Jazmine Sullivan (‘Heaux Tales’): Could her BET Awards upset signal an overdue Grammys windfall?

One of the big surprises at last month’s BET Awards was hearing Jazmine Sullivan’s “Heaux Tales” announced as the Album of the Year. The album certainly has the acclaim to merit the title, but the category often goes to higher-profile albums, with past winners including Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and Roddy Ricch’s “Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial.” So it seemed like The Weeknd’s “After Hours” or Megan Thee Stallion’s “Good News” would take home the big prize. Could this upset have implications for the Grammys? I think so.

The BET Awards aren’t necessarily a precursor for the Grammys, but they are one of the few peer-voted award shows left in music. As such, a lot of their winners indicate where the wind is blowing in the industry, particularly in rap and R&B fields. The relatively new Album of the Year category (it was introduced in 2017) can tell us a lot. Out of the four winners who came before, three went on to win Grammys: Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” won Best Urban Contemporary Album, while Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn” and Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” won Best Rap Album. Last year’s winner, Ricch’s aforementioned “Antisocial,” was expected to win Best Rap Album at the Grammys, but was ruthlessly snubbed by the nomination review committee (likely to clear the way for an overdue Nas win); regardless, Ricch still got six noms.

The nominees can also paint a bigger picture. Out of the 25 BET nominees that have already been entered for Grammys (this year’s “Good News” and “Heaux Tales” will compete at the 2022 Grammys, while DaBaby’s “Blame It On Baby” was eligible in 2021 but not submitted), 20 received Grammy noms either for the albums themselves or for their singles. And 10 of the BET nominees were Grammy winners, which is a strong track record considering a lot of them competed against each other at the Grammys. So, it’s safe to say that the BET voters can show us what’s on the industry’s radar.

So can “Heaux Tales” win over the recording academy, especially with no panels to block it like Roddy Ricch last year? It certainly can. As of right now, the album has to be considered the front-runner for Best R&B Album. Its biggest competitor is probably the Silk Sonic project coming up from Grammy darlings Anderson Paak and Bruno Mars. The album will likely be another hit for them knowing their Grammy history and how well the lead single “Leave the Door Open” has done, but no release date has been announced for it as of this writing.

That said, R&B voters are not always aligned with our expectations. Few users predicted Robert Glasper’s “Better Than I Imagined” to take Best R&B Song last year, and even fewer thought that Thundercat’s “It Is What It Is” was going to pull an upset against Jhené Aiko (“Chilombo”) and Chloe x Halle (“Ungodly Hour”) for Best Progressive R&B Album. R&B voters can be quite unpredictable sometimes.

But perhaps an even bigger win for Sullivan at the BET Awards is putting her album back in the limelight. While at first it seemed like “Heaux Tales” was a must for an Album of the Year nod at the Grammys, its buzz died down over time, and getting rid of the panels certainly didn’t help for an album that could be at risk of flying under the radar for the mass of voters. This BET win might send a big signal to Grammy voters that this is finally Sullivan’s year after more than a decade of trying.

Sullivan has been nominated and lost 12 times at the Grammys, making her one of the 20 most nominated artists without a win. Now it looks likely that “Heaux Tales” will sweep the R&B nominations, but if Sullivan doesn’t prevail this time around either, she could set a dubious record as the female artist with the most unsuccessful nominations, and there’s no reason to let her do that. Plus, we’ve seen the overdue narrative work in R&B; just look at the previously unrewarded Ledisi’s win this year for Best Traditional R&B Performance on her 13th try.

Sullivan’s team needs to play their cards right. Her “Tiny Desk Concert” performance was an excellent place to start, especially since it went viral. “Pick Up Your Feelings,” the lead single, has also done well for her, notching many weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the R&B charts. If she stops at some other attention-grabbing places like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” or gives a Grammy Museum concert, she could pull through, even against Silk Sonic. The ball is now in the Soul Train Awards voters’ court; wins there could further drive up the momentum she needs for a win.

I am personally excited to see how “Heaux Tales” does; hopefully the BET win was the first of many to come, concluding at the Grammy Awards next year. And who knows, maybe Grammy voters already agree with this sentiment. After all, who doesn’t love an underdog story?

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