On a night dominated by unlikely musical collaborations of all kinds – from a mini-Beatles reunion to Stetson-wearing Madonna jamming with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at a wedding – the Grammys also found time Sunday to hand out a few awards.
But no one was stranger or more eye-catching than the “robot men” in Daft Punk, the perpetually helmeted French duo who captured album of the year for “Random Access Memories,” and record of the year for the insidious single “Get Lucky.”
“I got sober and two robots called me to make an album,” said Paul Williams, one of their collaborators in accepting for the silent duo.
Macklemore & Lewis steamrolled the competition in the early going at the 56th annual Grammy Awards. The Seattle hip-hop duo swept the rap awards in the pre-telecast for rap album (“The Heist”) and rap song and best rap sung performance(“Thrift Shop”), then added a fourth Grammy during the prime-time national TV event with a victory in the prestigious best new artist category, beating out acclaimed rapper Kendrick Lamar and rising country star Kacey Musgraves, among others.
“We made this album without a record label, we made it independently,” Macklemore said in accepting one award. The duo also provided a soundtrack for dozens of men and women -- some gay, some straight -- to exchange marriage vows by performing their gay-rights anthem “Same Love” alongside Madonna.
Lorde, who was up for four awards but, strangely enough, not best new artist, won song of the year for “Royals.” The New Zealand teen delivered a twitchy performance of the tune that elicited more social media commentary on her odd hand accessories than the actual music. What a performer wears, or doesn’t wear, is often as much or more important than the song in this glittery showcase for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. During the prime-time telecast, there were twice as many live performances as award presentations.
Katy Perry tried to seize the moment but unwittingly looked like a prop on her own mini-movie set, which included an excess of pyro and writhing extras. Pink dangled over the audience by her ankles and twirled while presumably singing in perfect pitch. And, yes, the Grammys claim no one lip-syncs, but … c’mon.
The more successful moments, at least from a purely musical standpoint, were the sparsest: a solo piano performance by John Legend, and a similarly scaled delivery by Taylor Swift, before she shifted into hair-tossing bombast.
The heaviest hitters were saved for later, with a reunion of ex-Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, a country all-star lineup that included Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson; Daft Punk with collaborators such as Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams; and a closing performance by Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham.
Other highlights, and a few lows, from the telecast included:
Lucky chair: Beyonce rolled out a provocative solo dance number with a chair, apparently so awestruck it couldn’t move. As twerk throwdowns go, it was a big “Take that!” to Miley Cyrus, who wiggled her way through MTV’s Video Music Awards a few months ago. For extra punctuation, Jay Z joined his wife to complete the power-couple opener.
Best acceptance speech: Jay Z basically gave a variation of the “Who’s your daddy?” taunt, and then turned it upside down in acknowledging his daughter with Beyonce, Blue Ivy, after wining for best rap/sung collaboration. "I wanna tell Blue, ‘Look, Daddy got a gold sippy cup for you.’"
Weirdest thank you speech: Daft Punk, the largely anonymous French duo who wears robot masks in public, had one of their collaborators, Williams, do the talking in accepting their award for best pop duo performance. “On behalf of the robots,” Williams said. “They’d like to thank their parents.”
Fiercest performance: Kendrick Lamar, wearing what appeared to be an oak-tree sized chip on his shoulder after losing out in the rap categories for his acclaimed album “good kid, M.A.A.D. city,” brought a ferocity to Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive,” reducing the original version to ash and embers.
Sweetest moment: A rare collaboration between the sole surviving Beatles, McCartney and Starr, on McCartney’s “Queenie Eye.” It’s easy to be cynical about what the Grammys don’t do well, but few institutions could have engineered such a reunion – worth it alone for the Fab Two’s raised-hand unison bow.
Most punk rock moment: Haggard performed “Okie from Muskogee,” a Tea Party-like ‘60s anthem that he has said was intended as satire. Still, it was a bold move in this bastion of entertainment industry liberalism. And noted live-and-let-live maverick Nelson was loving every minute of it, laughing alongside Kristofferson and Blake Shelton in a loose, ragged, clearly under-rehearsed but entertaining performance.
Heaviest hitter: Everyone wants in on Daft Punk, it seems, and an all-star jam on “Get Lucky” included Wonder, who weaved in a bit of his “Another Star” while master drummer Omar Hakim kept the funk flowing.
The year of Adele, again: Just when you thought the British singer was taking some time off to gear up for her next album after dominating the Grammys two years ago, she won another award for best song written for visual media (“Skyfall”).
Most of the 82 Grammy Awards were revealed in the pre-Grammy telecast. Here are a few notable highlights and anecdotes.
Early front-runners: The Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis swept the stacked rap categories for best album (“The Heist”) and best song (“Thrift Shop”). They bested competition that included Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, Kanye West and Drake.
What year is this anyway? In the best rock album category, which included such contemporary bands as Queens of the Stone Age and Kings of Leon, the award went to Led Zeppelin, for an album recapping their only concert since the 1980s. Is this a commentary on the state of rock music, or on the ongoing stodginess of the Recording Academy?
Maybe they were stuck in traffic? If you’ve ever wondered what Michael Buble, Ziggy Marley, the Gipsy Kings and Herb Alpert have in common, here’s your answer -- they all didn’t show up to accept their awards. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who also didn’t make it to the ceremony on time, really were stuck in LA traffic. That’s what their manager said anyway, as he accepted the South African group’s award for best world music album.
Best performance you probably didn’t see: Roomful of Teeth, an a cappella quartet who won for best chamber music performance, brought a mesmerizing mix of avant-garde harmonics and lush, hushed beauty.
The shut-out streak continues: It’s always fun to document long-running Grammy oversights, and one of this year’s prime examples is Brian Eno. He’s responsible for some of the most ground-breaking music of the last 40 years, but he still hasn’t won an individual Grammy. The British maverick was bested for best new age album by Laura Sullivan. New Orleans great Allen Toussaint also was denied his first award, twice denied in the stacked Americana categories.
Obligatory anti-piracy rant: Classical composer Maria Schneider made the event’s first plea for an overhauled copyright law that cracks down on music piracy. As if the current (if seriously outdated) law isn’t already doing that? How about a call to support more efficient and equitable music services that support and pay artists?
Robots in hiding: The robot-helmeted French duo Daft Punk maintained the suspense about whether they’d actually approach the podium if called upon as prime-time winners when they sent an emissary to accept their best dance-electronic music album.
Chicago connection: Among the winners with Chicago links were harp virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite, who shared the best blues album with Ben Harper, and longtime jazz critic Neil Tesser for best liner notes. “Ya done it, Charlie!” exulted MC Cyndi Lauper as she announced Musselwhite’s award. David Frost won for best classical producer, which included his work on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Chorus’ recording of Verdi’s “Otello,” conducted by Riccardo Muti.