The evening was supposed to be a coronation for Eminem, who was up for a leading 10 awards. But on Sunday night (February 13) at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, Slim Shady ended up with only two rap honors as his smash comeback Recovery took a backseat to country trio Lady Antebellum, who shocked the world with a slew of high-profile wins and a night’s-best haul with five Golden Gramophones.
But that wasn’t the only banner headline of the night. No, the Album of the Year category served up one of the all-time jaw-droppers in Grammy history, as Eminem was denied that honor for a third time. Many considered that one a lock for the superstar Detroit rapper, whose fight back from addiction to mega-platinum success was the kind of redemption story the Grammys simply can’t resist.
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Except on Sunday night, it was ragtag Canadian indie rockers the Arcade Fire who became the biggest Album of the Year Grammy underdogs in history, snagging the coveted top prize for their exploration of suburban ennui and teen angst on the critically acclaimed The Suburbs.
After just finishing a performance, the band looked shell-shocked, with singer Win Butler crawling out on his knees to accept the prize. “What the hell,” he said, dumbfounded, as he thanked his home province of Quebec and fans. “We’re going to go play another song, because we like music,” he added, as the collective rushed back to their places and Butler deposited his new bauble on an amplifier before ripping into “Ready to Start.”
It was a night of celebrating such modern stars as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, B.o.B, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry, and though those artists all put on superstar performances, they mostly left with memories of a big night, but not much hardware.
The three-and-a-half-hour show opened with an all-star tribute to Grammy legend Aretha Franklin that joined Cristina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) Martina McBride and Yolanda Adams, followed by Lady Gaga performing “Born This Way” live on TV for the first time. Taking the stage in her pearlescent egg and emerging from the space pod in a flesh-colored skirt and bra that looked like a sexy surgical glove, she put on a dance-pop clinic by busting sinewy disco line-dancing moves and striking fierce poses while giving the song a gospel soul flair.
Justin Bieber made a case for next year’s Grammys with a heartfelt solo acoustic strum through “Baby,” which glided into a taiko-drum intro for the title track from his 3-D movie, “Never Say Never,” complete with break-dancing ninja acrobats, fire breathers and a cameo rap from the equally self-assured Jaden Smith. Mentor Usher then tapped a Janet circa “Rhythm Nation” vibe during a popping-and-locking group dance to “OMG.”
He’ll have to wait for some Grammy bling, though, as he took a backseat to another surprise out-of-nowhere winner, Esperanza Spalding, who took the honors in the Best New Artist category . The dark-horse win by the underexposed jazz bassist and vocalist was one of the night’s big shockers, as she beat out such tipped potential winners as Drake, Mumford & Sons and Florence and the Machine.
Eminem’s hit collabo with Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie,” may have gotten blanked five times, but he got the night started early by winning the Best Rap Solo Performance award for “Not Afraid” but later lost out to Gaga in the Best Short Form Music Video race, in which she snagged the prize for “Bad Romance.”
The songwriters award, Song of the Year, went to Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” which beat out Em’s “Love the Way You Lie,” Cee Lo’s “F— You” (listed as “The Song Otherwise Known as ‘Forget You’ “) and tracks by Ray LaMontagne and Miranda Lambert. The group beat Em, Cee Lo, B.o.B and Jay-Z in Record of the Year as well.
One of the tightest categories, Best Rap Album, pitted such legends as Jay-Z and the Roots against upstarts B.o.B and Drake, but Slim Shady came through in that one. “This is crazy,” the always serious-looking MC said, making sure to thank his producers and Rihanna, whom he said helped propel Recovery to sales of more than 4 million. “Thank you to the fans — what up, Detroit? Stand up!” he shouted at the end.
After picking up some early nods, Gaga won an on-camera award as well, Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster, besting John Mayer, Perry, Susan Boyle and Bieber for one of her three wins of the night. Wearing a body-hugging leather dress and sporting flesh-colored horns on her forehead and shoulders, Gaga said something unmentionable, then added, “Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, to all my fans, to all my monsters watching … I had this dream when I was really young that I could be whoever I wanted to be and no matter what I visioned for myself, I would do it, no matter who didn’t believe in me.”
One of the most anticipated performances opened with Rihanna belting “Love the Way You Lie” along with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine on piano joined by an on-fire Eminem spitting his verses on a stage engulfed in digital flames. That hard-hitter slid into “I Need a Doctor,” the titanic, gothic collabo with his reclusive mentor Dr. Dre, who came out in matching all-black attire and proved that his rhyming skills haven’t diminished in his nearly decade-long absence from TV performance.
Rihanna was back later in yet another stunning, colorful outfit (this one way, way more revealing) to grind up on Drake during “What’s My Name?”
Wearing his peacock-colored Mardi Gras finest, as promised, Cee Lo had a super funky, weird and cool band made up of Henson puppets for a cosmic run-through of the just barely ready for prime time “Forget You” that was highlighted by some funky R&B vocals from guest Gwyneth Paltrow.
Playing their first Grammys, Muse brought the arena noise with a scaled-down version of their techno-prog anthem “Uprising,” complete with their towering video columns and an onstage pantomime featuring Molotov cocktail-toting anarchists in gas masks. They also took home Best Rock Album for their bombastic Resistance, beating out a field of veterans including Neil Young, Jeff Beck, Pearl Jam and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Singer Matt Bellamy made sure to thank his management and his “beautiful pregnant girlfriend,” actress Kate Hudson .
In an only-at-the-Grammys first, Bruno Mars, B.o.B and Janelle Monáe teamed up, with Mars kicking things off crooning at the piano and B.o.B (sporting a monocle, no less) throwing down his “Nothin’ on You” verses over the sounds of a string trio. “Grenade” morphed into an old-school Motown soul jam. Monáe heated things up with the speed funk of “Cold War,” which featured her crowd-surfing as Mars bashed away at the drums.
In the game of diva one-upsmanship, Katy Perry went small , levitating on a glittery swing for a sedate “Not Like the Movies” while wearing a bejeweled ice-skating uniform and screening her wedding video on the towering train of her dress. She went big again, though, for a valentine-themed pop bop through “Teenage Dream.”
Never ones to tone it down, just before their big moment, Arcade Fire made their Grammy debut with a strobe-light blitz through “The Suburbs/Month of May” that inexplicably featured some BMX riders with helmet cams riding in circles on the stage.
Though he had an amazing year with his Smeezingtons partners, Bruno Mars lost out to Danger Mouse in the Producer of the Year category, where the perpetual music machine was honored for his work with Broken Bells, the Black Keys and Dark Night of the Soul. The White Stripes may have broken up, but their final project, the limited-edition box set of Under the Great White Northern Lights, won for Best Boxed or Limited Edition Package.
Stars didn’t disappoint on the red carpet either, from Rihanna’s risqué transparent dress to Bieber’s white tuxedo, Nicki Minaj’s towering Cruella De Vil cotton-candy wig and matching dress and, of course, Gaga in a giant frozen egg .
Among the early Grammy winners : Rihanna (Best Dance Recording for “Only Girl [In the World]”), La Roux (Best Electronic/Dance Album), Lady Gaga (Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Bad Romance”) and Bruno Mars (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Just the Way You Are”). It was also a big night for the Roots and John Legend, who won three awards for their collabo album Wake Up!, the same amount taken home by Jay-Z.
There was also more Grammy love for Green Day, who won the ultimate punk-rock award, Best Music Show Album for the Broadway adaptation of American Idiot.
The show also featured performances from country queen Miranda Lambert; an acoustic tour de force with Mumford & Sons, Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers; Barbra Streisand; four-time Grammy winners Lady Antebellum; and John Mayer, Norah Jones and Keith Urban paying tribute to Dolly Parton. And, wearing one of his late idol Solomon Burke’s signature capes, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger made his first-ever live appearance on the show jamming with Raphael Saadiq on the soul nugget “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.”
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