Arcade Fire’s win for album of the year for The Suburbs was one of the evening’s big surprises.
“This last year has completely changed our life,” Lady A’s Hillary Scott said in accepting the top-song award, one of five for the trio.
Jazz musician Esperanza Spalding pulled the night’s big upset, winning best new artist over multi-platinum teen sensation Justin Bieber and up-and-coming rapper Drake. Her Chamber Music Society album has sold just 31,000 copies.
Alternative-rock act Arcade Fire’s album-of-the-year win for The Suburbs was similarly surprising. It was the only nominee in the category to have sold fewer than 1 million copies.
Two rap titans battled it out through the night. Eminem went in with the most nominations, 10. But Grammy voters appeared to be in an Empire State of Mind.
Going head to head against Eminem, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire won best rap song and rap/sung collaboration. Jay-Z also won duo/group rap performance for On the Next One with Swizz Beatz, Keys’ husband.
Eminem beat out Jay-Z for rap album, his fifth win in the category.
Drunken dialing paid off big time for Lady Antebellum, whose ‘Need You Now’ won both song and record of the year.
Rock guitar great Jeff Beck picked up three awards. Miranda Lambert, Train and Muse all won the first Grammys of their careers.
The show opened with a valentine message/tribute to Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who is recuperating from an undisclosed illness at her Detroit home. After a montage of the 18-time Grammy winner’s performances on the show, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Florence + The Machine’s Florence Welch, Yolanda Adams and Martina McBride performed a medley of seven of her hits.
Other performances highlighted contemporary acts’ ties to history. Lady Gaga’s premiere performance of Born This Way, which began with the singer encased in a translucent egg, seemed equally inspired by late-’80s Madonna, Phantom of the Opera and Egyptian mythology. Gaga also picked up awards for female pop vocal and short-form video, both for Bad Romance, and pop vocal album for The Fame Monster.
The spoiler: Esperanza Spalding, whose album has sold just 31,000 copies, bested Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence and the Machine and Mumford and Sons to win best new artist.
Bruno Mars, B.o.B and Janelle Mone emphasized the timeless pop and R&B aspects of their melodies. A folk segment with Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers culminated in a hootenanny-style singalong with Bob Dylan on Maggie’s Farm.