By Brian Ives
For those who think pop stars should “shut up and sing,” last night’s GRAMMY Awards only gave them half of what they wanted.
Political statements—mainly of the anti-Trump variety—popped up throughout the night, as did a few sound problems. And, as always, the passing of recently departed icons was addressed as well. But really, the night belonged to Adele.
The British singer-songwriter won five GRAMMYs for her insanely successful 25 album: Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Pop Solo Performance for “Hello,” and the show’s three biggest awards: Album of the Year, Song of the Year (for “Hello”) and Record of the Year (also for “Hello”).
She beat Beyoncé in four of those five categories (Bey wasn’t nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album), which seemed to shock and even disturb her. She addressed Queen Bey in her final two acceptance speeches of the night, saying, “My dream, my idol, is Queen Bey and I adore you. You move my soul every single day and you have for the last seventeen years and I want you to be my mommy.” And later, she said, “The artist of my life is Beyoncé. Lemonade was so monumental, Beyoncé, and so well thought out and so beautiful and soul-baring and we all got to see another side to you.”
Despite having sold tens of millions of albums and becoming one of the biggest stars in the world in less than a decade, Adele still seemingly geeks out, sweetly, over Beyoncé.
Surely those who didn’t like Beyonce’s political statements in her music (or at last year’s Super Bowl Halftime show) probably also weren’t thrilled about some of the other comments that came up throughout the night, some of which were from surprising sources.
Jennifer Lopez, on hand to present the Best New Artist award (which went to Chance the Rapper), and who is not generally outspoken politically, said “At this particular point in history, our voices are needed more than ever. As Toni Morrison once said, this is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, and no room for fear.” We’re looking forward to hearing how J-Lo addresses this on her next album.
Paris Jackson—daughter of Michael Jackson—introduced the Weeknd’s performance, and said, “We can really use this excitement at a Pipeline protest, guys!” before adding, “#NoDAPL!” (a reference to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline).
Did Beyoncé get political in her acceptance speech after she won Best Urban Contemporary Album for Lemonade? Well, here’s what she said: “It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty, so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror, first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House, and the GRAMMYs, and see themselves, and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent, and capable.” It’s only “political” if that idea offends you.
Katy Perry—who spent a lot of time last year on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton—wore a “persist” armband, a reference to last week’s meme that was inspired by Mitch McConnell’s shutting down Elizabeth Warren in the Senate. Her performance ended with “We the people” being projected on her stage set, a statement of inclusiveness, which could easily be interpreted as an anti-Trump comment.
Speaking of “We the People,” A Tribe Called Quest’s performance of that song, done as part of a medley of Tribe songs, saw Busta Rhymes putting Trump on blast; he called out “President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of that evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States.” Tribe’s leader, Q-Tip, said, “Those people who are pushing people in power to represent them… tonight, we represent you.” “We the People” also criticizes anti-Muslim prejudice—and the song was written before the latest presidential election, by the way.
No matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, everyone could agree that sound problems are a bummer. There were two fairly huge ones. When Metallica took the stage for a very-hyped performance with Lady Gaga, only Gaga’s mic worked; at the beginning of the song, it sounded like Gaga was being backed by Metallica, when it was meant to be a Gaga/James Hetfield duet. Still, the fivesome powered through the issue and provided one of the night’s most exciting moments.
Adele took the stage for her second performance of the night to pay tribute to George Michael with a powerful rendition of “Fastlove,” and had to start the song over because of sound problems—echoing technical issues she experienced when she performed at last year’s GRAMMY Awards.
Her tribute turned out to be moving, as was Bruno Mars’s tribute to Prince; he was backed by the Time for “Let’s Go Crazy,” and Mars did the late artist proud, not only hitting all the vocal notes, but also the guitar solo.
David Bowie wasn’t the subject of a tribute this year—Lady Gaga performed a medley of his songs at last year’s GRAMMYs to lukewarm response—but his final album, Blackstar, won a total of five awards, one of which was for packaging. Bowie’s total GRAMMY count now is five (he wasn’t awarded for the packaging honor). That’s right, before last night, he’d only had one GRAMMY to his name, and it was for a short form video.
So Beyoncé, who went home with two awards—Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video (for “Formation”)—can take heart. At the end of a career, it’s rarely about the number of awards that you’ve won, but about how you’ve influenced the culture. And to hear Adele tell it, Beyoncé is about as influential as any artist in the past seventeen years.