It opened with Australia’s AC/DC devilishly stomping their way through “Rock or Bust” and “Highway to Hell” and ended with America’s Beyoncé, John Legend and Common taking us to church with hopeful hymns about emancipation and salvation. In other words, the 57th annual Grammys, hosted once again by the affable LL Cool J, ran the gamut from rock to gospel and heaven to hell.
Another distinguishing feature of the show, which boasted a whopping 23 performances and only 10 onscreen awards, was the producers’ penchant for pairing legends with rising stars. While obviously an attempt to bridge the demographic divide, it made for some damn good duets. The young-meets-old collaborations included Ed Sheeran with Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra, Hozier with Annie Lennox, Brandi Clark with Dwight Yoakam, Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga and Sir Paul McCartney teaming up with Rihanna and Kanye West to perform their acoustic single “FourFiveSeconds."
Gospel was everywhere on the night. Madonna’s much anticipated appearance, singing “Living for Love” while dressed like a saucy matador and surrounded by horned male dancers, ended with enthusiastic handclaps and a gospel chorus. And the evening’s big winner Sam Smith just had to have a gospel choir join him and Mary J. Blige when he sang his ubiquitous Song and Record of the Year “Stay With Me.”
Smith’s acceptance speech took the prize for honesty. “I just want to say that before I made this record, I was doing everything to try and get my music heard,” he told the audience. “It was when I started to be myself that the music flowed.” The 22-year-old gay British star also had the last laugh when he gave a nod to the man who inspired his album: “Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys.”
The best introduction came from a tangerine-clad Prince, presenting Album of the Year to surprise winner Beck for Morning Phase. “Like books and black lives,” the diminutive funk icon opined, “albums still matter.”
Kanye West, who infamously upstaged Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs with his “Imma let you finish” interruption, pretended to repeat the stunt on Beck, then thought better of it. But the outspoken rapper later dug a hole for himself backstage when he said that he thought that Beck should give his awards to Beyoncé. What’s an award show without a little Kanye controversy?