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GREIN ON GRAMMYS: WHEN DIVAS COLLIDE
Will It Be Adele or Beyoncé for Album of the Year?

Let’s be honest: There are years when there is virtually no suspense about what will win the Grammy for Album of the Year. I’m thinking about the year of Tapestry or Thriller; of Songs in the Key of Life or 21.

But this year, we have a contest. The two front-runners appear to be Adele’s 25 and Beyoncé’s Lemonade (on XL/Columbia and Columbia, respectively).

Both of these women are Grammy royalty. Adele has won 10 Grammys, including each of the Big Four—Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist. Beyoncé has amassed 20 Grammys, though only one of them came in one of the Big Four categories. That was when she took Song of the Year for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

Either woman would make a bit of Grammy history if she won.

Adele would become the first artist to win Album of the Year with back-to-back studio albums since Stevie Wonder scored in the mid ’70s with three consecutive studio releases—Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale and the aforementioned Songs in the Key of Life.

Beyoncé would become the first African-American artist to win in this category (as a lead artist) since Herbie Hancock scored nine years ago for River: The Joni Letters. She’d become the first African-American female artist to win here (again, as a lead artist) since Lauryn Hill prevailed 18 years ago for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Both Adele and Beyoncé co-wrote all of the songs on their albums. In addition, Beyoncé co-produced all the songs on hers. For her part, Adele played drums, guitar and piano on various tracks.

Both 25 and Lemonade were huge successes, though Adele’s album was more commercially successful. It logged 10 weeks at #1 (compared to one week on top for Lemonade), earning an RIAA Diamond Award for sales of 10m. Both albums spawned multiple hits, though Adele’s hits were more ubiquitous. “Hello” and “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” the biggest hits from 25, were played on pop radio more often than “Formation” and “Sorry,” the biggest hits from Lemonade.

Critics would be more apt to cheer a Beyoncé win, in part because she hasn’t yet won in that category. And it would be seen as a more progressive choice. The album’s key track, “Formation,” touches on the hot-button issue of race.

There might even be some grousing if Beyoncé loses again. It would be her third loss in the category. I Am…Sasha Fierce lost to Taylor Swift’s Fearless. Beyoncé lost to Beck’s Morning Phase.

But consider this: Even if Beyoncé comes up short, she’d be in very good company. Seven other artists in Grammy history have amassed a 0-3 career track record in this category. All are major stars: Lady Gaga, Eminem, Radiohead, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Don Henley (counting two noms with the Eagles) and Elton John.

One artist has an even “worse” career track record in this category. Sting is 0-4 in this category (counting one nom with The Police).

The caliber of the artists who have amassed three or more Album of the Year noms without winning speaks for itself. It’s hardly a “snub” when you are nominated repeatedly in this category, even if you don’t happen to win. (Though if Beyoncé loses, it will doubtlessly be portrayed that way in the media.)

If either Adele or Beyoncé wins for Album of the Year, this will mark the second year in a row that a female artist has won in this category. Swift won earlier this year for 1989. This would be only the third time in Grammy history that female solo stars have won back-to-back awards in this category (as lead or co-lead artists). It first happened in 1995-96 with Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and Celine Dion’s Falling Into You. It happened again in 2008-09 with Robert Plant/Alison KraussRaising Sand and Swift’s Fearless

Before I leave you with my early prediction for Album of the Year, here’s a quick history of female artists in this top category.

Ella Fitzgerald was the first female artist to receive a nomination for Album of the Year. She was a finalist in 1958, the Grammys’ first year, for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

Judy Garland was the first female artist to win in this category. She took the 1961 prize for her classic live album, Judy at Carnegie Hall.

Two female solo artists were nominated in the category for the first time in 1963. Both were recognized for their debut albums. Barbra Streisand won for The Barbra Streisand Album. The Singing Nun was nominated for The Singing Nun.

Three female solo artists made the finals for the first time in 1991. Natalie Cole won for Unforgettable With Love. The other female nominees were Bonnie Raitt for Luck of the Draw and Amy Grant for Heart in Motion.

Four female solo artists were finalists for the first (and so far, only)time in 1998. Hill won for the aforementioned The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The other female nominees were Shania Twain for Come on Over, Madonna for Ray of Light and Sheryl Crow for The Globe Sessions.

So who do I think will win on 2/12? It will be close, but I would never bet against Adele at the Grammys. Grammy voters respond to songs they know well and have heard a lot on the radio. And they have heard a lot of Adele on the radio.  

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