Opinion

Call me a hater, but does Beyoncé really deserve 28 Grammys?

Sibusiso Mkwanazi on the problems with music awards

21 March 2021 - 00:01 By Sibusiso Mkwanazi
Beyoncé accepts an award at the 2021 Grammys but, asks the writer, does she deserve it?
Beyoncé accepts an award at the 2021 Grammys but, asks the writer, does she deserve it?
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Unless you're part of the Beyhive, you know it, and I know it — Beyoncé is not a talented child in terms of vocal ability.

Of course, this is hard for the general public to accept after she made history at last week's 63rd Grammy Awards, breaking a number of records. Her crown is now adorned with 28 Grammys — the most ever won by a female artist (she's chasing the late Hungarian-British conductor Georg Solti's 31 for the title of biggest winner of all time).

Queen Bey's night began well. She had nine nominations — the most of any musician on the night. She took home four accolades (Best R&B Performance for Black Parade, Best Music Video for Brown Skin Girl, and Savage won for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance.)

But does that make her talented? I'll tell you why I don't think so.

From the beginning of her career with Destiny's Child, she endeavoured to outshine her vocally superior girl group members, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. She took the spotlight because her father was the group's manager and because she knows how to play the room.

But knowing how to perform - which Beyoncé does, very well - doesn't make you a noteworthy singer. Beyoncé is the musical version of David Copperfield, using smoke and mirrors to hide her ineptitude.

I watched her live at the FNB Stadium, when she was part of the Global Citizen concert, and my long-held suspicions were confirmed: she's an average songstress with way above average presence on stage. Don't even get me started on her mediocre songwriting ability.

My benchmark for singing is simple: strip away the theatrics and see what's left. Audio processors like Auto-Tune have carried Queen Bey her entire career — this is evident when she performs live. Without electronic wizardry, she's regularly off pitch and can't reach the high notes.

Some leaked, unedited clips of her belting out If I Were a Boy and America the Beautiful are all you need to convince you that Ms Carter has pulled off the greatest music heist of all time.

She's also brilliant at surrounding oneself with a great creative team of songwriters, producers, fashion designers, lyricists, stage managers and choreographers — she works with the best. Songwriter Diana Gordon - who worked on the song Lemonade - let slip that Queen Bey is far more of a collaborator than an original songwriter.

Truly talented vocalists, truly great musicians are, in my opinion, born, not made. No amount of practise will elevate Beyoncé to the level of Whitney Houston, Adele or our own Brenda Fassie or Lira. At their worst, these vocalists trump Beyoncé at her Auto-Tuned best.

No amount of practise will elevate Beyoncé to the level of Whitney Houston, Adele or our own Brenda Fassie or Lira

Winning awards is the way to the public's heart, and Beyoncé takes advantage of this. But what makes an artist eligible for something like a South African Music Award (Sama)? The Recording Industry of SA is the custodian of our local awards and endeavours to highlight the brightest musical geniuses.

"An artist pays an admission fee to have their music accepted for consideration. There are rules about what constitutes a valid entry and one of these is that the artist has to have a certain number of tracks to be eligible," says a Sama judge who asked to remain anonymous.

This attracts questions from the start. What about a talented artist who cannot afford the submission fee, or a singer who has only one track to offer?

And what about category slippage? Consider two of Beyoncé's Grammy wins this year - Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for Savage. As run-of-the-mill as her singing is, nobody would say she's rapping. Because she featured on a rap song by Megan Thee Stallion, she won the Grammys.

LISTEN | Megan Thee Stallion's 'Savage Remix' featuring Beyoncé

Clearly, categories in music awards are not as clear-cut as we think.

"As a Sama judge, I think they're doing a terrible job of ensuring that judges receive tracks in the correct categories. I received some weird submissions for the categories I adjudicate," says the Sama source.

"There are panels of judges for each category - journalists, celebrities, radio DJs and others - and they get a link with the music to be adjudicated. We also have the option to note if we think a submission is so exceptional that it can be nominated for an award like Song of the Year," he says.

Of course, the system isn't perfect — adjudicators are subjective and prone to prejudice or bias. If I was on the Grammys panel of judges, for instance, Beyoncé wouldn't win.

So, before you celebrate any artist's accomplishments, think about how they won that accolade — it's not as simple as it seems on the surface. In short: like what you like and don't be swayed by who wins the awards.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.