The Grammys Didn't Need Politics Because It Had Adele and Beyoncé

Feb 13, 2017

The Grammy Awards, chaotic as ever, showed the electric value of live television. And Adele provided the best of the jolts.

After all, it was she who opened the show, pulling off her instant-classic "Hello" in a manner that would be zero surprise—except for the fact that her comeback performance at last year's show seemed doomed by audio issues. But after she nailed it this year, she returned for a tribute to George Michael which she chose to stop moments in, declaring, "I can't mess this up for him" (after uttering a choice word bleeped out by CBS censors). And finally, she won the three top awards, delivering in her final prize an electrically charged tribute to fellow nominee Beyoncé that seemed at a certain point to ask Queen Bey to rise out of her seat and join Adele on the stage.

Adele attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Adele attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.Steve Granitz—Getty Images
Adele attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Lady Gaga attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Rihanna attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Katy Perry attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Jennifer Lopez attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Halsey attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Chrissy Teigen and John Legend attend the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Laverne Cox attend the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
CeeLo Green attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Paris Jackson attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Rick Ross attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Taraji P. Henson attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Chance the Rapper attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Leon Bridges and Brittni Jessie attend The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Nick Jonas attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Charli XCX attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Solange Knowles attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Faith Hill and Tim McGraw attend The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Skrillex attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
The 59th GRAMMY Awards - Red Carpet
Desiigner attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Drew Taggart and Alex Pall of the Chainsmokers attend The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Carrie Underwood attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Steve Aoki attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Diplo attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Kris Jenner attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker and Matt Skiba of Blink-182 attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Ziggy Marley attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Heidi Klum attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Demi Lovato attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
DJ Khaled, Nicole Tuck and Asahd Tuck Khaled attend the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
2 Chainz attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Schoolboy Q and daughter Joy Hanley attend the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Dierks Bentley attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots attend the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Katharine McPhee and John Cale attend the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Jason Derulo attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Keith Urban attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Michael Keaton and son Sean Douglas attend The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Betsey Johnson and John Cale attend the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Patton Oswalt attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Maren Morris attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Kelsea Ballerini attends The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Gary Clark Jr. and Nicole Trunfio attend the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Cynthia Erivo attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
The 59th GRAMMY Awards - Red Carpet
Adele attends the 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center, on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.
Steve Granitz—Getty Images
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No such thing happened—it seemed apparent that Beyoncé, whether she knew or not that it'd be the end of her evening, said everything she needed to say when she read out of a gold-plated pamphlet accepting the Best Urban Contemporary Album award, following her own epic performance.

Beyoncé's performance was stunning, not least because it happened at this Grammys. A masterpiece of control, it unfolded—with video elements and elaborate practical effects—at an awards show that, elsewhere, left Lady Gaga dwarfed by Metallica, with whom she shared a stage. There were flubs aplenty, and the best option was either to be so big a star as to define your own reality (as Adele did with her restart and Beyoncé did with her particular perfection) or to sit in the audience drinking from a flask. I'll drink to that, Rihanna.

Host James Corden did little to distinguish himself. On any awards show, the job is to get out of the way, and on the Grammys, that duty is redoubled, given quite how many performances are on the agenda. So why, exactly, were we spending time with Corden's parents, or following him in an opening monologue as he attempted to rap after falling barefoot down a staircase? The 2014 Ellen DeGeneres Oscar playbook seems to have informed every awards show that followed, with hosts having taken her endless availability but not her willingness to erase herself from the scene.

And finally comes the question of wokeness—the degree to which this, like all television events in the post-election era, are perceived to be responsible for an anti-Trump message. It's a live question at the moment, following a Super Bowl that disappointed those who wanted Lady Gaga to do more political work than performing a ballad by a famous socialist and a song about gay and transgender rights. This award show's most overtly political performer was A Tribe Called Quest, whose members chanted “Resist, resist, resist, resist" after performing "We the People." Beyond that, Katy Perry's political self-expression proved the value of couching your ideas in subtlety: Perry, performing her single "Chained to the Rhythm," chose to hide her face and body for much of the running time behind a white picket fence, then danced awkwardly when freed. All this transpired, with Perry singing lyrics that have generally been interpreted to be about the public's susceptibility to "fake news," before the Preamble to the United States Constitution appeared backlit behind her.

If she's truly over pop, that's fine—but to use the mechanisms of pop music to suggest that we should tune out of pop culture in order to be more aware of what's going on around us is an odd call-to-arms. Drake and Justin Bieber—top nominees, both Canadians known for a chilly sort of love on record—weren't even present, though in their stead, Chance the Rapper and Bruno Mars delivered warmly empathic performances. Beyoncé had previously delivered an unusual and subtle demonstration of motherhood and pregnancy, and Adele would go on to show how natural she could be with a series of odd half-gaffes. It was a long and imperfect show, but one that entirely lacked the sort of glossy pop sheen Perry seemed to be decrying. If there was a rhythm this show moved to, it was that of a circuitous, odd, but ultimately gentle humanity—both removed from politics and deeply within it.

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