Kendrick Lamar represented for rap in a major way at the 58th annual Grammy Awards, but the California wordsmith was denied wins in any mainstream categories.
The Grammys instead spread the love for their marquee prizes, awarding album of the year to Taylor Swift for her titanic “1989,” song of the year to Ed Sheeran’s tender ballad, “Thinking Out Loud,” and record of the year to the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars collaboration, “Uptown Funk,” which nabbed two other wins.
Lamar, who led the nominations with 11, claimed five awards including best rap album for his landmark “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
“This is for hip-hop, this is for Snoop Dogg, ‘Illmatic,’ this is for Nas. We will live forever,” Lamar said.
The lyrical wizard, 28, also turned in a riveting performance of the candid “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” that prompted an ovation from the crowd (and the press room).
During the 3 ½-hour “Premiere Ceremony” at the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live when 75 of the 83 categories were presented, Lamar picked up wins for best rap performance and best rap song (“Alright”), best rap/sung collaboration (“These Walls”) and factored in Swift’s win for her star-packed “Bad Blood” video.
Swift, a triple victor for the video and best pop vocal album along with album of the year, used her platform to humblebrag about being the first woman to win album of the year honors twice (she scored in 2009 with “Fearless”), but also articulated a message.
“For young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there and that will be the greatest moment,” she said.
Swift also opened the Grammy telecast on the Staples Center stage wearing a sequined bodysuit and stalking the stage for a fierce rendition of “Out of the Woods.”
The Grammys are regarded for their novel live displays and this year’s included dual winner The Weeknd, his famous coif hanging over his forehead like a claw as he performed “Can’t Feel My Face” and “In the Night”; two-time winners Little Big Town with a string-laden “Girl Crush”; Adele – who will surely be a significant presence at next year’s awards — with a stark, emotional take on “All I Ask”; the rowdy debut of Hollywood Vampires — aka Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp — with “As Bad as I Am”; and a spectacular contribution from the “Hamilton” cast, beamed in live from Broadway (the show also won a Grammy for best musical theater album).
Rihanna was slated to perform “Kiss It Better,” but canceled 40 minutes before the show on doctor’s orders to protect her vocal cords. Lauryn Hill was also primed to be a surprise during The Weeknd’s performance. She attended dress rehearsal but, said Recording Academy President Neil Portnow, “didn’t get back in time to do the show.”
The ceremony also included an unusual number of tributes, both joyful — a medley for MusiCares Person of the Year Lionel Richie featuring Demi Lovato, Luke Bryan and John Legend — and reflective, as Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey was remembered by his former bandmates and Jackson Browne with the breezy “Take It Easy.”
Lady Gaga adopted David Bowie’s androgynous Ziggy Stardust look for a suitably wacky homage that incorporated sequins, kaleidoscopic lighting, Nile Rodgers and a soundtrack including “Rebel Rebel,” “Fashion,” “Fame,” “Suffragette City,” “Under Pressure” and “Heroes.”
And Chris Stapleton, who won his first two career Grammys for best country album (“Traveller”) and best country solo performance for the title track, unleashed a soulful “The Thrill Is Gone” with Gary Clark Jr. and Bonnie Raitt to honor B.B. King.
It was also a night of maiden wins for Sheeran (who also won for best pop solo performance), Justin Bieber, Meghan Trainor and Alabama Shakes.
Even though Trainor broke through in 2014 with “All About That Bass,” she was still eligible for best new artist — which she won.
Backstage, Trainor, wearing a black sequined gown, expanded on her affection for former Atlanta record mogul LA Reid, whom she thanked in her acceptance speech.
“When I wrote ‘All About That Bass,’ LA saw me as an artist … even when I auditioned in cheetah pants and a backward baseball cap and played ‘Bass’ on the ukulele,” she said, drawing laughs. “I thank him every day for that.”
Bieber’s win came for his collaboration with Diplo and Skrillex (“Where Are U Now” for best dance recording) and Alabama Shakes’ for best rock song, best rock performance (“Don’t Wanna Fight”) and best alternative album (“Sound & Color”).
A visibly surprised Brittany Howard said of the band’s wins, “My heart is beating a mile a minute. This is beautiful and I promise we will keep going.”
On the other end of the victory spectrum, Tony Bennett, 89, collected his 18th career Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album for “The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern,” on which he worked with jazz pianist Bill Charlap.
“It’s so wonderful to me,” Bennett said with a huge smile. “I love you all.”
During the pre-show, Atlanta’s Susan Archie claimed her third career Grammy in the category of best boxed or special limited edition package, for “The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume Two (1928-32),” on which she worked with Jack White and Dean Blackwood. The trio won last year for “Volume One.”
Backstage, Archie, clad in a shimmery, sleeveless purple gown and clutching a champagne glass, said that this sequel was “a much harder feat to get made,” primarily because of release schedules.
As for where she’s going to put this third Grammy in her Candler Park home, Archie laughed and said, “I’m going to have to build a shelf!”
Georgia also earned a score when former President Jimmy Carter won for “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” in the best spoken word category. Carter previously netted an award in the same category in 2007 for “Our Endangered Values.”
This year’s Grammys were based on material released between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015, and voted on by 13,500 members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.