*cked, anyway. Bowie’s “Blackstar” and “Heathens” from Twenty One Pilots are clearly rock-ish in the traditional sense. Next to the odd inclusion of the Beyonce track, it’s worth looking at the other two songs up for the award.”

  • “Joe” from Alabama Shakes is a performance from the TV series Austin City Limits recorded back in October. It was included as a bonus track on the Japanese and several other non-North American releases of their second album, Sound and Color. That’s right: a song that was never included on an American release is could end up winning an American award.

  • Outside of the Disturbed track being a f*cking cover–Really? Out of all the rock songs released in 2016, that’s the best the Grammy committee could come up with?–this particular recording is a performance from an episode of Conan. Yes, it has since logged about 45.4 million views on YouTube, making it the most popular Conan clip ever–but so what? (“Are we deserving of a Grammy?” asks lead singer David Draiman, “That’s the question. But are we eligible? Yeah, because we used the loophole [in the rules of eligibility].” The song connected with people. That’s not something you can create artificially.” (New York Times)

(4) Let’s not forget that the Grammys almost always get it wrong when it comes to rock music. How did Jethro Tull beat out Metallica in the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal category in 1988? The Grammys are the same organization that gave Christopher Cross’ Ride Like the Wind Album of the Year over Pink Floyd’s The Wall in 1980There have been many other famous fails, too, not to mention the whole Milli Vanilli fiasco.

(5) How much pressure was NARAS under to bow to the will of Queen Be? What kind of politicking went on behind the scenes?

(6) And seriously, THESE are the five BEST choices for the category? Seriously?

So where does this leave us non-Grammy voters? Are we supposed to “embrace subjectivity” as NARAS suggests? Or should be look at this as more evidence that the Grammy people have their heads so far up their asses that they can examine their own molars? I know which I’d vote for.

Read more at the New York Times.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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