The 59th annual Grammy Awards turned into a showdown between two of the music industry’s biggest stars, both of them women: Beyoncé, who was nominated nine times, and Adele, who was nominated five times. Both were nominees in the three biggest awards: album, record and song of the year.
In the end, Adele walked away with more awards, including album of the year (“25”), record of the year and song of the year, but the show felt more like a re-coronation of Beyoncé and her album “Lemonade,” a provocative treatise about the culture of the American South and the struggles and triumphs of black women in America.
In her acceptance speech for album of the year, Adele praised Beyoncé and “Lemonade” for its brilliance and artistic depth.
Beyoncé’s live performance, which included “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles,” was the highlight of about a dozen other performances. And her acceptance speech for best urban contemporary album was as inspirational as any.
The show was also a coming out of sorts for Chance the Rapper, who won for best new artist and rap album, and for country signer Maren Morris, a new-artist nominee who won for country solo performance.
Before the awards show began Sunday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Adele had already won two Grammys: for pop vocal album (“25”) and for pop solo performance (“Hello”), beating Beyonce (“Hold Up”); Beyonce had already won one for music video (“Formation”).
The show opened with Adele’s shaky performance of “Hello,” a heavy breakup song, then a slapstick entrance by host James Corden, which included a pseudo-rap in which he tossed some shade the way of Sturgill Simpson, who had already won a Grammy for country album.
Jennifer Lopez presented the first award, invoking the words of writer Toni Morrison and the need for artists in times like this to go to work “fearlessly.” She then presented the Grammy for best new artist, which, somewhat surprisingly, went to Chance the Rapper, an independent rapper, who told the audience: “People think independence means you do it by yourself, but independence means freedom.”
Beyonce delivered the evening’s most cinematic and ambitious performance, a nine-minute pageant featuring two dozen dancers, a sea of flowers, a live band and live scenes mingled with video footage of singer, who is pregnant with twins.
After she accepted her Grammy for best urban contemporary album, Beyonce spoke of the intention of “Lemonade,” which included confronting issues that “make us uncomfortable” and the hope that her children and children of all races will have “no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable.”
If the producers’ intentions were to showcase the diversity of the music landscape through live performances, which included a few tributes, they succeeded, although there were few standout moments. Other performances:
▪ The Weeknd: He/they sang the innocuous dance-pop hit “I Feel It Coming” with Daft Punk.
▪ Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood: They revived the spirit of Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks (“Whenever I Call You a Friend”) with their bouncy yacht-rock duet “The Fighter.”
▪ Ed Sheeran: He performed the very homogenized “Shape of You,” which feels like a new take on John Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland.”
▪ Adele, who, visibly upset, had to restart “Fastlove,” her tribute to George Michael, which prompted a tweet from Bette Midler: “If it’s not right? Start over and nail it! And she did.” Well, she recovered but hardly nailed it.
▪ Lady Gaga with Metallica: She fit right in with one of the best metal bands ever. Their version of “Moth Into Flame” was one of the best performances of the night, despite some equipment issues (James Hetfield’s mic was dead for a bit).
▪ Sturgill Simpson: He was introduced by Dwight Yoakam, who paid tribute to the late Sharon King, whose Dap Kings horn section joined Simpson in “All Around You.”
▪ James Corden: He re-enacted his “Carpool Karaoke” sketch, enlisting Jennifer Lopez, John Legend, Neil Diamond, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Keith Urban and others (including Blue Ivy Carter, daughter of Jay Z and Beyonce) to sing “Sweet Caroline,” led by Diamond himself. Despite the song’s vast popularity, not everyone knew the lyrics.
▪ A Tribe Called Quest: They delivered the most incendiary performance, dedicating their set to Phife Dawg, a founding member who died in 2016, and igniting a rebellious mood with raps like “Moving Backwards” and “We the People.”
▪ The Bee Gees tribute: A medley of performers paid tribute to “Saturday Night Fever” and the Bee Gees, including Demi Lovato, Little Big Town, Andra Day and Tori Kelly. Good intentions but the results were too show-tune and vanilla.
▪ Bruno Mars: He attempted and nearly succeeded in the impossible — re-creating the sounds of Prince and “Let’s Go Crazy.”