Something of a dark horse, rock singer-songwriter Beck spoiled Brit soul-pop vocalist Sam Smith’s bid to sweep the four top categories at Sunday’s Grammy Awards by snagging album of the year honors for “Morning Phase.”
However, Smith was good as gold in three of the major categories, ringing up wins for record and song of the year (for “Stay With Me”) and best new artist. A win for best pop vocal album brought the 22-year-old rising star’s total on the day to four.
In his final appearance on stage, Smith wryly thanked the former lover who inspired the music on his million-selling album “In the Lonely Hour.”
“Thanks so much for breaking my heart, because you got me four Grammys,” he said.
Asked backstage if he had called his former lover about his Grammy win, Smith replied, “I haven’t had time ’cause I’m here…I’ll see him soon and I’ll let him touch the Grammys. Once.”
Beck’s Capitol collection also garnered honors as best rock album, bringing his career Grammy total to five.
Onstage, the L.A.-based performer noted that he made the set at his home with a group of long-time creative associates.
“This was a family affair,” he said. As he collected his album of the year statuette from Prince – who noted “Like books and black lives, albums still matter” – Beck added, “I’d like to thank my kids for letting me keep them awake.”
He followed his award triumph by performing a duet with Coldplay’s Chris Martin on “Heart is a Drum.”
The evening kicked off with Smith predictably collecting the best new artist trophy. It was presented to him by Taylor Swift, who recalled onstage that she lost in the category seven years ago — to Smith’s key inspiration, the late Amy Winehouse.
Within half an hour, Smith had scooped up his second award, as “In the Lonely Hour” won as best pop vocal album.
Accepting that award, Smith admitted that he would do virtually anything to gain attention when he began his career. “I was making awful music,” he said. “It was only when I started being myself that the music started to flow.’
In the late going, Smith grabbed song of the year for his ballad “Stay With Me,” co-written with James Napier and William Phillips. Smith has recently faced a flap over the song’s similarity to Tom Petty’s 1990s hit “I Won’t Back Down.” Petty, who addressed the controversy diplomatically, did not share in the award.
Smith’s record of the year honors were shared with producers Steve Fitzmaurice, Rodney Jerkins and Jimmy Napes and engineer Steve Price.
Smith’s live performance of “Stay With Me,” accompanied by R&B diva Mary J. Blige and a large chorus, was saved until well into the third hour of the CBS telecast from Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In the best pop solo performance category, Smith was trumped by Pharrell Williams’ ubiquity “Happy.” Williams – who hauled in four awards, including producer of the year, at the 2014 ceremony – seemed surprised to prevail in a category that included Smith, Swift, Sia, and John Legend. “This is slightly awkward,” he said.
Williams later performed the number with accompaniment from classical pianist Lang Lang, who performed similar services at last year’s ceremony, backing Metallica on “One.”
Beyonce – tied with Smith going into the night’s ceremony with six nods — scored best R&B performance with “Drunk in Love,” the single from her late-2013 album featuring her husband Jay Z. The tune wrapped up the best R&B song honor during the Grammys’ afternoon Premiere Ceremony.
Country music darling Miranda Lambert, who performed “Little Red Wagon” on the show, swept up the best country album trophy for “Platinum.” Though Lambert is a much-beloved perennial winner at the ACM and CMA shows, it was only her second Grammy: Her single “The House That Built Me” won as best female country performance in 2011.
The televised Grammys ceremony proved to be increasingly performance-driven this year: Only nine gold Victrolas were distributed during the three-and-a-half hour kudocast, which included no less than 27 musical numbers.
The pop-dominated show launched with the night’s most high-voltage performance: versions of “Rock or Bust” and “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC.
Some performers took advantage of the air time to push some new product: Madonna debuted “Living For Love” from her forthcoming set “Rebel Heart,” while Kanye West unveiled the new “Only One.” West double-dipped onstage later in the broadcast in tandem with Rihanna and Paul McCartney on the threesome’s soulful, low-key new single “FourFiveSeconds.”
Honors for the evening’s artiest production number went to Sia, who sang to a wall while actress Kristen Wiig and another dancer performed to the deliberately self-obscuring vocalist’s “Chandelier,” replicating the strategy of the song’s video.
Trustees Award honorees Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil received homage via Tom Jones and Jessie J’s rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the 1964 smash the writers penned for the Righteous Brothers.
CBS hyped Tuesday’s Recording Academy-sponsored all-star special devoted to Stevie Wonder’s 1977 album of the year winner “Songs in the Key of Life” with a duet on the musician’s “If It’s Magic” featuring Usher and (on harmonica) Wonder himself. The soul giant received a standing ovation before presenting the record of the year award with Jamie Foxx.
On a more serious note, the show was highlighted by a pre-taped appearance by President Obama, who asked artists to get involved in efforts to prevent domestic violence. The message, which pitched the web site itsonus.org, and a speech by domestic violence survivor Brooke Axtell, preceded a performance of the ballad “By the Grace of God” by Katy Perry.
The issue of civil rights for African-Americans was more subtly referenced several times during the show. Pharrell Williams and backing dancers did the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose that became a national protest symbol following the death last year of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Beyonce and her male backing dancers referenced the same in her gospel-flavored rendition of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” So did John Legend and Common in the night’s closing number, “Glory” from the Oscar-nommed civil rights pic “Selma.”
Grammy host LL Cool J and actress Gwyneth Paltrow introduced Beyonce’s number toward the end of the telecast with a call for respect and greater understanding among people from different walks of life. “We live in complicated times,” Paltrow said.
Beyond all of the spectacle, one of the day’s biggest awards hauls took place before the doors of Staples Center even opened: Rosanne Cash, daughter of late country legend Johnny Cash, collected three awards in Americana categories for her album “The River and the Thread” and its track “A Feather’s Not a Bird.” It was her first Grammy win since 1986, when she received a trophy for best female country performance.
“There are second acts in American lives,” she said backstage.