Electronic dance music made a major incursion into the musical mainstream at the 2014 Grammys, as the cryptic, helmeted French duo Daft Punk reaped two of the night’s biggest honors and rang up four trophies.
Grammy wealth also was showered on two Internet-fueled grassroots sensations. Lorde, the 17-year-old New Zealander behind the smash “Royals,” took song of the year honors. Seattle-based hip-hoppers Macklemore & Ryan Lewis boasted of making their music without the backing of a record label as they collected the best new artist trophy.
Mirroring the continuing commercial explosion of EDM, Daft Punk’s mute, helmeted pair of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo scooped album of the year (for “Random Access Memories”) and record of the year (“Get Lucky,” their collaboration with Pharrell Williams and Chic’s Nile Rodgers). They also notched victories for best pop duo/group performance and electronica album, while their engineering team won kudos on its own.
No EDM album or track had ever previously prevailed in the top categories, perhaps unsurprisingly, since the Recording Academy gave out its first dance/electronica album award in 2005. But with its immense hit — a happy, hedonistic mix of EDM, disco and rock — Daft Punk appeared to find the perfect formula for pleasing consumers and Grammy voters alike. The duo’s Jan. 26 performance deftly prefigured the night’s climactic moment, as Stevie Wonder, who has three album of the year Grammys under his belt, joined in on an extended version of “Get Lucky.”
Other Grammy firsts materialized on the Staples Center stage. Rap music claimed its first best new artist trophy, in the unlikely form of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Fans of hardcore rap may have preferred Compton’s fierce, smart Kendrick Lamar in the category, but it was hard to deny the commercial potency of Macklemore & Lewis’ frisky “Thrift Shop” (which captured two awards) or the diversity of “The Heist” (named best rap album).
Macklemore & Lewis’ performance of a track from “The Heist,” the gay marriage anthem “Same Love” produced the night’s most mind-boggling moment: 33 couples, gay and straight, exchanging rings and vows live on the Staples Center stage as Queen Latifah officiated. The belated onstage arrival of Madonna in white tails and top hat proved anticlimactic.
Lorde’s slinky, caustic hit “Royals,” which sold a staggering 4.4 million copies in 2013, reaped not only song of the year (for the singer and co-writer Joel Little) but also best pop solo performance. For Lorde, the Grammys proved a glitzy curtain-raiser for a young talent of immense promise.
Other fresh artists — country’s Kacey Musgraves, R&B’s Gary Clark Jr., rock’s Imagine Dragons — made their mark with wins. But the evening revolved around the biggest of all veteran pop talents. With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ 1964 U.S. debut on CBS’ “Ed Sullivan Show” looming, Paul McCart-ney and Ringo Starr played together, while the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison handed out the album of the year statuette. The hoopla may have largely acted as ballyhoo for CBS’ Feb. 9 special “The Night that Changed America” (co-produced by the Recording Academy) devoted to the detonation of American Beatlemania, but it was delicious nonetheless.
As usual, the night’s performances were often gaudy and frequently over the top. Pink’s aerial rendition of “Try” — a reprise of her 2010 Cirque du Soleil routine — predictably wowed the audience. Of the customary mix-and-match oddities, the pairing of Metallica and classical pianist Lang Lang on Metallica’s thrash-metal standard “One” proved an oddball delight; on the minus side, the drum-thwacking mating of rapper Lamar and Imagine Dragons fell perfectly flat, while Robin Thicke fronting Chicago was simply inexplicable.
In the end, the night’s most delightful musical surprise found vet Carole King, this year’s MusiCares Person of the Year, and her young mirror image Sara Bareilles seated at separate pianos, energetically melding their respective hits “Beautiful” and “Brave.” Musicians simply playing their instruments and belting it out: There’s a concept the Grammys should explore more often.