Daft Punk, Macklemore and Lorde took home the most trophies at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles last night, but a slew of other stars also walked away big winners. True Grammys impact can be measured in metrics other than golden gramophones — like how many people were tweeting about your bizarre hat and who had Taylor Swift dancing in the front row all night. Rolling Stone kindly distilled all three-and-a-half-and-a-little-more hours of the ceremony into a breakdown of thrilling highs and disappointing lows. By Caryn Ganz, Andy Greene, David Marchese, Simon Vozick-Levinson and Christopher R. Weingarten
Beyoncé's entire career the past few months has been one massive mic drop: She plopped her self-titled album on iTunes at midnight and backed away in December and achieved the same effect at the Grammys last night, opening the show with a jaw-dropping version of "Drunk in Love" that required nothing more than a rotating chair, some slick lighting effects and her ever-gyrating hips. The cameo from her hubby Jay Z didn't hurt, but 17-time Grammy winner Bey was firmly driving the surfboart here.
After three and a half hours of Music's Biggest Night, fans at home could be forgiven for starting to fade. That is, until the show's epic finale rolled around. First, Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham added some kicky riffage to Nine Inch Nails' eerie "Copy Of A" (still got it, Linds!); then Trent Reznor's buddy Josh Homme chimed in with a gnarly solo of his own, which morphed into Homme's Queens of the Stone Age blasting through their volcanic "My God Is the Sun." Oh, and did we mention that Dave freaking Grohl was pounding away at the drum kit? This was basically the Avengers of badass rock dudes.
How amazing is it that the Grammys actually turned into an episode of "What's Up With That?" and didn't have time for Lindsey Buckingham. We'll let Trent Reznor take it from here: "Music's biggest night. . . to be disrespected. A heartfelt FUCK YOU guys." The monumental show-ending throwdown starring the Buckingham and the alterna-heavy class of 1991— was not exactly monumental in the eyes of the editing room. QOTSA's "My God is the Sun" was a soundtrack to the credits, and then cut off completely.
Part of what makes our current cover star Lorde — who took home trophies for Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance — so amazing, obviously, is how self-possessed she is. Someone that young, singing those words, with such poise? Incredible. But knowing why Lorde is amazing doesn't make her any less so. Watching her perform "Royals," backed by a drummer and synth player, you couldn't help but be impressed by how unfazed, how utterly herself, she was. Dressed in a white sleeveless shirt and black slacks, her lips and fingertips painted black too, she sang perfectly — even going a cappella at times — while dramatically waving her arms and swaying. She was carried away by the song, but not by the moment.
Even if we're in a cultural moment when guitar solos aren't exactly filling the airwaves, the Grammy Award telecast always seems to find a place for some supreme displays of axemanship. This year was no different, as country star/hotshot guitarist Keith Urban was joined by blues and R&B up-and-comer Gary Clark Jr. for a performance of the former's "Cop Car." Urban's solo was graceful and arcing. Then Clark, a two-time nominee on this night, let loose with a searing, gritty, jaw-dropping lead before dialing it back and joining with Urban in some dueling fretwork. This was a thrilling display of pure musicianship, and purely thrilling.
Let's get this straight. One of the most important musicians of the past 50 years dies, and all he gets is a quick speech by Jared Leto followed by a performance of "One" by Metallica? Sure, they worked together on Lulu and Kirk Hammett wore a cool Transformer shirt, but the Grammys couldn't have come up with something better? Metallica could have played "White Light/White Heat" with Patti Smith — that's just one idea to celebrate a man who's spawned entire Grammy categories.
It could have been an instant entry in awkward Grammy mash-up history: Kendrick Lamar, the fiercely original Compton rapper, sharing a stage with Vegas modern-rock bros Imagine Dragons?! But somehow, against all odds, this cross-genre medley actually kicked considerable ass. Imagine Dragons gave an amped-up rendition of their hit "Radioactive," then played backing band for Kendrick on his "m.A.A.d city," adding some extra muscle to the rapper's adrenaline-juiced storytelling. Rap-rock hasn't sounded so tight since Y2K.
Instead of rehashing the aerial acrobatics that made Pink a water-cooler convo after the 2010 Grammy Awards, she upped the ante — moving from "that looks beautiful" to "that looks incredibly dangerous." Sailing above the audience like Tommy Lee's drums on Mötley Crüe's Dr. Feelgood tour, she turned her performance of "Try" into something more frightening than Nine Inch Nails and Metallica combined, performing feats of derring-do with nail-biting drops and graceful spins. Another great thing: We're writing about her phenomenal performance instead of writing the headline "Pop Singer Pink Takes Out Four Grammys Audience Members in Horrific Trapeze Accident."
If we weren't all sick of #THICKE and "Blurred Lines" as it is, the Grammys forced us to endure yet another performance… with Chicago? In one of the single whitest moments ever caught on film, the group (minus long-departed singer Peter Cetera) did a medley of their hits and then backed Thicke on "Blurred Lines." Chicago hasn't done anything remotely interesting or relevant since sometime around 1988, and this did little to change that.
Black Sabbath's stoic bassist Geezer Butler is a man of few words (and even fewer facial expressions), but even he couldn't keep it together when Ozzy Osbourne completely mangled his introduction to Ringo Starr's performance. The guy keeled over with laughter like Jimmy Fallon breaking during a bad SNL skit. Somewhere back home, erstwhile Sabbath drummer Bill Ward probably had a nice laugh too.
Jay Z was up twice in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration category: Once for "Holy Grail" with Justin Timberlake, and once for "Part II (On the Run)" with his superhuman spouse. Hard not to like those odds. After collecting a trophy for the former, he capped off his acceptance speech with a shout-out to the littlest Roc Nation rider, two-year-old daughter Blue Ivy Carter. "I wanna tell Blue, Daddy got a gold sippy-cup for you," Hov said, holding up the award with a big grin. But let's be real — we all know Blue already had a cabinet full of gold sippy-cups at home long before last night.
Not saying John Legend has to be Pink and almost break his neck flying over the crowd to sing "All of Me," but maybe come to "Music's Biggest Night" with something a little more special than a piano to hide behind? Taylor Swift, who basically brought a circus last year, brought a piano and a long dress. Sara Bareilles at least brought Carole King (and, uh, two pianos).
The most anticipated performance of the evening turned out to be the best. Seasoned DJs Daft Punk created a seamless smash-up of their own Pharrell-assisted "Get Lucky," Nile Rodgers' Chic classic "Le Freak" and Stevie Wonder's classic single "Another Star" — starring performances from all of the above. As much as a treat as it was to see 63-year-old legend Wonder unable to fight the song of the summer, it was even better seeing how cleanly (and funkily) the line from 1977 to 2014 can be drawn.
Blue-state country upstart Kacey Musgraves topped legacy acts like Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton to take home Best Country Album. But even better? She had boots that lit up like a Christmas tree!
At least he managed to complete a sentence or two without saying "hashtag," but why exactly does LL Cool J have to host this thing every single year? We get that he stars in a CBS show, but the guy can be seriously humor-impaired at times. His monologue was a complete thud and it went downhill from there. Why can't they bring in Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Jimmy Kimmel, Amy & Tina or basically anybody else?
They didn't do "Poncho and Lefty" and the whole thing could have easily worked without Blake Shelton, but the sight of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson harmonizing together was beautiful. The recent deaths of Ray Price and George Jones were harsh reminders that there aren't a ton of these guys left, but thankfully Willie, Merle and Kris are still out there belting out the classics. It was even enough to bring a smile to Jay Z's face.
It's unclear if Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Steven Tyler know even the first thing about Daft Punk, but that didn't stop them from getting out of their seats and doing little Mom-at-a-Bar-Mitzvah dances during their performance of "Get Lucky." Yoko has some sweet moves for an 80 year old, and seeing her shake her thing within feet of Paul McCartney is hopefully a sign that one of the longest-lasting feuds in music is indeed totally cooled off.
It happens every year: The network censors rip a great performance to shreds just to avoid the tiniest possibility of some sensitive ear encountering a naughty syllable. They started early last night, cutting out a few crucial seconds of Beyoncé's incredible opening performance — but the bleep-happy crew didn't really get going until Kendrick Lamar took the stage later on. They leaned so hard on the mute button, they practically broke it. What are they so afraid of? That someone out there in America might accidentally hear the word "fuck" late at night and the world would suddenly come crashing to an end? Thanks to the puritanical prigs at the FCC, one of the night's highest peaks was taken down a peg.
There wasn't any pressing reason why Metallica should've been on the telecast, let alone performing a 26-year-old song. (The quartet was nominated for Best Recording Package for Through the Never, but not in any of the major categories.) Who cares? Performing the epic "One," a task Metallica also undertook at the 1989 Grammy telecast, but joined this time by classical piano virtuoso Lang Lang, the band delivered the evening's most aggressive minutes. There was palm-muted guitar riffing, shooting flames, red lasers, dueling Kirk Hammett/Lang Lang solos and James Hetfield growling "Hold my breath / As I wish for death." The Grammys, by design, are a feel-good event. Having these metal masters around to add some acid to all the sugary sweetness was a necessary, and just plain awesome, counterpoint.
No one would argue that Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. singer-songwriter Jason Molina was ever more than a cult favorite, but anyone who's ever heard his searing, searching music will never forget it. That, among other reasons, was why those who knew Molina's work felt his loss, last March, so deeply. And that's also why it's utterly inexplicable that Molina didn't garner a mention during the telecast's In Memoriam tribute. Also hard to understand was the failure to acknowledge the passing of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman, a true giant of thrash metal, as well as Trevor Bolder, the bassist in David Bowie's epochal Spiders From Mars backing band. And Cory Monteith's name appeared with a typo (as Montieth).
Well, this was just kind of an awesomely goth-y mess. Or, to put another way: a pretty awesome version of an Evanescence video! Perry, dressed in a flowing black gown, began her performance of "Dark Horse" by singing from inside a crystal ball, the stage set a spoooooky mess of dead trees, around which back-up dancers carrying witches' brooms cavorted. Later, having escaped from the sphere, Perry was greeted by a dark metallic-looking puppet horse. Then Juicy J came out to deliver a verse, dressed in a dark suit, standing eerily still — he came off like an ultra-suave grim reaper. The performance may not have achieved the same grand guignol energy of Nicki Minaj's exorcism extravaganza from the 2012 Grammy telecast, but it entertaining as, um, hell.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had a pretty good night, taking home the Best New Artist trophy as well as sweeping Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Album. But the independent duo's most heartwarming Grammys moment came when they performed "Same Love," their pro-marriage equality hit, with Seattle singer Mary Lambert and a gospel choir. They were joined by 33 real-life couples, gay and straight, each of whom were united in love during an onstage wedding ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah. Also on hand: Madonna, who made a special cameo to sing a little of her own "Open Your Heart." That's one way to make sure everyone remembers your wedding.
Pink and fun. singer Nate Ruess shared the stage with an unwelcome third party: the ever-so-slightly creepy pencil mustache perched on Ruess' upper lip. Maybe he was trying for "John Waters," but he landed on "uncomfortably friendly ice-cream truck driver." Apparently no one in his inner circle had the heart to tell him that his new look wasn't working. You could almost hear his inner monologue: "This 'stache is so sweet! I am killing it right now in front of an audience of millions!" Movember ended two months ago, dogg. Get rid of that thing.
One of the best things about Daft Punk winning awards for which people are traditionally expected to give speeches was that the two French dance masters don't speak. Their silence, though, provided an opportunity for Pharrell Williams to show some impromptu charm. Accepting after "Get Lucky" won for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Pharrell looked to his robo-pals and said, "They wanna thank their families." Then, later on the show, when the same crew won again for Record of the Year, Pharrell mused, "I suppose the robots would like to thank . . ." and drew a blank. And when Daft Punk won for Album of the Year for Random Access Memories, collaborator Paul Williams accepted on behalf of the duo with a sweetly earnest speech about the unlikeliness of making music with the 'bots. The evening's most light-heartededly charming moments.
Country cutie Hunter Hayes premiered his new song "Invisible" in front of inspirational quotes from John Lennon, Steve Jobs and famed philosopher Johnny Depp. The problem? It's your lyrics that need to do the heavy emotional lifting, not other people's words.