LOS ANGELES: Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift and Alabama Shakes were the biggest winners at a Grammy Awards ceremony that, due to the recent deaths of some seminal stars, felt as much a tribute to music’s past as its present. Monday’s ceremony included performances honoring David Bowie, Glenn Frey, B.B. King, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White and Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, along with an extended clip of Natalie Cole.
All died within the past year.
Lamar scored five Grammys for his breakthrough album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the night’s biggest haul.
He was shut out of Grammy’s Big Four. Swift won top album for “1989,” Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars earned top record for “Uptown Funk,” Ed Sheeran won song of the year for “Thinking Out Loud” and Meghan Trainor was named best new artist.
Besides his five Grammys, Lamar had one of the night’s most intense, riveting performances.
A week after Beyonce’s Super Bowl show saluted the black power movement, Lamar opened his “The Blacker the Berry” performance in chains, dressed in a prison uniform along with several dancers. A fire burned behind him as he rapped “Alright,” and a backdrop included a map of Africa with the California city “Compton” written on it.
Actor Don Cheadle noted that Lamar’s disc “daringly incorporated jazz, funk, soul and pure poetry into a hip-hop masterpiece.” He earned a shoutout from President Barack Obama’s White House Twitter feed.
He won best rap album, rap performance, rap song, rap/sung performance and music video and his disappearance from CBS’ broadcast after the first hour is sure to renew debate over Grammy voters’ attitudes toward rap.
Swift’s show-opening performance of “Out of the Woods” was marred by sound problems of the sort that later bedeviled Adele and Alice Cooper. Yet her album of the year win – the second of her career in that category – was a particularly timely triumph.
“There are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success,” she said, addressing women artists, “or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame.” She urged others not to be sidetracked by the naysayers and know that when they succeed, it will be the people who loved you who put you there.
The clear but unspoken reference was to Kanye West, who several years ago grabbed a microphone from Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards and last week released a song with a crude comment about her and suggestion that he made her famous.
Swift’s “1989” also won best pop vocal album, and she won a video award for “Bad Blood.”
The tributes to the deceased stars took several forms.
Stevie Wonder, wishing that Earth, Wind & Fire’s White “rest in eternal bliss and peace,” sang “That’s The Way of the World” with the vocal group Pentatonix.
Jackson Browne joined surviving Eagles members in a stately version of “Take it Easy,” with a giant Frey portrait backing them as the song came to a close.
Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute was a visual wonder, with one of this generation’s most visually arresting artists honoring one whose biggest moments were decades ago. The visuals overwhelmed the music, though, and Gaga may have been better served not trying to pack too many hits in.
A commercial immediately following the performance for a technology company involved in the production, too, was a discordant note.