Short of a tie, the 2017 Grammys are going to leave a lot of people sorely disappointed.
When Adele released 25 on Nov. 20, 2015, her fans rejoiced and it became clear that, once again, the queen of self-possessed woe and wistful, hard-earned perspective had just made the Recording Academy's job that much easier. 21 swept the major Grammy categories in 2012, and so would 25.
But as we all remember, 25—despite turning into the best-selling album of 2015 in barely a month's time—came out too late for immediate consideration. And so statuary adulation would have to wait till 2017. Fine. It's upon us now.
Lo and behold, however, April 23, 2016 begot Lemonade, Beyoncé's engrossing, fiery, powerful, autobiographical yet playful treatise on race, feminism, infidelity, family, strength and redemption.
Like 25, Lemonade also debuted at No. 1, but despite it being a downright cultural phenomenon, it has only enjoyed a fraction of the sales of Adele's mega-hit, which has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide (and both albums are likely selling a bunch more right this minute in light of the Grammy nominations announced this morning).
Either way, an embarrassment of riches for music fans. But now also a real conundrum for Grammy voters.
It's not an obvious choice, like the Billboard Music Awards, which are handed out based on record sales, or the fan-based American Music Awards, Teen Choice Awards, etc.
At least to the average fan, both 25 and Lemonade seemed like such obvious choices for Album of the Year winners, but...they can't both win Album of the Year. (Well, technically it's possible. There have been 21 ties at the Grammys, but never for Album of the Year and only once in a major category—Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams' "Evergreen" from A Star Is Born tied Joe Brooks' "You Light Up My Life" for Song of the Year in 1978.)
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The Grammys are doled out by the Recording Academy, which like the Academy of Motion Picture (or Television) Arts and Sciences is made up of artists, producers, writers, etc. in the industry; the Grammys are like a peer review. According to Billboard, approximately 12,000 of the estimated 21,000 members are eligible to vote for the Grammys—and they vote in the areas of their expertise. The sprawling show has been whittled down in recent years to a relatively slim 82 categories, most of which are handed out off-camera.
So, the Grammys aren't awarded based on sales or popularity—and they sure as hell aren't awarded for coolness factor. Heck, half the time it seems the Academy could care less about reviews or what's hot, or where the greatest strides have been made in any given genre. Their shocking moments tend to ruffle feathers, such as when even Macklemore and Ryan Lewiscouldn't believe that they'd won for Best Rap Album.
That being said, sometimes inevitable triumphs occur, such as Adele's sweep of the major categories in 2012 for 2011's 21, including Album, Song and Record of the Year, for a total of six wins. (Plus she got a performance Grammy in 2013 for "Set Fire to the Rain.")
But if you believe there is no way but all the way for Adele, be prepared to see her lose in this category on Feb. 12, 2017, to Beyoncé, who has 20 Grammys to her name but none of them etched with "Album of the Year."
Sounds absurd, right? Yes, especially considering how seminal both I Am...Sasha Fierce and the self-titled "surprise" album she dropped in 2013 were. Yet the former was trampled by the unstoppable juggernaut that was Taylor Swift's career-making Fearless, and the latter was upset by Beck's Morning Phase. (Bey actually hasn't won Record of the Year yet, either, which may be even crazier.)
If this isn't Beyoncé's year, then we're not sure—and we're going to guess Bey herself will be at a loss, too—what the Academy means by "artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry."
Which is not to say that Beyoncé or Adele think for one hot second about possible Grammy glory while they're writing or in that studio. But once the nominations are there...
The artists—each of whom is an adoring fan of the other, making this debate a win-win—will be squaring off in a total of four categories. And at least it does sound as if they'll be thrilled to applaud each other's success as the night unfolds.
"When Adele sings you can hear that it's coming from an unfiltered honesty and purity," Beyoncé told Vanity Fair for their December 2016 cover story on the British artist. "She creates songs that go deep and expose pain and vulnerability with her soulful voice. She takes you places other artists don't go to anymore—the way they did in the '70s."
Adele, in turn, called Beyoncé her own Michael Jackson(i.e. the pop idol she perennially worships) and has happily fan-girled in public over her, repeatedly.
"How is it even possible that she only ever gets better?" Adele inquired of an audience in Denmark at one of her concerts in May, shortly after Bey had kicked off her Formation Tour. "How is that possible? She is Jesus f--king Christ.
"Beyoncé is the sickest artist around in the whole entire world," she continued. "It's unbelievable, I've been listening to her for 17 years and she's still making music that blows my mind."
Posing earlier this year with a blown-up single cover for "Irreplaceable," from 2006, Adele captioned the photo: "I'm not late on this I've just been speechless. Beyonce is the most inspiring person I've ever had the pleasure of worshipping. Her talent, beauty, grace and work ethic are all in a league of their own. I appreciate you so much! Thank god for Beyoncé X."
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The "Hello" singer, who has had a breakthrough year as far as opening up a little bit more about the woman behind the heavenly voice, also made sure to quash a rumor going around that Beyoncé had asked about recording a duet together and she had refused.
"Whoever started that rumor must have been having a laugh because anyone who knows me knows that my main priority in life outside of my child is Beyoncé," Adele informed Time.
Which would leave even more people morosely unhappy, not least of them Beyoncé over 25's loss and Adele over the baffling robbery of Lemonade.
What is the Academy looking for in a winner these days?