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The Weeknd has been 2020’s shining star, racking up number one songs and top ten hits left and right. Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards was certainly a reflection of just how great of a year Weeknd has been having. He not only opened the show with a breathtaking performance of Blinding Lights, but he also walked away with two moonmen. One of them being the most coveted award of the night Video Of The Year. However, when The Weeknd walked away with the award for Best R&B, the decision left many fans of the genre upset. The Best R&B category has had quite a disappointing history at the VMAs since it was first introduced back in 1993. After 2006 the award was discontinued from the VMAs altogether, and would not return until 2019. That means the Video Music Awards did not recognize R&B for 12 years. This year R&B fans feel as though the nominees and subsequently the winner, did not reflect the spectacular year of R&B releases that 2020 has been. The nominees this year included Chloe X Halle, H.E.R (featuring YG), Alicia Keys, Khalid (featuring Summer Walker) and Lizzo.
“Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd is by no means an R&B song. In fact much like his third album “Starboy'” - The Weeknd ditched the melancholy alternative R&B sound that put him on our radar, for a more pop based approach. “After Hours” turns to the synth-pop craze of the 70’s and 80s for most of its influences. Songs like In Your Eyes, Save Your Tears, and Blinding Lights all sound like potential soundtrack cuts for an 80s Miami Vice type film. So why does a song like Blinding Lights that dominates pop radio and is sonically a pop song, get nominated in the R&B category? Why does an artist like The Weeknd who released quite possibly the most pop leaning album of his career, not get nominated in the Best Pop category? Let's take a look at the nominees for Best Pop. You have artists like Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber. This is a classic example of Black artists being stifled by the “R&B” title at award shows. It’s why Beyonce has 24 Grammys and almost all of them are R&B and Urban Contemporary awards, despite being one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Beyonce has been making pop albums for the better part of her career, but never wins in any of the pop categories. The Weeknd winning Best R&B started a much needed dialogue about Black artists still being forced into the R&B category, despite not actually making R&B music. Putting big named pop stars in the R&B category leads to very deserving R&B artists like Ari Lennox, Kehlani, and Teyana Taylor who stay true to their core genre, getting snubbed from the nomination. And in this case, overshadowing the rest of the nominees.
Next year, The VMAs need to completely revamp the R&B category and look beyond the same set of artists that get nominated at every event. Khalid, H.E.R and Alicia Keys, although phenomenal artists, are constantly the representation of R&B at award shows. There are so many R&B artists killing it right now, but receive a fraction of the recognition. For example, Kehlani released one of the most critically acclaimed R&B records of the year. She shot, edited, and directed all of the accompanying music videos on her own during quarantine. The MTV Video Music Awards seemed like it would shape up to be Kehlani’s big night, but she did not receive a single nomination. These types of snubs have to change going forward. On a show that recognizes a majority of pop songs, it's time that R&B gets a decent slice of the pie.