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Commentary: Selena fans wanna know: Where was the Grammys tribute?

Tejano singer Selena
Tejano singer Selena was honored with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2021 Grammys.
(Rick Corrales / Los Angeles Times)

Since her death nearly 26 years ago, Selena Quintanilla Pérez, the eternal queen of Tejano music and culture, has been commemorated in countless ways: in the eponymous 1997 movie starring J.Lo, in the 2020 Netflix show “Selena: The Series” and — tonight — as one of several recipients of the Recording Academy’s 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Selena won just a single Grammy before she died; in 1994, she was honored in the category of Mexican or Mexican-American album, for “Live!” So when the singer was given an award reserved for musical trailblazers of all genres, it felt like a confirmation of what many of her fans have argued for decades: that her impact far transcended the super-niche category of Tejano, or even the cluttered kitchen sink that is Latin music at large.

Watch here for live updates on winners, performances, the red carpet, the COVID-impacted telecast and more.

But after Sunday night’s Grammys telecast, Selena fans felt baited and switched. All they got was a photograph of Selena on the screen — wedged within a slideshow that featured the evening’s other Lifetime Achievement recipients: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Lionel Hampton, Marilyn Horne, Salt-N-Pepa and the Talking Heads. Across Twitter, many a Latina asked the same question: “Where was the Selena tribute?”

In the Academy’s defense, it’s not customary to honor each Lifetime Achievement honoree with a performance. (Although it’s not clear why, or why the Grammys gives out such big awards with so little fanfare: Many of the artists honored Sunday night would be worthy prompts for a star-packed medley.)

But given the Academy’s persistent lip service to diversity and inclusion, both leading up to and during the telecast, this was a wasted opportunity for the Recording Academy to work on its relationship with the Latinx community.

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After the Latin Recording Academy was founded in 2000 — chiefly to serve Hispanic and Lusophone artists from over 20 countries — the English-language Recording Academy has too often relied on the newer organization to cover all things Hispanic or Latinx. Meanwhile, the Recording Academy has continued to neglect the many artists making huge strides in both English- and Spanish-language markets, recognizing just a few Latin categories and including few Latinx artists in the telecasts. This year marked the first time that the winner of a Latin category was announced on the live Grammys broadcast: the eclectic Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny, who took home the honors for Latin pop or urban album for his 2020 reggaeton opus “YHLQMDLG.” He out-streamed every other person in the room in 2020 — which speaks to how much Latin artists have to achieve to be included.

How powerful would it have been to have a few contemporary Latina winners and nominees perform a three-minute Selena medley? Instead of relegating women like Kali Uchis, Natalia Lafourcade, Lupita Infante and Lido Pimienta to the early-afternoon preshow — alongside many artists nominated in predominantly Black categories like R&B and jazz — how powerful would it have been for Latinas, especially those watching in North America, to see these formidable artists represent one of the most enduring Latina icons in history?

Even Cardi B, a proud Black Latina artist and now regular staple of Grammys ceremonies, could have busted out her best Selena karaoke — and the fans would have asked for seconds.

Yet the loved ones Selena left behind see the award for what it is — not just a look back at their beloved sister, daughter and wife, but perhaps a step forward for Latinas in the institution. “I also feel they should’ve shown more love and acknowledgement to Selena, and to all the recipients of Lifetime Achievement Award,” wrote her sister, Suzette Quintanilla, on Instagram. “But I will not allow that to overshadow what this award represents!”

Live updates of the 2021 Grammy Awards winners list: 83 categories including album, song, record and best new artist.


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