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ADELE VS. BEYONCÉ: A GRAMMY SHOWDOWN FOR THE AGES

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 doozy of a contest. It's going to come down to the wire between Adele's 25 and Beyoncé's Lemonade.

Both of these women are Grammy royalty. Adele has won 10 Grammys, including each of the "Big Four" awards—Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist. Beyoncé has amassed 20 Grammys, though only one of them was 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 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.

This ties into something important—and potentially decisive. This Grammy showdown takes place in a larger context—a context that includes the #Oscarssowhite controversy (no black actors were nominated the last two years running), the #blacklivesmatter movement (which Beyoncé addresses head-on in the "Formation" video) and the controversial election of Donald Trump. (The nominations were announced less than a month after Trump was elected. Final ballots were due at the accounting firm on Jan. 13, one week before he was sworn in.)

(If you think politics never enters into Grammy decision-making, I would ask you to please explain why Dixie Chicks swept the awards 10 years ago. For every voter who was moved by their music, there were two who were showing support following the backlash that ensued after Natalie Maines blasted George W. Bush.)

Both 25 and Lemonade were huge successes, though Adele's album was more commercially successful. It logged 10 weeks at No. 1 (compared to one week on top for Lemonade). And 25 has held up better on the charts. It has never dropped out of the top 30. Lemonade last appeared in the top 30 three months ago.) Both albums spawned multiple hits. All 12 songs from Lemonade made the charts, though only "Formation" cracked the top 10. Six of the 11 songs from the standard edition of 25 made the charts, with "Hello" and "Send My Love (to Your New Lover)" both going top 10.

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.

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.

Beyoncé received significantly more nominations this year—nine, compared to just five for Adele. But let's take a closer look. Beyoncé's nominations for Record and Song of the Year appear to reflect the wishes of the Nominations Review Committee, rather than the rank-and-file voters who will determine the final winners. (Please link to my previous story.)

Furthermore, Beyoncé's tally was boosted by the fact that she had collaborations on her album, while Adele did not. Beyoncé is nominated for Best Rock Performance for "Don't Hurt Yourself," featuring Jack White, and Rap/Sung Performance for "Freedom," featuring Kendrick Lamar.

There is only one category where Adele was eligible but failed to get a nomination—Best Music Video, where "Hello" was passed over. (And, yes, "Formation" was nominated in that category.)

Offsetting that apparent advantage for Beyoncé, two of the nine producers who worked on Adele's album—Greg Kurstin and Max Martin—are nominated for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. None of the 24 producers who worked on Lemonade were nominated in that category.

Let's look at the other nominees for Album of the Year and see what that tells us. Drake may pull some "contemporary R&B/hip-hop" votes from Beyoncé. Justin Bieber isn't likely to pull as many "pop" votes from Adele. They are different sorts of pop artists. (The fifth nominee, country artist Sturgill Simpson, is unlikely to have any impact on the Adele/ Beyoncé showdown.)

So what's going to happen on Feb. 12? Hits' Editor in Chief Lenny Beer thinks Beyoncé will win. He thinks the contextual arguments (#Oscarssowhite and Trump) weigh in her favor. He notes that Adele has already won and that "they" would like to give it to Beyoncé.

For a long time, I thought that Adele would win. But I've changed my mind, for two reasons. Nobody has ever swept the "Big Three" awards twice. Adele would be the first. And this award often goes to an album with a sense of purpose. On some of the key tracks on Lemonade, Beyoncé tackled the hot-button issue of race and respect and equality. The story of 25 is that an artist rose to the challenge of following one of the biggest albums of all time—and did it very well. That's not quite as compelling a storyline.

Beyoncé will likely win five awards: Album of the Year and Best Urban Contemporary Album for Lemonade, Best Rap/Sung Performance for the aforementioned "Freedom" (featuring Lamar), Best Music Film for Lemonade and Best Music Video for "Formation." This would push her career total of Grammys to 25—ever closer to Alison Krauss' record of 27 for a female artist. Beyoncé would be only the third artist to win in both the long-form and short-form video categories in the same year. The first two were Duran Duran (1983) and The Beatles (1996).

This would be the third time that Beyoncé has won five or more Grammys in one night. She won five Grammys at the 2003 awards and six more at the 2009 awards.  Beyoncé would become the first female artist to win five or more Grammys three times. No other female artist has done this more than once. Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Amy Winehouse, Alison Krauss and Adele have all done it once.

Adele is likely to win in four categories: Record and Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance for "Hello" and Best Pop Vocal Album for 25. This would push her career Grammy total to 14.

Adele would become the first woman in Grammy history to win Song of the Year twice. She and Kurstin are likely to share this year's award for "Hello." She and Paul Epworth shared the award five years ago for "Rolling in the Deep." Eighteen women have won once in this category.

This would be the second time that Adele has won Best Pop Vocal Album (tying Kelly Clarkson for most wins in the category); the third time that she has won Best Pop Solo Performance (extending her own record for most wins in the category).

For the record, in the unlikely event she loses Album of the Year for the third time, Beyoncé would be in good company. Eight artists have received three or more Album of the Year noms without ever winning in the category. They are Sting (a four-time loser), Lady Gaga, Eminem, Radiohead, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Don Henley and Elton John. That's an impressive roster.

Watch this space for predictions in many other categories and for my annual pre-Grammys conversation/slugfest with Beer.

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