Plant, Krauss rock the house
EmptyLed Zeppelin sold 112 million albums but never won a Grammy. Nearly three decades after that band's demise, frontman Robert Plant earned a fistful of statuettes Sunday for what was a studio experiment.
"We gave ourselves three days and said, 'If it doesn't work, we'll take lunch,'" Plant said.
He and bluegrass veteran Alison Krauss ruled the 51st annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Their rootsy "Raising Sand" garnered a leading five awards, including album of the year and record of the year for the track "Please Read the Letter."
"In the old days, we would've called this selling out," Plant quipped in accepting the coveted album of the year nod.
The Plant-Krauss pairing was a genre hopper, also winning for best contemporary folk/Americana album, country collaboration with vocals ("Killing the Blues") and pop collaboration with vocals ("Rich Woman").
The five wins for Krauss padded her lead as the most-honored woman in Grammy history, with a mantel-warping 26.
Lil Wayne, who had the year's biggest-selling album and came into the evening as the leading nominee with eight, was next with four wins. But like Kanye West last year — and every year — the rapper was shut out of the big awards, winning only in the rap categories.
English quartet Coldplay came in with seven noms and went home with three trophies, including song of the year for "Viva la Vida." Soulful Brit singer Adele was named best new artist and scored best female pop vocal for her enigmatic hit "Chasing Pavements."
The evening's multiple winners also included Radiohead, Kanye West, Metallica, Kirk Franklin, Daft Punk, Al Green and John Mayer.
But controversy and speculation hung over music's biggest night as two of the industry's biggest young stars were abrupt no-shows. The media rooms were abuzz with stories of Los Angeles police investigating Chris Brown for alleged domestic violence against Rihanna. Both were scheduled to perform during the first half-hour. No mention of their absence was made during the show.
As the CBS telecast began, an announcement was made in the media room about Rihanna canceling her performance. Going on two hours later, the Recording Academy made an official announcement that Brown would not be attending the show, and that it regretted that he wouldn't be able to attend.
There were, however, a number of positive surprises during the generally entertaining show. Whitney Houston was an unannounced presenter, and she took her time in the spotlight. The typically wisecracking members of long-dormant pop punksters Blink-182 made an announcement before they presented the award for best rock song. "We used to play together, and we're gonna play together again," said drummer Travis Barker, sporting a sling as he continues to recover from a September plane crash.
There were 1,117 people nominated in 110 categories, but as usual the performances overshadowed the awards — especially the genre-bounding collaborations. Coldplay was teamed with Jay-Z. Jonas Brothers sang with Stevie Wonder. T.I. duetted with Justin Timberlake. Paul McCartney sang "I Saw Her Standing There" with Dave Grohl on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the birth of Beatlemania Americana: the Fab Four's first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
Their performances and the others ranged from darned good to thanks anyway.
Jennifer Hudson gave an emotional reading of "You Pulled Me Through," looking straight into the camera as she delivered the title line at the end, and welled up. Radiohead, making its first appearance on U.S. television in nine years, brought in the USC marching band for "15 Step." Teenage megastars and self-proclaimed BFFs Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift teamed for a seated acoustic number, with the former countrifying it up — a possible hint at where she's headed after her teen idol status wanes. And Carrie Underwood sang, uh, a country ditty spiked with heavy metal guitar.
Reporters chuckled backstage as a very pregnant M.I.A. joined "the Rap Pack" — Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Kanye West and T.I. — for "Swagga Like Us." The song, aired mostly in black and white, was introed by Queen Latifah, who said it was originating from the "Sands of Time Hotel." Kate Beckinsale said afterward that M.I.A. was "due to have that baby today."
Estelle was upstaged by West during their song and again before they presented the best new artist award. "This award has gone to Bob Newhart, John Legend, Amy Winehouse — but somehow not to either one of us," West cracked. It pretty much was the night's funniest line.
Recording Academy president Neil Portnow's normally dry speech was, well, dry but featured a direct request for the new president, double Grammy winner Barack Obama. "Our finest national treasure is our culture in the arts, so it's time that we acknowledged that fact with the creation of the Cabinet position of Secretary of the Arts," he said.
As is the Grammys' norm, there was no shortage of musical veterans honored in the genre categories during the pretelecast portion of the show: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jose Feliciano, John Williams, Jimmy Sturr, Beausoleil and Michael Doucet, Chick Corea, CeCe Winans, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Burning Spear, Dr. John, Pete Seeger and Eagles.