Music & Culture

An Apology to Rihanna on Behalf of the Grammys

By: Drew Allen//

The year was 2003, I was ten years old and my parents let me stay up late to watch my first Grammy Awards. I was over the moon when I learned that my favorite artist *Avril Lavigne* was nominated for eight Grammys, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year for “Complicated.” I was thrilled, quite literally at the edge of my seat, ready to watch Avril rake in the awards. Little did I know, this would only be the beginning of my life-long disappointment in the academy. That night, Norah Jones beat Avril in every category. I sat at my TV the whole night shouting“WHO IS NORAH JONES?” (at age 23, I can appreciate the beauty of “Don’t Know Why” but like, I was ten years old). I went to bed that night devastated. The Grammys would go on to infuriate me every single year of my life in one way or another – but this year, they took things a little too far.

While everyone engages in heated debates over whether or not Beyonce or Adele deserved to be awarded “Album of the Year” and “Song of the Year,” I am here to say: What about Rihanna? What about ANTI? Rihanna was smart. Rihanna knew what was going down. Rihanna brought that flask for a reason.

The award show glazed right over ANTI, the album many viewed as a milestone for the artist. ANTI is over a year old and remains pristine with each listen. For a pop star, it is rare that an album provides such a genuine, soul-baring narrative. You can feel her presence in every moment of the album. In a conscious effort to shift away from her pop star image, the album has elements of soul, R&B and even included a cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” Rihanna is a Tame Impala fan. Who knew?

You have to wonder if ANTI was just too real for the academy to appreciate. Everything about the album is authentic. She sings in patois, paying homage to her Caribbean heritage. Rihanna hasn’t acknowledged her Caribbean roots so vividly since we were first introduced to her, back in the “Pon De Replay” era. It’s important to note that she is more than an American pop star, although up until now, it’s been pretty easy to lump her into that category. Rihanna is the only mainstream view of a black immigrant we have and in ANTI, we see her truly owning it. She embodies the image of the carefree black woman, an image that the world of mainstream pop historically shies away from.

That is precisely what the Grammys did, they shied away from Rihanna in the moment when she deserved the utmost praise. ANTI is the most honest album I’ve ever heard come from a pop star. That level of authenticity is something I value in art, but something I guess the academy does not value. Up until ANTI, I “liked” Rihanna with the assumption she was the type of artist that would make her career off major radio hits. But ANTI was an introduction to the real Rihanna, and she is eight studio albums into her career so I’d say that’s quite an accomplishment. Her mainstream success did not taint her desire to keep it real, it fueled her to be even more transparent. With her “it’s not easy being on top” mentality, she shatters the delicate image of female pop stars that we’re used to – and she does so beautifully. Rihanna showed us that when given the artistic freedom, she has the ability to create music that is honest, empowering and has a deep cultural impact. 

Rihanna, I am so sorry. I’m sorry that the Grammys failed to give you the credit you deserved. ANTI deserved better, you deserved better and I can’t wait to see what you do next.