Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift and Alabama Shakes were the biggest winners at a Grammy Awards ceremony that, due to the recent deaths of some seminal stars, felt as much a tribute to music’s past as its present.
Monday’s ceremony included performances honoring David Bowie, Glenn Frey, B.B. King, Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire and Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, along with an extended clip of Natalie Cole. All died within the past year.
Lamar scored five Grammys for his breakthrough album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the night’s biggest haul. But he was shut out of Grammy’s Big Four. Swift won top album for “1989,” Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars earned top record for “Uptown Funk,” Ed Sheeran won song of the year for “Thinking Out Loud” and Meghan Trainor was named best new artist.
Besides his five Grammys, Lamar had one of the night’s most intense, riveting performances. A week after Beyonce’s Super Bowl show saluted the black power movement, Lamar opened his “The Blacker the Berry” performance in chains, dressed in a prison uniform along with several dancers. A fire burned behind him as he rapped “Alright,” and a backdrop included a map of Africa with the California city “Compton” written on it.
Actor Don Cheadle noted that Lamar’s disc “daringly incorporated jazz, funk, soul and pure poetry into a hip-hop masterpiece.” He earned a shoutout from President Barack Obama’s White House twitter feed.
He won best rap album, rap performance, rap song, rap/sung performance and music video. But his disappearance from CBS’ broadcast after the first hour is sure to renew debate over Grammy voters’ attitudes toward rap.
“Each of the categories has its own flavor and its own experts who are in the academy who have a particular passion and knowledge about it,” said Neil Portnow, recording academy president, adding that the largest number of academy members vote in the big categories.
Swift’s show-opening performance of “Out of the Woods” was marred by sound problems of the sort that later bedeviled Adele and Alice Cooper. Yet her album of the year win — the second of her career in that category — was a particularly timely triumph.
She addressed fellow women artists in her acceptance speech.
“There are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” she said. She urged others not to be sidetracked by the naysayers and know that when they succeed, it will be the people who loved you who put you there.
The clear but unspoken reference was to Kanye West, who several years ago grabbed a microphone from Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards and last week released a song with a crude comment about her and suggestion that he made her famous.
Swift’s “1989” also won best pop vocal album, and she won a video award for “Bad Blood.”
The tributes to the deceased stars took several forms. Stevie Wonder, wishing that Earth, Wind & Fire’s White “rest in eternal bliss and peace,” sang “That’s The Way of the World” with the vocal group Pentatonix.
Surviving Eagles members, joined by Jackson Browne, played a stately version of “Take it Easy,” with a giant Frey portrait backing them as the song came to a close.
Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute was a visual wonder, with one of this generation’s most visually arresting artists honoring one whose biggest moments were decades ago. The visuals overwhelmed the music, though, and Gaga may have been better served not trying to pack too many hits in. A commercial immediately following the performance for a technology company involved in the production was a discordant note, too.
Alabama Shakes won three awards and plenty of respect. Lead singer Brittany Howard, during a performance of “Don’t Wanna Fight,” conveyed more power and emotion in just her voice than the noisy Hollywood Vampires supergroup of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Joe Perry did with a mess of tattoos, flames, flashing lights and loud guitars. “Don’t Wanna Fight” won Grammys for best rock song and rock performance.
“I never imagined,” Howard said later backstage. “I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true. Having to speak to that many people knowing all our friends and family were at home was surreal. It still seems surreal.”
FUNK IT UP
“Uptown Funk” was the year’s most ubiquitous song, and when it won record of the year, Ronson paid tribute to some funk forebears — including George Clinton, who smiled from the audience. Said Mars: “We wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for the people dancing to this song.”
MOM & DAD
Ed Sheeran made moms and dads throughout the television audience melt by saluting his beaming parents after winning song of the year. Sheeran, who also won best pop vocal performance, noted that he had flown them over three times before after he was nominated but hadn’t won. Grammy producers severely shortchanged his co-writer on “Thinking Out Loud,” Amy Wadge, by cutting away before she could even speak.
Meghan Trainor, after winning best new artist, couldn’t fight off the tears. Neither could her dad in the audience.
“My heart was exploding,” she said later. “I was like, ‘don’t forget anyone and don’t have snot running your face. Don’t forget your parents.”
SITTING IT OUT
Rihanna was due to perform near the top of the show, but didn’t make it because he doctor ordered her to rest her voice for two days.
Other multiple Grammy winners on Monday included The Weeknd, Skrillex and Diplo, Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town and Jason Isbell.
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