In Priase of the Sol-Angel
Following last weekend’s Grammy Awards, the biggest point of discussion was Beyoncé’s snub for best album of the year, which went to Adele for her album “25.” Even though “Lemonade” was undoubtedly one of the best pop albums and sonic art pieces of our generation, I think there was an even greater snub that has so far gone relatively unnoticed: Solange Knowles won her first ever Grammy, Best R&B Performance, for her single “Cranes in the Sky,” but wasn’t even granted an acceptance speech.
I know, I know — all of these awards shows have set schedules for what can be broadcast, and they hardly reflect the talent and innovation of contemporary music. But I couldn’t help but feel annoyed that the Sol-Angel herself, decked out in a stunning gold Gucci gown, one of the most eloquent and inspiring artists, was not allowed the public platform that her sister Beyoncé has been dancing on for two decades.
Maybe it has something to do with her relative newness. Last fall’s “A Seat at the Table” was Solange’s biggest full-length release. But the album charted at #1 on the Billboard 200, so clearly the album’s sales and critical praise could have proven it worthy of more prominent Grammy recognition. Maybe it has more to do with Solange’s more “underground” aesthetic — from her extravagant music videos, to the minimalism of her album artwork, to the creative events held by her record label Saint Heron, none of Solange’s output has been traditionally mainstream.
But I also can’t help but think there are more politics behind her Grammy silencing. After the show, Solange tweeted that had she been able to give a speech, she would have said that black women “ARE grammys.” So here is the major point of departure between Beyoncé’s status as a pop icon, and Solange’s role as her more hipster, artsy younger sister: Solange is angrier.
That statement has a lot of weight to it. No, Solange does not fill the stereotype of an “angry Black woman,” and she brings this up often in her work and in interviews. Especially following the infamous video of her hitting Jay-Z in an elevator, Solange has carefully molded her intensity in the public eye. Anger is human, but when emerging from blackness, its meaning can change.
In her song “Mad,” Solange sings that she’s “got a lot to be mad about,” and in 2017, considering the last 500 years of world history, Black people have a right to be mad. Solange’s anger is by no means her dominant emotion in “A Seat at the Table,” but her album is about being Black. It’s about being a Black woman in the United States and it’s about being raised by Black parents and it’s about an inheritance of a certain responsibility. It’s not about love or loss or recovery; it’s not “relatable” on a fundamental human level of emotion. It is, to use another lyric, “For Us, By Us.” If you aren’t part of the “us,” you can still listen, but it’s going to mean something different to you and you have to accept that.
On the other hand, “Lemonade” is a love story. The rumors about Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marriage that surfaced from the album’s release in many ways overpowered any celebration of the actual music. It was an album for girl power and fierceness. It was an album white people could listen to and still feel included, like it could be theirs too — with the song “Daddy Lessons” perhaps being the only exception. “Lemonade” pushes the envelope with discomforting listeners. Solange is not interested in preserving an oppressive comfort zone.
So maybe Solange’s exclusion from the honor of an acceptance speech stemmed from the Grammy’s desire to maintain their own comfort zone. “Cranes in the Sky,” the album’s single and most popular track, is also the most conventionally universal. This is the one song on the album that doesn’t deal with racism directly, but rather narrates a period in Solange’s life where she suffered from immense depression. The unwavering relatability of sadness. This is as groundbreaking as the Grammy’s could get.
Beyoncé can stunt in her pregnancy announcement photos and drop jaws in a glitzy performance wearing traditional African garb, but, for me, Solange will always come out on top. She remains fearless in her celebration of and pride in her blackness, all while producing some of the most incredible music today. From her production to her style and her lyrics, Solange is an angel on earth. If the Grammys won’t give her a chance to speak, she will certainly find other ways for her message to be heard.
Savannah Peykani is a fourth-year literary journalism and film and media studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.