Though Beyoncé received only two Grammy awards on Sunday, she proved to the world that “Lemonade” (2016) is a cultural achievement with her performance of “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles.” The performance was an awe-inspiring combination of poetry, breathtaking footage, powerhouse vocals and striking backup dancing. Wearing a crown and a sheer, sparkling gown that accentuated her baby bump, she looked like a goddess, which was fitting considering how much the performance resembled a sacred religious ritual.
“Lemonade” won Best Urban Contemporary Album. During her acceptance speech, Beyoncé advocated for diverse representation in spaces like the White House, the Super Bowl and the Grammys. Beyoncé shattered the existing music scene with the artistry and vulnerability she showcased in “Lemonade,” an album that celebrates blackness, female empowerment and the healing power of music. With this in mind, it was shocking that she was snubbed for categories like Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
Adele took home all three instead. On the verge of tears and visibly distraught, she proclaimed to the audience that she could not accept Album of the Year. Adele described “Lemonade” as “monumental,” saying to Beyoncé, “You are our light.” The speech brought tears to Beyoncé’s eyes.
Adele’s wins demonstrate a lack of appreciation for women of color in the music industry. The results of Sunday night’s ceremony was reminiscent of the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when Taylor Swift won Best Female Video over Beyoncé and Kanye West stormed the stage.
Adele opened the ceremony with a performance of “Hello” (2015) in her typical understated and beautiful fashion. Her dress was also standard Adele fare — a simple, long and black Givenchy with sparkling red and pink embellishments at the shoulders. Though her performance was powerful, it was nowhere near as culturally significant as Beyoncé’s.
Adele’s tribute to George Michael may have also led viewers to question her wins over Beyoncé. She began the solemn performance of Michael’s “Fastlove” with a trembling, pitchy voice, showcasing the difficulty of performing for live television. About a minute into the song, she stopped and asked to start the song over, saying that she could not “mess this up for [Michael].”
Host James Corden‘s entrance, which was purposefully sloppy, involved him falling down the staircase to the stage and losing a shoe along the way. Corden’s opening monologue involved a rap about the performers and nominees at the show. The rap was cheeky, but it also included a politically significant line: “With President Trump, we don’t know what comes next.”
A Tribe Called Quest’s performance of “We The People” also conveyed a politicized message. At the end of the song, which explores racial intolerance in America, the group raised their fists in the air and shouted “resist” three times.
Musicians and celebrities did not shy away from expressing their political views. In addition to Corden and A Tribe Called Quest, Jennifer Lopez played off political discourse while announcing the Best New Artist award. She spoke about the particular importance of people’s voices at this point in history. Her comments were also a subtle dig at the racial controversies surrounding the award ceremony.
Lopez announced Chance the Rapper as the winner of Best New Artist, which he took home along with the awards for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance. Though he competed with giants like Kanye West, he was an obvious choice for both awards, considering that “Coloring Book” (2016) was the first streaming-exclusive album to appear in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Twenty One Pilots took home the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Stressed Out” (2015). Before they accepted the award, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun took their pants off and took the stage in their underwear. They explained to the audience that, years ago, they had watched the Grammys on television together in their underwear. They made a promise to each other that night that they would both accept their first Grammy without wearing pants.
“Stressed Out” was up against “Work” (2016) by Rihanna featuring Drake and “Cheap Thrills” (2016) by Sia featuring Sean Paul. Perhaps “Stressed Out” received the award over these other influential songs for its culturally relevant lyrics. With mental health problems like anxiety and depression on the rise among millennials, the title of the song could be used to encapsulate the mood of the younger generation.
Overall, the 2017 Grammy Awards highlighted current issues in the United States, from mental health issues to race relations and the biases and limitations of the mainstream music scene.