That one shitty business venture is what did her in …

This past Sunday at the 59th annual Grammy Awards, Adele snagged Album of the Year for the record-breaking collection 25. In her acceptance speech, she praised the album’s team for getting it there, her fans … and also Beyoncé, a worthy yet Sasha Fierce competitor in the controversial category.

Without fail, media organizations (and predictably, the Internet at large) pointed the ‘tragedy’ to Adele’s skin color. Because she’s white, the consensus claims, 25 won and Lemonade did not.

Now wait a minute: Jay Z can’t get off that easily …

Lemonade, if you recall, dropped on Apr 23, 2016. The date is important because it comes at the tail end of a few ‘exclusive’ releases Tidal had secured to try and push itself into contention with other behemoth streaming services. It was the one risky maneuver Tidal banked on to best other companies already nip-deep in the mix.

Before Lemonade’s release, Tidal had already failed with Rihanna’s flawed rollout of Anti [Jan ’16] and Kanye West’s less-than-thrilling The Life of Pablo [Feb ’16] — one the hip-hop icon tried to save by claiming it was a 'work in progress' and that 'new tracks would continue to be updated' (but conveniently only after the 3 month free subscription expired).

At its core, Lemonade was a commercial, or leverage, for her and her husband’s business venture. Remember, it was only available on Tidal behind a paywall, essentially drowning out any possibility of going mainstream. Couple that with it being a conceptual album and the admitted notion that it’s ‘only for black women’ — Beyoncé purposely pigeonholed the album into a special corner. Great as it may be to those she reached out to, that all but tanks any expected notion of something becoming the best in a general sense.

Because Adele sold a staggering 3.38 million copies during her first week of release. Copies. As in physical things. It beat out second place by almost 1 million units. To be more specific, it’s the quickest selling album of all time, no contest. It’s one of the most significant albums of the 21st century so far by physical sales numbers alone.

– As of January 2017, Lemonade had sold 1.55 million units in the U.S. — Adele, over 8 million.

– Beyoncé was unlisted on Vevo's totals of top video plays in 2016. Adele was consistently at number 2. (Lemonade's roughly 400 million streams on Tidal are dwarfed by Adele's 1.3 billion on Vevo)

– Adele's album was the best selling album of 2016 even though it dropped before the year even began (with a brunt of sales credited to the last few months of 2015).

Of course, it’s easy to take stats and say something to the effect of, “Well, McDonald’s sells more hamburgers than anyone else but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.” Which is correct, McDonald’s is shit. However, there are also a staggering number of studies supporting the dangerous effects of keeping a diet of strictly Big Macs. Music is subjective; to say one thing is awful because millions of people bought into it discredits the power of music and the craft at which Adele and her team formulated 25 to hit the broadest audience possible.

Which was a fascinating strategy in itself. Her album wasn’t immediately available to stream on any platform whatsoever either, which created a unique sense of purpose in the physical sales of 25. She also garnered hype through the virality of “Hello” and the connected anticipation of a comeback after being away for so long taking care of her children. Because of it, people everywhere rushed to their local Target (or wherever they sell albums now?) to be an independent part of music history. The hype was unprecedented. 

But that’s the world, that’s where we are. Momentum is far more important to the business (and the Grammy's 12,000 industry-tied voters) than breaking provocative ground like Lemonade is said to have done. 

However, Adele’s blip is likely the last we’ll see of companies pandering to physical sales. As industry analyst Bob Lefsetz often says in his newsletters, we’re on the other side of the digital mountain. For the first time ever, streaming accounts for more listens — and more money for the industry — than physical sales of albums.

“Hell, we’re not even going to have this (2016) fourth quarter madness a year from now,” he previously stated of 25’s sales record. “Because physical will be dead and track sales de minimis. I’d say this is the last gasp of a dying industry … ”

No, it isn’t the color of her skin that won Adele Album of the Year from the Grammy committee (even though that makes for a much more interesting title). It was Beyoncé’s husband and his gamble on exclusive content that ultimately failed her.

Had Lemonade been released on all platforms, engaging with all markets, catering to the most widely viable demographic (to make up for the hype that Adele received), it most certainly would have won. Or at least had a better chance of it. But that's not what Beyoncé’ chose to do, and likely didn't even expect to come out on top because of her minimizing strategy.

The Grammys, after all, is a safe organization that caters to the public at large. Just like Adele. Unlike Beyoncé. 

Fun Fact:

In its 59 years, the Grammys have awarded 39 Album of the Year awards to white musicians, and 20 to acts with representation by minorities.