With one prominent exception, the evening belonged to Beyonce at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards. While the top awards were scattered among the major contenders, Beyonce prevailed in six of the 10 categories in which she was nominated, making her the top female Grammy honoree of all time.
However, she was denied total triumph when Taylor Swift won album of the year for “Fearless,” the bestselling album in recent memory with 5.4 million copies sold. Swift took home a total of four awards.
Finally breaking out of the R&B and rap enclave where she won seven previous solo Grammys, Beyonce claimed her share of the song of the year award for the inescapable “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” which she co-wrote with Thaddis Harrell, Terius Nash and Christopher Stewart. Beyonce’s track sold 3.65 million copies.
She also carried away the best female pop vocal performance statuette for the ballad “Halo.”
Still a relative newcomer with just two full-length albums to her credit (although they’ve sold a total of 10 million copies), Swift still walked away with the country categories. But she couldn’t manage more than her album of the year honor in the four slots voted on by the general Recording Academy membership.
The familial Nashville rock band Kings of Leon played spoilers in the record of the year slot for their similarly ubiquitous, hooky “Use Somebody.” The song shifted a potent 2.9 million units. The Followill brood shared honors with producers Jacquire King and Angelo Petraglia; King also engineered the number. They also managed to beat out veterans U2, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Green Day for the rock song laurel. Trumping a field of rock, pop and R&B neophytes, chicken-fried Atlanta country unit the Zac Brown Band was named best new artist. The outfit’s debut album “The Foundation” has sold 1.5 million copies to date, by far the biggest winner in the category.
Rap eminence Eminem scored best rap album (“Relapse”) and best rap performance by a duo or group (“Crack a Bottle,” with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent).
The primetime telecast was typified by the Recording Academy’s usual “Grammy moments” featuring unexpected pairings, usually of vets and relative newcomers: In addition to Lady Gaga and Elton John, there was Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks, and Maxwell and Roberta Flack. Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli paired on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” while Green Day collaborated with cast members from the forthcoming Broadway adaptation of their Grammy winner “American Idiot.”
As ever, the Grammys looked back as well as forward. During an evening dominated by young new acts, the ceremony honored the late Michael Jackson with a lavish tribute that included 3D film footage prepared for the performer’s unfulfilled run of “This Is It” shows at London’s 02 Arena. Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Usher performed Jackson’s “Earth Song.”
The accolade acknowledged the multi-talented entertainer’s ongoing commercial potency as much as his artistic legacy: Jackson, who died suddenly on June 25 at 50, was the bestselling performer of 2009, shifting nearly 8.3 million albums in the U.S.
Jackson was presented with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award, which was accepted onstage by his children Prince and Paris.
Prior to the primetime telecast, the Academy spread the wealth among the major nominees at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the bulk of the awards were handed out before switching over to the Staples Center for the performance-driven broadcast.
Swift was the only top nominee to make an appearance at the Convention Center. Her expected Grammy roll began when she collected best female country vocal performance for “White Horse.” The 20-year-old vocal superstar took the stage and exclaimed gleefully, “This is my first Grammy, you guys! I mean, this is a Grammy!”
Swift shortly returned to the stage to pick up a best country song statue for the same tune, co-written with Liz Rose. “We just won a Grammy,” she said breathlessly to Rose, who recalled she was asked by a 14-year-old Swift if she’d be willing to write with her.
With equal predictability, Beyonce emerged triumphant in the R&B categories. Her album “I Am… Sasha Fierce” was named best contemporary R&B album. The hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” rang up awards for best R&B song (which she shared with Thaddis Harrell, Terius Nash and Christopher Stewart) and best female R&B performance. Her cover of “At Last,” from the “Cadillac Records” soundtrack, was selected as best traditional R&B vocal performance,
Black Eyed Peas’ wins spanned best pop album (“The End”), best pop performance by a duo or group (“I Gotta Feeling”) and best short form video category (“Boom Boom Pow”). “I Gotta Feeling” and “Boom Boom Pow” were the top two bestselling digital tracks of 2009.
Lady Gaga, who opened the telecast with a performance of “Poker Face” before dueting with Sir Elton John on “Your Song,” predictably conquered the dance categories, winning for best dance recording (for the hit “Poker Face”) and best electronic/dance album (for her top 10 Interscope set “The Fame”).
Maxwell roped in the first two Grammys of his bestselling career. His “BLACKsummers’ Night” was named best R&B album, while the track “Pretty Wings” was named best male R&B vocal performance.
Some performers who had long been ignored by the Recording Academy picked up their first Grammys.
AC/DC (best hard rock performance, for “War Machine”) and Judas Priest (best metal performance, for “Dissident Aggressor”) were acknowledged at the heavy end of the spectrum.
Incredibly, singer-songwriter Neil Young — honored for his charitable work as MusiCare’s Person of the Year on Friday — won the very first Grammy of his 40-plus-year career in a crafts category, for best boxed or special limited edition package, for his “Archives Vol. 1,” sharing the honor with Gary Burden and Jenice Heo.
However, in a battle among grizzled rockers, Bruce Springsteen triumphed over Young for best solo rock vocal performance, winning with the title cut from “Working On a Dream.”
The progeny of the late reggae legend Bob Marley scored awards: Ziggy Marley took home best children’s musical album for “Family Time,” while Stephen Marley received the best reggae album Grammy for “Mind Control — Acoustic.”
The father-son team of Cuban pianists Bebo Valdez and Chucho Valdez scored the best Latin jazz album trophy for “Juntos Para Siempre.”
Brendan O’Brien was named non-classical producer of the year for helming albums by AC/DC, Mastodon, Pearl Jam, Killswitch Engage and Bruce Springsteen. Steven Epstein was selected as classical producer of the year for his work on projects by Leonard Bernstein, John Adams and Yo-Yo Ma, among others.
Multi-disciplinary banjoist Bela Fleck reaped his 10th and 11th trophies, picking up best contemporary world music album honors, for “Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3 — Africa Sessions,” as well as the best pop instrumental performance statuette for the set’s title track.
Mixer of the moment David Guetta won for best non-classical remix for his collaboration with Kelly Rowland, “When Love Takes Over.”
Thesps picked up awards in unusual categories. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx added a Grammy to his shelf, taking best R&B duo award for “Blame It,” his collaboration with T-Pain. Steve Martin, who doubles as a banjoist, picked up best bluegrass album for “The Crow/New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.” Michael J. Fox’s audiobook “Always Looking Up” was recognized as best spoken world album.
Winners in the film categories included album producer A.R. Rahman for “Slumdog Millionaire,” best compilation soundtrack; composer Michael Giacchino for “Up,” best score soundtrack album; and writers Gulzar, A.R. Rahman and Tanvi Shah for “Jai Ho” (from “Slumdog Millionaire”) for best song for a motion picture, TV or visual media.
Giacchino, a four-time nominee this year, also won in the best instrumental composition category, for penning “Married Life” for “Up.”
On the legit side, the bilingual revival of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “West Side Story” took best musical show album. David Caddick and David Lai produced the set.