It’s a battle for the ages.
In the 59th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 12, Adele will take on Beyoncé in the top three categories in music — album, record and song of the year — as well as best pop solo vocal performance. But the contest goes way beyond whether Recording Academy voters prefer Adele’s timeless pop or Beyoncé’s envelope-pushing R&B.
It will offer a sign about what the bulk of the music industry currently values most: tradition or disruption. Strong arguments can be made for rewarding both Adele and Beyoncé for their successes. Both their albums are strong and assured, powerful statements of how they want to define pop music.
However, those statements reached the public in radically different ways, giving Adele and Beyoncé radically different constituencies within The Recording Academy. (Of course, it could end up being a draw. If Adele sweeps all her categories and Beyoncé sweeps the categories where she isn’t up against Adele, they would both end up with five awards on the night.)
Here’s a look at how they stack up:
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HAILS FROM London
NOMINATIONS 5 — record of the year, “Hello”; album of the year, “25”; song of the year, “Hello”; best pop solo vocal performance, “Hello”; best pop vocal album, “25”
ROLLOUT As traditional and well-executed as they come. Adele released “Hello” to radio and promoted it tirelessly to generate excitement for “25,” which sold a record-breaking 3.38 million copies in one week. That success proved that people do still buy physical albums on occasion, especially since Adele did not make the album available on streaming services for months.
NEW ALBUM SALES 9.1 million (7.4 million in 2015, 1.7 million in 2016)
SINGLES SUCCESS “Hello” (No. 1, 10 weeks)
PREVIOUS GRAMMY WINS 10
GENERAL CATEGORY WINS 4 — record and song of the year, “Rolling in the Deep” (2011); album of the year, “21” (2011); best new artist (2008)
VOTER APPEAL The Recording Academy loves young artists who embrace older styles. The voters also love artists that sell a lot of albums. And, well, who doesn’t love Adele?
DRAWBACKS Um, she’s not Beyoncé?
CULTURAL CLOUT The dramatic, black-and-white look of the “Hello” video was copied by many. And “Saturday Night Live” deemed the song a unifying force for holiday dinners.
HAILS FROM Houston
NOMINATIONS 9 — record of the year, “Formation”; album of the year, “Lemonade”; song of the year, “Formation”; best pop solo vocal performance, “Hold Up”; best rock performance, “Don’t Hurt Yourself”; best urban contemporary album, “Lemonade”; best rap/sung performance, “Freedom”; best music video, “Formation”; best music film, “Lemonade”
ROLLOUT She dropped the surprise single “Formation” the day before she made a surprise appearance in Coldplay’s Super Bowl halftime show performance. Then, “Lemonade” arrived two months later following a surprise HBO special, where she unveiled the “video album” followed by streaming it exclusively on Tidal, the service where she is a co-owner. The next day, it went on sale digitally.
NEW ALBUM SALES 1.5 million
SINGLES SUCCESS “Formation” (No. 10)
PREVIOUS GRAMMY WINS 20
GENERAL CATEGORY WINS 1 — song of the year, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (2009)
VOTER APPEAL The Recording Academy loves artists who tackle a lot of styles. (Beyoncé has nominations in pop, rock and R&B and was pretty much robbed of one in country.) The voters love strong artistic visions. And they love ratings, which they know Queen Bey delivers — even before her Instagram announcement of being pregnant with twins broke the internet.
DRAWBACKS The political tone of her “Formation” video rankled some people, as did her supposed “black power” salute in her Super Bowl performance. (Of course, those things are positives to other voters.)
CULTURAL CLOUT “Becky With the Good Hair” became a cultural touchstone. Everyone started talking about hot sauce. And “Saturday Night Live” turned white America’s perceived reaction to “Formation” into a horror movie titled “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black.”
E! Countdown to the Red Carpet (4 p.m. Feb. 12, E!)
E! Live From the Red Carpet (6 p.m., E!)
Grammy Red Carpet Live (7:30 p.m., CBS/2) Nancy O’Dell and Kevin Frazier talk to music’s biggest stars before the show.
The 59th Annual Grammy Awards (8 p.m., CBS/2) James Corden hosts from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
E! After Party (11:30 p.m., E!)