This past Sunday, Twitter was in a tizzy after the Recording Academy made a decision to allow Jennifer Lopez do perform a majority of the Motown tribute—along with brief cameo appearances from Grammy host Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo, and Smokey Robinson.
There were several reasons why this rubbed Black folk the wrong way. One, Motown is a company founded on Black artistry, Black excellence and Black entrepreneurship. And Jennifer Lopez is not Black. Her vocal ability is debatable. And more than anything else, there were other artists—Motown, Black and alike, who could have done a good job.
But here we are, with yet another example of the Grammy’s erasing, ignoring or downgrading Black talent.
There was so much backlash, that there was no way that J Lo could have avoided it. Immediately after her performance, she spoke to Kevin Frazier from “Entertainment Tonight,” where she said that people can’t tell artists what type of music to sing.
“It was for my mom. I could cry. It’s just such a good moment. My mom was a young mom and she used to have us in the living room, dancing and singing. Singing up there with Smokey Robinson, I got to pinch myself. I grew up on all those songs because my mom loved them so much and she passed them on to us. It’s just a dream come true.
The thing about music is that any type of music can inspire any type of artist. You can’t tell people what to love. You can’t tell people what they can and can’t do. You have to do what’s in your heart. The producers and Berry Gordy, who was so thrilled that I was doing this, they know how much I’ve been influenced by that music. So it was a natural for them. But maybe some people didn’t know. And it’s okay.”
It’s clear that the passion and love for the music were there.
Still, I feat that Lopez is not grasping the gravity of this moment outside of herself and her personal story. The Grammys has a history of erasing Black music. They’ll celebrate Macklemore over Kendrick Lamar. They’ll award Adele album over the year of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. The first time rappers were rewarded on that stage, the boycotted it because the Grammys refused to television their portion of the award ceremony.
Black artists have not gotten their just due.
And for as much as Black music has influenced Lopez and for as many Black artists that she’s worked with, it’s sad that she couldn’t understand why people were upset this honor and opportunity to honor Motown legends didn’t go to someone Black.
Lopez’s career has been full of opportunities. She’s gone farther than many people thought she would. And as my friend and our Deputy Editor pointed out today, she’s known by a nickname in the industry. That’s how far she’s come. But she would be blind or oblivious not to recognize that Black artists who perform in the tradition of Motown haven’t been afforded those same opportunities. And it would have been nice if she’d taken that reality into account.