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If there’s one sentiment the producers of the 54th annual Grammy Awards undoubtedly wanted to convey on Sunday night’s show, it was one of celebration.
Saturday’s tragic news cast a gray cloud over the ceremony hours before the red carpet kicked off, and because of that, it was addressed at the very start. “There is no way around this, we’ve had a death in our family,” said host LL Cool J, who then launched into a prayer “for a woman who we loved — for our fallen sister, Whitney Houston.”
Music A-listers seated in the front rows — among them Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj — bowed their heads in respect. Once the moment passed, it was time to get on with the show, which honored the best music 2011 had to offer. “The power of music is what brings us all here,” said LL Cool J.
Indeed, the music industry saw what could be the beginning of a rebound in 2011, as music sales were in the black for the first time since 2004, and that alone was reason to celebrate. But even beyond the numbers, variety ruled last year as dance and electronic music seeped into the mainstream, as pop turned to hip-hop and as rock infiltrated where it could, thanks in large part to the Foo Fighters — winners of five Grammys on Sunday, including best rock album — and Mumford &Sons.
Not surprisingly, the night’s big winner was the one who also sold the most. Adele nabbed all six of the awards for which she was nominated, including song and record of the year for “Rolling in the Deep,” tying Beyonce for the most wins by a solo female artist in one year. She’s also only the sixth artist to sweep all three major categories — song, record and album of the year — joining the likes of Eric Clapton, Carole King and Paul Simon.
Not far behind was Kanye West, who had the most noms coming in — seven. He won best rap album for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, best rap performance for “Otis” and best rap/sung collaboration for “All of the Lights,” featuring Rihanna and Kid Cudi (West did not attend the awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles). Other big winners included Taylor Swift, who picked up best country solo performance and best country song for “Mean” but lost best country album honors to Lady Antebellum, and Bon Iver, who walked off with the coveted best new artist.
The evening’s big-ticket categories were fairly predictable. The song of the year Grammy was handed out early in the broadcast. Record of the year also went to Adele, along with “Deep’s” producer Paul Epworth (also presented the prize for producer of the year) and engineers Tom Elmhirst and Mark Rankin. The top prize of album of the year went to Adele’s 21, prompting the 28,000 in attendance to hop to their feet – first among them: Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl.
Wiping away tears and snot (her words), Adele exclaimed that it’s been “the most life-changing year” while accepting the final award of the evening.
But it was as much about the legends on Grammy night, especially where performances were concerned. To wit: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band opened the show with the new single, “We Take Care of Our Own.” Recently departed saxophonist Clarence Clemons was there in spirit as one of several dozen musicians featured in the Grammys’ annual In Memoriam segment.
The Beach Boys, celebrating 50 years as a band, also got to showcase their trademark harmonies by performing “Good Vibrations,” with co-founder Brian Wilson joining the group onstage for the first time in more than 20 years. Their openers were Maroon 5 and Foster the People, who tackled “Surfer Girl” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” respectively. Country legend Glen Campbell — who coincidentally played on many early Beach Boys records and filled in onstage after Wilson quit touring with the band in the mid-’60s — had his moment, a lifetime achievement award presented by Swift and performance with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton.
Other performers included Rihanna, who delivered her latest hit, “We Found Love,” then joined Coldplay for “Princess of China,” off of their latest album, Mylo Xyloto; Perry, who sang “E.T.” followed by “Part of Me”; Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson, who duetted on their crossover smash, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”; and Foo Fighters, who rocked their Grammy-winning song “Walk” from an outdoor tent after being introduced by Jack Black as “the one band who managed to look Grammy in the eye and hold onto their indie cred.”
In fact, the Foos were one of several artists who doubled up on appearances throughout the night. The rockers were joined by dance music luminaries David Guetta and Deadmau5 along with Chris Brown for a tribute to dance and electronic music.
But perhaps the performance that most stood out was the last-minute tribute by Jennifer Hudson to Houston. The American Idol alum started her performance of “I Will Always Love You” a cappella, as Houston often did, then clearly choked up, delivered a sophisticated and tasteful rendition of the song that would go down in history as one of pop’s most enduring ballads.
As the show was about to wrap, Grammys executive producer Ken Ehrlich acknowledged the difficulty of staging the music celebration. “This has not been the easiest night for any of us,” he told the audience. “But as I said to you three-and-a-half hours ago, get up off your ass for this one.”
And with that, Paul McCartney took the stage (he had performed the song “My Valentine” earlier in the night) for a Beatles medley of Abbey Road favorites “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End.” With the stars dutifully on their feet (and at least one — Lady Gaga — angling to bolt), the legendary singer-songwriter was joined by an avalanche of guitarists that included Springsteen, Grohl and Joe Walsh in what was most certainly a medley worth waiting for.
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