Adele swept the 59th annual Grammy Awards for her album 25, an enormous hit around the world, in a night that shut out Beyoncé from the major awards and also featured reverent tributes and, at times, pointed political commentary.
Adele won five awards, including album of the year for 25 and both record and song of the year for the hit song Hello, a historic sweep that Adele accomplished five years ago with her last album, 21. She is the only artist to win album, record and song of the year twice.
And in an acknowledgment of the music industry's rapidly shifting business model, three Grammys, including best new artist, went to Chance the Rapper, a gospel-influenced rapper from Chicago whose music was released independently and was available only on streaming services.
The night had been seen as a contest between Adele and Beyoncé, megastars who were up against each other in all major categories. In her acceptance speech for album of the year, Adele paid tearful tribute to Beyoncé, and told her, “I adore you and I want you to be my mommy,” after winning record of the year.
Her comment was a reference to Beyoncé’s showstopping performance, which along with Adele’s showed two sides of divahood. Beyoncé appeared as a goddess of femininity, while Adele endeared herself to the crowd with her humanity, flaws included. Both stole the show.
Adele opened the show singing her hit Hello, in a performance that was somewhat shaky at first but still showed her power as a vocalist. Later, in a tribute to George Michael, she started to sing his song Fast Love but stopped it abruptly, cursing into the microphone and apologising that she needed to start over to get it right. (CBS bleeped the profanity.) After finishing, she teared up as the celebrities in the front row applauded her in support.
Then there was Beyoncé, who offered a jaw-dropping, multimedia homage to motherhood in a segment that stunned the celebrities in attendance and immediately set social media on fire.
After an affectionate introduction by her own mother, Tina Knowles, Beyoncé appeared as a crowned fertility goddess with her pregnant belly highlighted for the camera; at one point, her five-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy, ran around her.
Surrounded by dancers, and with projected images of herself in saffron robes, Beyoncé performed the songs Love Drought and Sandcastles from her album Lemonade. When she accepted the award minutes later for best urban contemporary album, Beyoncé read a prepared statement that sounded like a manifesto.
Explaining her ambitions of Lemonade, an album and film, she said “it is important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty”, so they would “have no doubt that they are beautiful, intelligent and capable”. “This is something I want for every child of every race.”
Beyoncé, who had been nominated for nine awards this year, more than any other artist, in the end won only two: best urban contemporary album for Lemonade and a music video prize for the song Formation.
Here were some of the other major story lines at the Grammys: For the music industry, Adele represents a supreme form of success in what has become the old model: selling millions of CDs to her fans. But as if a demonstration of the quick changes that are coming over the business, her performance was immediately followed by the best new artist prize to Chance the Rapper, who has fully embraced streaming and become a sensation without a record company behind him.
Performers Get Political
The night included political statements, some more overt than others. Katy Perry performed her new single Chained to the Rhythm in a white pantsuit and a sparkling armband that said "Persisr", an apparent reference to US Senator Elizabeth Warren. Her number concluded in front of a projection of the Constitution.
But by far the fiercest was by the veteran hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, whose members accused President Agent Orange of "perpetuating evil" throughout the country, before dancers broke through a prop wall behind them and women in Islamic garb took the stage. At the end of the segment, the group and its company raised their right fists in the air in the black power salute, while the band member Q-Tip repeatedly shouted "resist".
Jennifer Lopez, before awarding the best new artist prize, quoted Toni Morrison: "This is precisely the time when artists go to work," she said. "There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear." ?
Prince and George Michael tributes
The night was filled with tributes to stars departed and to landmarks of pop music's past. Besides Adele's homage to George Michael, the show also included a purple-hued tribute to Prince with the Time, the longtime Minneapolis funk group that often performed with Prince, and with Bruno Mars, who impersonated Prince from his makeup and performance style to the shape of his guitar.
The Prince tribute also came on the same day that much of Prince’s music was released widely on streaming music service, a result of a series of deals reached with Prince’s estate; during his life, Prince closely policed his music online, and pulled his songs down from all services but Tidal.
Not all tributes were to the dead, but a medley of Bee Gees songs was almost as reverent. Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly, Little Big Town and Andra Day played Stayin' Alive, How Deep Is Your Love and others from the Bee Gees's classic soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, 40 years after its release.
Later, John Legend and Cynthia Erivo from The Color Purple on Broadway sang the Beach Boys' God Only Knows during an "in memoriam" segment that noted the deaths over the past year of Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Ralph Stanley, Merle Haggard, Debbie Reynolds and others.
A Bowie first
In another form of memorial, the Grammys showered David Bowie with four awards for Blackstar, the album released shortly before his death in January 2016. Bowie won best rock performance, rock song, alternative album and an engineering prize. These were Bowie's first musical Grammys; largely passed over during his life, he had won a video award in 1985 and a lifetime achievement citation in 2006. (Blackstar also won for best art direction.)
Seventy-five of this year's 84 total Grammys were handed out by the Recording Academy before the television coverage began. – (New York Times Service)