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Nearly two decades have passed since we’ve witnessed a collective ‘new class’ of Black female artists take center stage at the Grammys. In the years following the early and mid-2000’s era of top-billed nominations for pioneers like India.Arie, Beyoncé and Alicia Keys (and for Keys in 2002 and Beyoncé in 2003, their Grammy sweeps with both artists nominated for 6 and taking home 5 trophies each, respectively)–we’ve seen a dip in the frenzy that often comes with that level of industry recognition. That is, until this year when Sza led the charge with a whopping nine nominations, followed closely by Victoria Monét with seven.

The 66th Annual Grammy Awards took place February 4 at the Arena in Los Angeles with Trevor Noah as the host. 

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Shortly after lighting up the stage with a medley of her smash singles, Snooze and Kill Bill, Sza was presented the Grammy for Best R&B Song for Snooze by longtime friend Lizzo. Because she was mid-wardrobe change, a frazzled and overwhelmed Sza rushed to the stage to make her acceptance speech. She recalled touring with Lizzo over a decade ago and reflected on the significance of the moment, mentioning they were at one point “opening up in small rooms for like 100 people.” Sza went on to say “I’m so grateful. I would like to thank my parents. My mom, my dad […] my godparents, my niece. I just, I’m sorry, you don’t really understand. I came really, really far. And I can’t believe this is happening.” The R&B songstress also won for Best Progressive R&B Album for SOS and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for Ghost In The Machine featuring Phoebe Bridgers.

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Along with winning the award for Best R&B Album in the preshow for her critically-acclaimed debut album Jaguar II, one of the biggest highlights of the evening was Victoria Monet taking home the coveted award for Best New Artist making her the first R&B female artist to win the award since Alicia Keys in 2002. The On My Mama singer thanked her mother during her acceptance speech before encouraging everyone who has a dream to look to her win as an example of what could be if you don’t give up on yourself. 

Originally from Sacramento, Monét grew up an only child who made her artistic rounds by performing in holiday plays, talent shows, and church. She eventually became a songwriter penning hits for industry peers and A-Listers Chloe x Halle, and most notably Ariana Grande. 

“This award was a 15 year pursuit. I moved to LA in 2009,  and I like to liken myself to a plant who was planted – and you can look at the music industry as soil and it can be looked at as dirty or it can be looked at as a source of nutrients, and water and my roots and been growing underneath ground unseen for so long,” she said. “I feel like today I’m sprouting finally above ground. So I like to thank my team of visionaries who could see through that soil.”

Monét went on to thank and share a brief story about Rachelle Jean-Louis, a former record label employee that quit her job to invest in Monét’s career as her manager after an unsuccessful meeting with the label where Monét compiled and presented a binder of her work. “I was an independent artist with no team and I just thought maybe my music would stand for itself but that binder left collecting dust in the office […] Rachelle found that binder and she decided to take a chance to leave that label and be my manager, so thank you so much,” she added before closing out by acknowledging the other nominees in her category and mentioning that “the best is subjective, right?”

The resounding theme in the award-recipient speeches highlighted the importance of feeling seen, resilience, and community. 

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It wouldn’t be the Grammys without a sprinkle of controversy and a mention of Queen Bey.  Joined on stage by Blue Ivy Carter, his and Beyoncé’s eldest child, Jay-Z quickly shifted the focus to Beyoncé during his acceptance speech as the recipient of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award. 

“We love y’all. We want y’all to get it right, at least get it close to right,” he said. 

“Obviously, it’s subjective because, you know, it’s music and it’s opinion-based,” he continued as he called out the Recording Academy for their infamous oversights. “I don’t want to embarrass this young lady, but she has more Grammys than everyone and never won Album of The Year. So even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work. Think about that. The most Grammys; [and she] never won album of the year, that doesn’t work.”

Jay-Z made the time to address a point that has echoed throughout pop culture. Even with her game-changing catalog and groundbreaking cumulative 32 Grammy wins, Beyoncé has yet to be awarded Album of The Year. In fact, it’s been a quarter of a century since any Black woman has taken the Album of The Year award home, with Lauryn Hill winning in 1999 for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Taylor Swift ultimately took Album Of The Year for Midnights. She is the only artist ever to receive this award four times. 

“When I get nervous, I tell the truth,” Jay-Z confessed. “I’m just saying you gotta keep showing up. Just keep showing up. Forget the Grammys. You gotta keep showing up,” he concluded, reiterating the overarching resilient theme of the night. 

There were also awards handed out before the live broadcast, where Black women also left an indelible mark in wins. R&B newcomer Coco Jones took home her first Grammy for Best R&B Performance for her song ICU while Former First Lady Michelle Obama won her second Grammy award for Best Audiobook, narration and Storytelling Album for The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.
Some additional winners included Meshell Ndegecello’s The Omnicord Real Book for Best Alternative Jazz album. Best Jazz Performance went to Samara Joy for Tight, and Allison Russell’s Eve Was Black won for Best American Roots Performance. The legendary Clark Sisters were given the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Shar Jossell is an award-winning journalist, media personality, and writer. She focuses on arts/entertainment reporting and writes at the intersections of gender, politics, race, and pop culture. Shar has been featured on Buzzfeed, HuffPost, GLAAD, TMZ, Into, FOX Soul, That Grape Juice, and The Wrap–just to name a few. Her bylines include ESSENCE, Variety, them., ZORA, and Bold Culture, and she penned the March 2021 International Women’s Day cover story for Cultured Magazine.