LOS ANGELES: Beyonce and Adele both won early awards Sunday as they vied for dominance at the Grammys, with late rock icon David Bowie sweeping the side categories for his final album “Blackstar.”
Adele opened the music industry’s premier gala by singing her blockbuster hit “Hello” — putting to rest the bad memory of her Grammys performance last year, which went terribly awry when a microphone fell.
In awards announced before the main telecast, Adele picked up two Grammys including Best Pop Vocal Album for “25.”
Adele proved her enduring popularity with “25” — one of the top-selling albums in recent years — by sticking to her style of heart-wrenching ballads.
The English singer is running in major categories including Album of the Year against Beyonce, who took on a new, edgier persona on “Lemonade.”
Beyonce’s single “Formation” won Best Music Video, in her most provocative statement to date, with a video in which she tours a New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The video rallies behind the Black Lives Matter movement, with an image of police officers surrendering as if under arrest.
Beyonce was making her first public appearance Sunday since revealing that she is pregnant with twins.
She leads the Grammys with nine nominations and could win Album of the Year and Record of the Year for the first time.
“Lemonade,” which Beyonce intertwined with a film, marked a new direction for the pop superstar as she dabbled in hip-hop, hard rock and even country.
In the film, Beyonce strongly suggested that her husband, rapper Jay Z, had been unfaithful but by the end, she forgave him.
Beyond Adele and Beyonce, dark horses for Album of the Year include “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” by Sturgill Simpson, which won Best Country Album.
Simpson has given some intellectual heft to country music through lyricism inspired by Buddhist philosophy.
Justin Bieber was nominated for “Purpose,” in a surprise nod for the Canadian singer often more associated with tabloid exploits.
Posthumous honors for Bowie
“Blackstar,” the final album of Bowie, who always enjoyed more recognition in his native Britain, won in all five categories for which it was nominated, including Best Rock Song.
Bowie had won only one Grammy in his lifetime before Sunday.
And “Blackstar,” which he released two days before his death last year from an undisclosed battle with cancer, was controversially passed over for the most prestigious Album of the Year honors.
But he won Best Alternative Music Album for “Blackstar,” in which Bowie showed himself innovative to the end by collaborating with the avant-garde jazz saxophonist Donny McCaslin.
While not predicting how Bowie would have felt, McCaslin told reporters: “When the press was hearing the album before it came out, I could see it meant a lot to him.”
Chance the Rapper, 23, picked up the closely watched prize of Best New Artist for his gospel-infused hip-hop. The Chicago artist benefited from updated rules that consider streaming exclusives.
Chance, the Chicago-born son of an aide to former president Barack Obama, has been open about his Christianity and told the gala: “I claim the victory in the name of the Lord.”
A political edge
With much of the entertainment industry horrified by US President Donald Trump, the Grammys quickly took on a political edge.
“At this particular moment in history, our voices are needed more than ever,” Jennifer Lopez said as she presented the night’s first award.
Comedian Margaret Cho, the host of the awards ceremony before the main telecast, said that if she won an award, her sole message would be an expletive against the Republican billionaire-turned-president.
Paris Jackson, the 18-year-old daughter of late King of Pop Michael Jackson, voiced hope when she saw the enthusiastic crowd in the Staples Center.
“We can really use this kind of excitement at a pipeline protest, guys,” she said to cheers.
She introduced a performance by an artist often likened to her father — The Weeknd, the Toronto R&B singer with a high mellifluous voice.
The Weeknd sang a medley of his hits “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming” with the reclusive French duo Daft Punk, who performed for the first time in three years.
The duo, usually clad as robots, appeared in Darth Vader-like capes as they delivered an added house music edge and light show.
The ceremony will later include tributes to late pop icons Prince and George Michael.
Hours beforehand, Prince’s classic albums returned to major streaming sites such as Spotify.
The Purple One had been outspoken in his criticism of the music industry, but label Warner Brothers reached a deal as his estate tries to monetize his legacy.
Prince had previously only streamed his music on the upstart Tidal service of rap mogul Jay Z. AFP