Carlos Santana steps into Grammys debate over Beyoncé and Adele

Carlos Santana performing at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Carlos Santana performing at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.PHOTO: LUSHINGTON ENTERTAINMENTS

(NYTimes) - Apparently no one told Carlos Santana about the BeyHive.

The 69-year-old guitar legend unwittingly threw himself into the emotionally charged fallout of Adele's Grammy sweep over Beyoncé this week when he offered his opinion that "Adele won because she can sing, sing".

In an interview with the Australian Associated Press ahead of tour dates there, Santana said: "Beyoncé is very beautiful to look at and it's more like modeling kind of music - music to model a dress - she's not a singer, singer, with all respect to her."

Adele, on the other hand, "doesn't bring all the dancers and props, she can just stand there and she just stood there and sang the song and that's it, and this is why she wins", he added.

Coming from a music industry veteran, the comments seemed to echo a conversation swirling about Grammy voters' tendency to reward more traditional, classic-sounding (and often white) talent over artists, especially in hip-hop and R&B, that favour more progressive, digital sounds.

They also revealed the swiftness with which Beyoncé fans online will call out those speaking ill of the singer, especially with shades of sexism.

In fact, there is a whole Saturday Night Live skit about it from 2014, which documented the fervent loyalty of her biggest fans, known as the BeyHive, and their tendency to seek out and expose nonbelievers.

With his comments going viral, Santana followed up on Tuesday night on Facebook.

"My intent was to congratulate Adele on her amazing night," he wrote. "My comment about Beyoncé was regretfully taken out of context. I have the utmost respect for her as an artist and a person. She deserves all the accolades that come her way. I wish Beyoncé and her family all the best."

His message was not enough to stop the collateral damage: In an incident reminiscent of when the wrong Rachel was pegged online as Beyoncé's romantic rival ("Becky with the good hair," who Beyoncé sang about on the song Sorry), another Carlos Santana, a young YouTuber from Brazil, had his Instagram comment section swarmed with "how dare you's" and bumble bee emojis, a trademark of the Beyoncé fandom.

But in addition to illustrating the risks that come with criticising Beyoncé - just ask Kid Rock, Lululemon, Raven Symone and others - the more famous Santana's view of her as a bells-and-whistles pop star versus Adele as a pure and authentic vocalist raised further questions about how the two are perceived and why.

After the Grammys, Beyoncé fans circulated a video of her performance at the awards in which her vocals were isolated and turned up, revealing them to be, at the very least, strong.

Other musicians and industry figures argued that Beyoncé's repeated snubs in the top Grammys categories - she has lost Album of the Year three times - was not a referendum on talent but had racial undertones.

Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens posted a message online this week reading: "Friendly reminder: don't be racist." He referred to the urban contemporary category, which Beyoncé won for her album Lemonade, as "where the white man puts the incomparable pregnant black woman because he is so threatened by her talent, power, persuasion and potential".

Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy which puts on the Grammys, has pushed back against the idea that the award show has an issue with diversity.

"I don't think there's a race problem at all," he said in an interview with Pitchfork on Tuesday. "Remember, this is a peer-voted award. So when we say the Grammys, it's not a corporate entity - it's the 14,000 members of the academy.

"We don't, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity," he continued, adding, "You don't get Chance The Rapper as the Best New Artist of the year if you have a membership that isn't diverse and isn't open-minded and isn't really listening to the music."

Beyoncé fans, for the moment, were less interested in addressing the potential systemic problems.

For now, they were content to remind Santana that he once performed with Beyoncé at a Super Bowl preshow - and appeared to enjoy it just fine.