Last year the Grammy Awards were scattershot enough to suggest the days of clean sweeps were long gone. As if mirroring how fractured the music industry is, not to mention how far-flung our listening habits have become, no one dominated the ceremony the way Adele did in 2012, winning all six of her awards.
At Sunday’s 56th edition of the Grammys, broadcast live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles and hosted by LL Cool J, the tide turned and crowned Daft Punk the night’s clear victor. The electronic duo of French musicians Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, who had a massive hit last year with “Get Lucky” and the album that spawned it, “Random Access Memories,” was the only act to win all its nominated categories: album of the year, record of the year, best dance/electronica album, and best pop duo/group performance.
“Get Lucky” featured Pharrell Williams on vocals and guitarist Nile Rodgers. Daft Punk is notoriously reclusive, showing up to the ceremony in sleek helmets and never saying a word while accepting their awards.
“I suppose the robots would like to thank. . .,” Williams joked when they accepted the award for record of the year, adding that France must be proud.
Not far behind Daft Punk as the evening’s big success story were Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Seattle hip-hop duo who cleaned up in the rap categories, winning for best rap album (“The Heist”), best rap performance, and best rap song, both for “Thrift Shop.” They also prevailed in the category of best new artist, besting Kacey Musgraves, the country-pop sweetheart who won for best country album and best country song.
It was an astonishing moment for Macklemore and Lewis and a reminder of what a perfect storm they had created. Their brand of rap was the most family-friendly and radio-ready in a genre of rap heavy-hitters such as Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar.
Most telling of all was how Macklemore & Ryan Lewis had arrived on that Grammy Awards stage. Macklemore’s acceptance speech pointed out the realities of the music business, that artists no longer have to rely on the industry’s machinery for a successful career path.
“We made this album without a record label. We made it independently, and we appreciate all the support,” he said as time ran out for Lewis to speak.
They also staged the most heartrending performance of the night, presiding over a mass wedding of couples from different backgrounds and sexual orientations. The song was “Same Love,” Queen Latifah officiated the ceremony, and Madonna materialized at the end to sing a (rather off-key) snippet of her own “Open Your Heart.” Tears were shed, including by Keith Urban and others in the audience.
Song of the year, which honors the songwriter instead of the performer, went to Lorde for her 2013-defining hit, “Royals.” (“It’s been mental,” she said of its popularity.) The 17-year-old singer, born Ella Yelich-O’Connor, was also up for record of the year but lost to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Lorde also won for best pop solo performance and lost the award for best pop vocal album to Bruno Mars’s “Unorthodox Jukebox.”
For what must seem like the umpteenth time to him, Kanye West was shut out of the big three categories (album, song, and record) and lost both of his nominations, for best rap album (“Yeezus”) and best rap song (“New Slaves”). Both awards went to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
As part of a Grammy tradition, the event pairs younger artists with the heritage acts who likely influenced them, even though those old-timers increasingly don’t get nominated in the major categories anymore. The nominees for best rock album – including David Bowie, Neil Young with Crazy Horse, and Black Sabbath — were a notable exception. And even with Queens of the Stone Age and Kings of Leon in the mix, the award went to Led Zeppelin for “Celebration Day.”
It’s always a crapshoot, but this year’s cross-generational collaborations were a highlight. It was poignant to see country maverick Kris Kristofferson, who received a lifetime achievement award, onstage with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Blake Shelton. A closing jam session included a who’s who of guitar heroes: Lindsey Buckingham, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl, and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme.
The most buzzed-about duo, of course, was Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the lone surviving Beatles who were also honored with a lifetime achievement award. Dare I say it: The camera capturing Yoko Ono, clad in sunglasses while dancing in the crowd, was the best part of their performance.
Power couple Beyoncé and Jay Z opened the show with a sleek performance of “Drunk in Love,” their duet from her new self-titled album. And Daft Punk held court over a big dance party that roared with Williams, Rodgers, and a tentative Stevie Wonder.
Of local interest, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, who teaches at Berklee College of Music, won for best jazz instrumental album, marking her second Grammy win in as many years. She noted in her acceptance speech that she was the first woman to win that award.