We all remember last year the Grammys f-cked Adele on the audio. This year, she opened the show. And, to be honest, the audio was a problem again – not as bad as in 2016 but we’ve all seen Adele at the height of her powers. And if you’ve seen her in concert, you know it wasn’t pure. So when it was time for her tribute to George Michael, she wasn’t about to let it happen again. That performance mattered to her more than her own song. Which is why she called for it to stop so she could start again.
During a live show.
By the time she was finished, she was wrecked. But her peers gave her a standing ovation because probably most of them have been there before. And some of them, maybe most, would not have asked for a second chance, would have just pushed through and cried in their dressing rooms. On our podcast Show Your Work, Duana and I talk endlessly about our obsession about work. Duana was in transit during that part of the show so I had to give her the play-by-play and, of course, she immediately wanted to talk about it on the next episode of Show Your Work with the question, “When is it OK to be a pain in the ass?”
Women, in particular, have a hard time being a “pain in the ass”. We are taught to be amenable and conciliatory. That to be thought of as “nice” is better than to be considered “assertive”. In that moment, Adele chose assertive, f-ck ‘em if a few people had to be inconvenienced. Her work, for those 4 minutes, was supposed to honour an iconic artist from her home country, doing a song that, as Billboard notes, Adele, “who, as a 1988 baby, might've been first exposed to George Michael through his Older era -- it makes sense that the song would feel as much like classic material as anything off Faith or Make It Big”.
And then, after showing her work on Fastlove, Adele swept the Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year categories, reluctantly, and decided to tell the Recording Academy that she didn’t really want it. As many people observed on Twitter, Adele pulled a Kanye on herself. “How you make my black friends feel” was… not the best wording. I asked Kathleen about this afterwards and she agreed that it was a cringe, “loaded and weird”. But also that “I took it more for what she intended”. What Adele intended was clear. She thinks they got it wrong. And she didn’t say so afterwards, after the fact, after glorifying herself, but she did it while she was holding her glory, while standing in front of a dozen white guys, ahem, a visual we saw for the second year in a row for Album of the Year, calling out the privilege that she was benefitting from. And she did it so specifically. Because you’ll note that she complimented Beyoncé in particular for showing a side of herself that we don’t often see, doubling down on this point in the press room afterwards, that Beyoncé expanded her creativity to new places, the subtext here being that her own albums 19, 21, and 25 occupy the same space on the artistic spectrum. The Beyoncé part begins around 10:20:
How many artists would stand on stage and tell the world, hey, I appreciate that you think I’m good, but I’m telling you, this year, there was someone better. This year, I’m telling you it’s not me – and MEAN IT? Not Justin Timberlake. Not Taylor Swift. But, for Adele, as she said last night:
“I don’t take any f-cking sh-t when it comes to anyone not liking Beyoncé. You can’t be in my life, you know? You simply can’t.”