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Adele Upsets Beyonce For Grammy Album Of The Year


The 59th Grammy Awards were last night, and the show raised a few questions for us. Here to talk about the biggest night in music is NPR Music senior editor Jacob Ganz. Welcome.

JACOB GANZ, BYLINE: Thanks, Kelly.

MCEVERS: OK, so the biggest news, of course, out of the Grammys last night - Adele won a song of the year and record of the year for "Hello."


ADELE: (Singing) Hello, it's me.

MCEVERS: And then she won album of the year for "25." And with each of these awards she beat Beyonce, who was nominated for the song "Formation."


BEYONCE: (Singing) My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana, you mix that negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama (ph).

MCEVERS: And the album "Lemonade." So what's going on? What happened?

GANZ: Well, this was pegged as the big sort of blockbuster head-to-head matchup of the night. Both of them were nominated for all three of the major awards. I think people expected in some ways that they would split. Adele is an absolute Grammy darling. She - this is actually not the first time she's won all three major awards - record of the year, song of the year and album of the year. She did so after "21" came out in 2012. But that year she was up against people like Lady Gaga and Mumford and Sons. Those were big records, but not the sort of cultural change-making moment that "Lemonade" represented when it came out last year.

You know, it's actually kind of hard to imagine somebody winning all three awards the way that Adele did last night and having a worse night than she did. Up on stage she really seemed tentative when she accepted album of the year. She almost seemed like she was going to cry when she accepted that award.


ADELE: I can't possibly accept this award. And I'm very humbled and I'm very grateful and gracious, but my artist of my life is Beyonce. And this album for me, the "Lemonade" album, was just so monumental, Beyonce. It was so monumental.

MCEVERS: I mean, it sounds like even Adele was surprised that Beyonce didn't win more awards than she did.

GANZ: Yeah, I think that a lot of people were surprised. But Adele's really sort of a perfect Grammy darling. She does things that are extremely legible to the very, very large aging Grammy voter bloc. There are 12,000 people who vote for the Grammys. That's people who have been in the industry for a really long time. And some of those things, like, that she does - she sings big huge melodies. She sing songs that could have been written in the 1950s or '60s.


GANZ: I mean, these are things that, you know, they really like to award. She's been following the rules. She also represents how the industry sort of can succeed in the way that it has for a really long time. Beyonce spent the last five years breaking all the rules and setting up new ones, and the way that the Grammys seem to be looking at this is just that tradition wins. Tradition is the thing that they understand and the thing that they know how to vote for.

MCEVERS: There was one artist who's kind of a rule breaker who was awarded last night, and that was Chance the Rapper, right?


CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap.

GANZ: Yeah, he won for best new artist. The way that he's been releasing albums is to put things out as basically mix tapes for free. He's a rapper from Chicago. He's put out three albums at this point. He calls them mix tapes. He doesn't charge any money for them. This one came out exclusively for a while on Apple Music. And this is a thing that I think that for the Grammy voters was just a way to acknowledge that the times are really changing. But Chance is an undeniable presence. I mean, he has such charm. He is so winning on stage and in those songs so positive that it seems probably like it was an easy pick for them to feel like they were looking forward without really challenging a huge amount of what's going on in the industry.

MCEVERS: It was a pretty political night, needless to say. I mean, there were a lot of people, it seemed like, up on stage responding in different ways to the new administration, to the Trump administration.

GANZ: Yeah, there were. And a lot of them weirdly felt a little bit tentative until that moment close to the end of the show when A Tribe Called Quest, who returned last year after almost two-decade absence of not making music together, came back with a final album featuring Phife Dawg, who died in the middle of last year. They played a just barnstorming explicitly political set that featured original hits and also a new song called "We The People" that just, you know, was undeniably political.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Singing) All of the black folks, you must go.

ANDERSON .PAAK: (Singing) Dark skin, high yellow, you gots (ph) to go.

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Singing) All of our poor folks, you must go.

ANDERSON .PAAK: (Singing) Still hustle every day and they making no dough.

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Singing) And all of the Mexicans, you must go.

MCEVERS: And during that they had a wall on stage, and then people knocked the wall down, right?

GANZ: Literally knocked it down. Yeah, they ended the set with people of all different colors, of all different backgrounds onstage with them. The entire group ended the song with their fists raised in the air and Q-Tip was shouting.


Q-TIP: Resist. Resist. Resist.

MCEVERS: I mean, how does this compare to other awards ceremonies we've seen and other big, you know, events like the Super Bowl and stuff like that?

GANZ: When you think about the Grammys compared to the Super Bowl there's not really a comparison. I mean, Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl last weekend is trying to walk a very thin line where she's talking to the biggest audience that she will ever talk to. She's trying to rope them all in. At the Grammys, you have a chance to be yourself amongst your peers. And if being political is in your nature the - a group like Tribe Called Quest really gets a chance to speak honestly to that. Somebody like Katy Perry who is trying to walk a little bit more of that line in her performance, you know, can nod to being political with the preamble to the Constitution projected against her set at the end of her song, but it's going to be a little bit more tentative.

MCEVERS: That's NPR Music senior editor Jacob Ganz. Thank you.

GANZ: Thank you, Kelly.


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Singing) All of our black folks, you must go.

ANDERSON .PAAK: (Singing) Dark skin, high yellow, you gots to go.

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Singing) And all of our poor folks, you must go. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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