“What the f—k does she have to do to win Album of the Year?” That wasn’t a statement from social media on Sunday night. Nor was it sketched into someone’s Google Docs or open Microsoft Word page. That statement was from Adele, speaking to the press after winning the very same award at the 59th Grammy Awards. The “she” the UK singer is referring to? Beyoncé.
To note, the two most progressive and sonically advanced albums of the Houston icon’s career have now both lost Album of the Year: 2013's Beyoncé in surprising fashion to Beck in 2015, and last night to Adele. While the latter's 25 broke all kinds of sales records and was considered by some to be a blockbuster follow-up to the tour de force that was 21, it wasn’t Lemonade. It was an album, dressed around a massive lead single in “Hello” and a good-to-okay second go with “Send My Love to Your New Lover."
Music’s Biggest Night suffered from bad pacing on Sunday. The first hour, in which the biggest bit of happiness came from Blue Ivy crashing host James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke segment, mostly dragged. The Weeknd attempted to carry a flag no one dared ask of him in regards to Michael Jackson for “I Feel It Coming." Cee-Lo Green looked like a piece of Ferrero Rocher chocolate that accidentally wound up in a Power Rangers audition. The Grammys wanted to swing big with every performance and guest, but got middling results early on. Lady Gaga and Metallica’s tribute to everyone who turned ’80s rock merch into chic fashion in 2016 went nowhere. Adele’s opener of “Hello” felt damn near identical to her return to this very stage a year ago. For a moment, I thought the Grammys would be devoid of political statement and grand gesture, another milquetoast awards show.
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Then, just before the 8 p.m. bell hit, Beyoncé appeared onstage, her pregnancy bump in full glow. The Lemonade performance of “Love Drought” caught everyone in a spell, and even had them fearful during a minor stunt involving a leaning chair. Then Chance the Rapper began winning awards and thanking God. He beat out Drake’s Views, that colossal low-hanging fruit of a world album, for Best Rap Album and the world rejoiced. He then mixed up “How Great” from Coloring Book into “All We Got” and other brief melodies for a stirring performance. Bruno Mars cut up as expected with a rousing retro take on “That’s What I Like” from 24K Magic, living up to my hypothesis that Prince inhabited his spirit during the recording sessions. When it came time for the tribute to the Purple One, Mars had to follow Prince’s Purple Rain rivals and former bandmates The Time. Yes, Morris Day gave us “Jungle Love” and “The Bird." Jerome had his mirror on stand-by. It was glorious Minneapolis funk with Mars knowing his limits and not trying to stretch his guitar solo on “Let’s Go Crazy.”
When it was time to continue the party, A Tribe Called Quest and Anderson .Paak pushed on. I doubt the President knows who Busta Rhymes is, even though he once appeared on a Method Man album, but Busta saluted “Agent Orange” in his own way. Hat-tip to the failed Muslim Ban executive order? Check. Using “perpetuating” twice to drive home the point of how half the country is united against him? Double check. Katy Perry, who found herself consistently stumping for Hillary Clinton, rocked a white pantsuit and performed in front of the Constitution during her performance of new single “Chained to the Rhythm."
The Grammys found politics, both in soft-shoe and all-in moments. It found God. It even found Beyoncé giving the world a bit of a pause during her “Love Drought” performance because of her tilting in a chair while pregnant with twins. To note, Houston did win Sunday night. Aside from Beyoncé, Robert Glasper won for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. Solange's "Cranes In the Sky" nabbed an award for Best R&B Performance. But the Grammys shut out Rihanna, gave Queen Bey an award for Best Urban Contemporary album and Best Music Video, and mostly kept close to the vest everywhere else. When Adele effuses praise of her favorite artist to the point that they're both in tears, it means something. To the point where Adele, who voted for Lemonade, decided to break the Grammy Award in half, Mean Girls style.
And to answer the question she posed after the show was over? Other than recognizing that it’s a TV show rather than a true measurement of artistic merit? Who knows. The genre-specific awards and artists that actually move the needle get their awards before the show even starts. It would take an upheaval of the older voters in the Recording Academy to do such a thing. And even then, it may not be enough.