“This doesn’t happen to people like me very often,” said Harry Styles, as he accepted the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for his 2022 album ‘Harry’s House’. He won the accolade to the dismay of the Beyhive, who believed Beyonce’s ‘Renaissance’ was the clear contender. But aside from that confusing decision – what could Harry, a millionaire cis-white man from Cheshire, have meant by “people like me?”
Since the Grammys’ inaugural ceremony in 1959, 56% of the recipients of the Album of the Year award have been white men, either in solo acts or bands. Out of this 56% white men, 29% of them were British. That’s 10 British white male recipients of the award over the last six decades, including the likes of The Beatles, who grew up in the north west of England similarly to Styles, and George Michael, whose highly debated queerness (until he came out in 1999) often dominated the news and gossip cycles of the day, also similarly to Styles. So, if we’re going by those identifiers, we could potentially say there are two examples of people ‘like him’ that have won the exact same award.
Pair this with the fact that a Black woman has not won the Album of the Year category since Lauryn Hill for ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ in 1999. In fact, in the history of the award, only three Black women have won – Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston and Natalie Cole. Given this, it’s understandable why there was shock – his comment felt like rubbing salt in the wound.
“His comment felt like rubbing salt in the wound”
Of course, it’s not his fault that he won the Grammy over Beyoncé; that’s an issue we should be taking with the voting panel. The Recording Academy has made a habit out of snubbing deserving artists, often Black women, but then making up for it with other, less impactful awards. Diana Ross is a prime example: selling over 100 million records worldwide over her career, yet never winning any of the ‘Big Four’ – Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year or Best New Artist.
Styles’ comment caused confusion online, with some people outraged and some jumping to his defence. Nonetheless, most of us were asking the same question: what did he really mean by “people like me”, when things like that happen to people like him most of the time?
“What did he really mean by “people like me”, when things like that happen to people like him most of the time?”
Now here’s the thing. There definitely is a nepotism and class problem within the arts industries in the UK – think Matty Healy of The 1975, Lily Allen, Brooklyn Beckham (with whatever new creative career he fancies trying a hand at today…). In music, art, journalism, fashion, many of the people in these careers are there through inside connections, or having a wealthy family that can sponsor unpaid internships.
As far as we are aware, Styles had no inside links to the industry before going on The X Factor and was working in a bakery when he auditioned – and perhaps that’s what he meant by the “people like me” comment. There’s of course other factors too – ones Styles has spoken about publicly, like being the child of divorced parents – and ones we as the public may never know about. What we do know though, is that he auditioned for the 2010 edition of The X Factor, back then a moderately successful launchpad for popstar careers, with a beanie hat and a dream, and never looked back.
To dig further, some Twitter theorists have presumed his comment was referring to growing up in a small northern town outside of Manchester. And while we can’t ever hope to dissect his individual circumstances, the wider context to note here is that Holmes Chapel is an affluent area, with a higher than average rate of home ownership in the UK. It’s also one of the whitest areas in the UK, according to 2021 census data. It’s been a Tory stronghold since 1983. One could reasonably guess that growing up in Holmes Chapel wouldn’t exactly been a life-long disadvantage for Styles, who has reflected before on his happy childhood.
Of course, only Styles knows what he meant in that moment – and no amount of Twitter theorising (or articles for that matter) will ever get to the bottom of it. But the optics, of that comment coming from a white man winning an award historically won by white men, are hard to escape. So, from now on, I’m hoping that Harry Styles will just stay silent.
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