Going into Sunday night’s 55th Grammy Awards, at least a handful of artists had six nominations. But when the last award was handed out, no one had a clean sweep. It was truly an evening when everyone had a small piece of the pie.
Such is the unpredictability of the Recording Academy, which presented the ceremony live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Mumford & Sons took home the big prize for album of the year, for “Babel,” but won just one more award for long form music video (“Big Easy Express”).
The Black Keys, the blues-rock duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, won the most with four awards, including best rock performance, best rock song, best rock album, and producer of the year (non-classical) for Auerbach.
R&B singer Frank Ocean had been a top contender – with nods in the major categories of album of the year, record of the year, and best new artist – but emerged with two trophies, including urban contemporary album and a shared victory for best rap/sung collaboration (“No Church in the Wild,” from Kanye West and Jay-Z, featuring Ocean and The-Dream).
Likewise, Fun. had six nominations and won two of them: best new artist and song of the year (“We Are Young”) up against Carly Rae Jepsen’s heavily favored “Call Me Maybe.” The disappointment on Jepsen’s face was hard to take: She knew “Call Me Maybe” was probably her best and last chance at winning the honor.
Gotye, who hit big last year with “Somebody That I Used to Know,” was honored with three awards, for record of the year, best pop duo/group performance, and best alternative music album. Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” was the winner for best pop vocal album.
Adele’s face doesn’t hide anything, and when she was announced as the winner of best pop solo performance, she looked incredulous. She owned last year’s Grammys, winning six of them, so when she won again – for a live version of “Set Fire to the Rain,” of all things – she seemed a little annoyed.
In a night dominated by younger acts (as both nominees and performers), Bonnie Raitt managed to win her 10th Grammy, fending off Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers, John Fullbright, and the Avett Brothers to win for best Americana album for “Slipstream.”
The field for best rap album was among the most competitive, split between veterans and up-and-comers. Drake’s “Take Care” won over Nas, the Roots, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, and Lupe Fiasco. Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “[Expletive] in Paris” took home the trophies for best rap song and best rap performance.
The only thing more erratic than the list of winners was the live performances. They were all over the place, from thrilling to surprisingly medicore. Opening the show with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift mashed up “Alice in Wonderland,” Nancy Sinatra, and a Victorian court theme. Fun. frontman Nate Ruess was pitchy as fake rain poured down on him during “Carry On.”
Country superstars Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley, who are on tour together, looked and sounded out of synch on a duet that combined her “Over You” and his “Home.” R&B singer Miguel was smooth as silk on a spare rendition of “Adorn,” punctuated by his soaring falsetto and a guest rap from Wiz Khalifa.
In a heavily hyped return to a live stage, Justin Timberlake previewed songs from his forthcoming album, “The 20/20 Experience.” If this performance – bolstered by a band, orchestra, horn section, and back-up singers — is any indication, Timberlake is going head first into ’70s soul, not unlike the music Bruno Mars already makes.
It was the year indie artists who weren’t million-sellers were as visible as their multiplatinum counterparts. In a perfect snapshot of the collision of those two worlds, Swift mouthed the words and danced along to performances by Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers. (I predict Mumford & Sons will be on the road with Swift by the end of the year.)
Johnny Depp, having blown in from either a shipwreck or the back of the Allman Brothers’ tour bus, introduced Mumford & Sons, who proceeded to unleash what they do best. With heads down, hands stabbing at keyboards and wildly strumming, they had their feet to the pedal for “I Will Wait,” capturing the original version’s energy and earnestness.
Jack White injected the ceremony with its most electrifying rock moment, turning “Love Interruption” into a cathartic, bluesy soul exorcism. Only Carrie Underwood loosed more from-the-gut force in her performance of “Blown Away,” which won for best country song and country solo performance.
In a tribute to the late Levon Helm, Mumford & Sons, Elton John, Zac Brown, T Bone Burnett, Mavis Staples, and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard turned out a stirring rendition of the Band’s “The Weight.” Staples, who was featured on the song in the film “The Last Waltz,” took it to church with gospel fervor. (You know you’ve stolen the show when Elton John kisses your hand.)
When it came time to perform, Ocean had his James Franco-at-the-Oscars moment. His rendition of “Forrest Gump” was so half-hearted that it came off as insincere (and sadly out of tune). It was akin to Lana del Rey’s infamous performance on “Saturday Night Live.”
Among artists with local ties, Esperanza Spalding, the Berklee-bred singer-songwriter and bassist (and previous Grammy winner for best new artist in 2011), won best jazz vocal album for “Radio Music Society.” The Steep Canyon Rangers’ “Nobody Knows You,” on Burlington-based label Rounder Records, won for best bluegrass album. Local designer Fritz Klaetke beat the competition for best boxed or special limited edition package for “Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection.”