When Adele’s 25 was announced as the winner of Album of the Year at the 2017 Grammys, the singer had only just left the stage after accepting Record of the Year for “Hello.” Even she was stunned. After all, Adele and Beyoncé had both been nominated for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year — and Adele swept all three categories.
“Hi guys,” she said weakly to the crowd, at the end of a ceremony that spanned more than three and a half hours of awards and performances (including two from herself). After crying through some acknowledgements, she said “winning this kind of feels like coming full circle,” but then showed some awareness of what many in the audience might be feeling, and turned her attention elsewhere.
“I can’t possibly accept this award,” Adele said. “I'm very humbled and very grateful and gracious, but my life is Beyoncé.”
Beyoncé, who earlier in the night burned the stage to ashes in an iconography-laden performance and won the Grammy for Urban Contemporary Album, mouthed “I love you” up at the stage. Adele then continued to gush praise for Lemonade:
The Lemonade album, Beyoncé, was so monumental, and so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-bearing. And we all got to see another side of you that you don't always let us see, and we appreciate that. And all us artists adore you. You are our light.
And the way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering, and you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you. I always have. And I always will.
This isn’t, of course, the first time a Grammy win has been controversial. It’s not the first time Beyoncé lost an award to a far more tempered album from a popular white artist (see: Beck’s Morning Phase taking Album of the Year over Beyoncé’s Beyoncé in 2015). Hell, it’s not even the first time a Grammy winner has tried to share their honor with a nominee they imagine to be more deserving, as Macklemore when he tried to share his Best Rap Artist award with Kendrick Lamar via an Instagram note in 2014.
But while Macklemore made that attempt after the ceremony had ended, like someone offering to do the dishes after they were washed, dried, and put away, Adele went ahead and begged off the honor in person, on live television. Even in that weepy, high-charged moment, she knew how history might view this upset — because she agreed.