Many of Prince’s most popular songs returned to digital streaming platforms as the music industry paid tribute to the late musician in a politically charged Grammy Awards ceremony on Sunday night.
Singer Adele, whose music is distributed by Sony Music, swept the biggest awards of the night, winning album, song and record of the year for 25, the best-selling album last year. She beat Beyoncé, who is also distributed by Sony Music, and had been viewed as her biggest competition for the top awards.
The 59th Grammy awards paid tribute to a number of legendary musicians who died in the past year, including George Michael and David Bowie as well as Prince. Bowie, who died from cancer last January, won five awards for his final album Blackstar, released just before he died.
The return of Prince’s music to streaming services comes almost two years after the late star, who for decades fiercely protected his work and had clashed with online music sites like YouTube, pulled his catalogue from all platforms except Tidal, the company led by Jay Z.
“We are deeply aware of our responsibility to safeguard and nurture his incredible legacy,” said Cameron Strange, chief executive of Warner Bros Records, which holds the licensing rights to Prince’s hit songs recorded before 1996.
Prince’s records under Warner Bros Records, including hit albums like Purple Rain, were put back on Spotify and other services after parent company Warner Music struck a deal with Prince’s estate. The record label also said it would release two albums of previously unheard Prince songs, a remastered version of Purple Rain and two concert films.
The return of one of streaming’s biggest detractors comes as digital streaming sales have grown rapidly in the past year, offsetting declines in album sales to power revenue growth at the biggest music companies: Vivendi-owned Universal, Sony and Warner.
In another nod to how fast the music economy is changing, Coloring Book, a hip hop album by Chance the Rapper, on Sunday became the first streaming-only album to win a Grammy award. The 23-year-old rapper, who has turned down record-label deals in favour of posting his songs on SoundCloud for free, said in his acceptance speech that “independence means freedom”.
As with other big Hollywood events this year, politics and American identity were undercurrents throughout the Grammys ceremony. In front of a primetime audience of millions on CBS, singer Katy Perry performed in a white pantsuit with “persist” written across her arm, in a nod to Hillary Clinton. A Tribe Called Quest finished a politically charged performance by shouting “resist” repeatedly, after rapper Busta Rhymes referred to Donald Trump as “President Agent Orange”.
Beyoncé, accepting an award for her groundbreaking album Lemonade, said she wanted her children to “grow up in a world, where they look in the mirror — first to their own families as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves”.
“This is something that I want for every child of every race, and I feel that it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognise our tendencies to repeat our mistakes,” she said.
The messages signal a growing divide between the Trump administration and Hollywood. The president failed to convince a single musician of note to perform at his inauguration last month, with big acts such as Elton John and Céline Dion turning down the invitation.
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