Last night, Adele was awarded five Grammys, including Best Album for her most recent release, 25. The album sold millions of copies all over the world, and in 2015 it was the first album in four years to be certified Diamond (the last album to do this was Adele’s 2012 release 21). There’s no doubt that Adele has achieved an enormous amount, and deserves recognition. Yet, when she was presented with the Best Album Grammy for 25, her speech began "I can't possibly accept this award. I’m very humbled and I'm very grateful, but Beyoncé is the artist of my life”.
Beyoncé was nominated for her sixth studio album Lemonade, which was released to enormous acclaim last year, and many critics described it as her best work to date. Arguably, Adele’s victory over Beyoncé is another sign that the Grammys fail to recognise artists of colour (Frank Ocean boycotted the awards for this reason, withdrawing his album Blonde from consideration for an award.) However, 25 was the most commercially successful album nominated, outselling Lemonade by 10:1. There are all sorts of factors that make Adele a worthy winner.
My personal opinion is that Lemonade’s boldness, musicality and innovative qualities should have given her the edge (and any album that features the single Formation should get every award for music that there is, until the end of time). However, it’s surprising and inspiring to learn that Adele feels this way too. It’s unusual to hear a woman at the top of her professional game say that she’s not the best – someone else is better, and she wants to celebrate that person instead of simply accepting the plaudits that have come her way.
Adele’s speech is a form of amplification. Being on stage and using that platform to credit and applaud another woman’s work is raising the profile of women everywhere
Thanks to social media, we have never had more opportunities to check what other women are up to, and use that information as a yardstick to measure where we stand. Whether we’re looking at the achievements of Adele, Beyoncé or the people we share an office with, we’re encouraged to compare ourselves with them, and to compete with them. A little professional competition can be a source of motivation, but when we start comparing, we often end up despairing. It can be enormously liberating to say that even when we’re trying our hardest, the women we’re competing with are the ones who really deserve to win. Instead of worrying about who might overtake us as we try to scramble to the summit, we can use our energy more effectively by celebrating the achievements of other women.
Last year, the Washington Post reported that the female staffers working for President Obama’s office developed an “amplification” strategy. Women were in the minority, and their ideas were often ignored, so if a woman made a point in a meeting or had an idea, other women would repeat it, crediting the woman who said it first. I think that Adele’s speech is a form of amplification. Simply accepting the award wouldn’t have been nearly so newsworthy, but being on stage and using that platform to credit and applaud another woman’s work is raising the profile of women everywhere.
Many of us have grown up hearing about how feminism can benefit us as individuals. As women, we can have it all, and there is nothing we’re not capable of! Women just need to believe in themselves, and then we can all excel! However, we can’t all come top, and we’re probably not even able to do our best if we’re distracted because we’re mindlessly, desperately trying to be the best.
Lemonade and 25 are two beautiful, powerful pieces of work, and each is very different from the other. Could Beyoncé and Adele have made them if they had done so while focusing on besting each other? When we’re obsessed with being the best, we’re thinking about comparison, and I think that leads to sudden creative death. Every teacher knows that you can’t get on with your own work if you’re looking over the shoulder of the person in front of you. Accepting that someone else has done something “better” is totally freeing. You’ve excused yourself from the need to measure and evaluate where you’re at, so you can simply enjoy doing it instead.
According to an old truism, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. If we acknowledge that others in our field are more talented and able than we are, we’re acknowledging that we’re more interested in the success of civilisation that success for ourselves. Adele didn’t just attend the Grammys as an artist, but as a Beyoncé supporter and music fan. If we truly love what we do, we have to love and admire the women who do it better than we ever can, and have the grace to accept their greatness.