Even with the Grammys paring down their overwhelming array of categories, they still have dozens of awards that don’t make it into the evening telecast. So the pre-telecast ceremony gives out little golden gramophones in categories ranging from Best Surround Sound Album to Improvised Jazz Solo to Tropical Latin Album. With 72 categories and five musical performances to get through in two hours, the ceremony feels like the speed-dating version of an awards show: lots of mispronounced names, flashes of joy and a relentlessly ticking clock.
Winners were encouraged not only to keep their remarks short, but to run from their seats to the stage of the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles (across the street from the Staples Center, where the evening Grammys are held). “If you’re older, they have some roller skates,” said host Cyndi Lauper.
Seats were unassigned and mostly still empty (except for nominees and their loved ones) when the ceremony began at 1 p.m., but filled up as the afternoon went on. As a general rule, the bigger names didn’t bother to show up to collect their Grammys. The following stars were all absentee, or sent a friend:
Macklemore and Lewis with various friends (three-time winners for Rap Performance, Rap Song, and Rap Album), Rihanna (Urban Contemporary Album), Imagine Dragons (Rock Performance), Black Sabbath (Metal Performance), Led Zeppelin (Rock Album), Pharrell Williams (Producer of the Year, Non-Classical), Daft Punk (Dance/Electronica Album; Random Access Memories also won Engineered Album, Non-Classical), Adele (Song Written for Visual Media), Justin Timberlake (R&B Song, and with David Fincher and Jay-Z, Music Video), Alicia Keys (R&B Album), Stephen Colbert (Spoken World Album), Paul McCartney (Music Film), Herb Alpert (Pop Instrumental Album), Michael Bublé (Traditional Pop Vocal Album), Darius Rucker (Country Solo Performance), and Ziggy Marley (Reggae Album).
Lauper, winner of the Best New Artist Grammy in 1984 and a winner again tonight in the category of Best Musical Theater Album for her work on Kinky Boots, showed up with magenta ringlets piled high and plenty of Brooklyn attitude: “We’re on the World Wide Web, so sit up straight,” she directed the crowd. She relished saying “Pussy Riot” as often as possible (not that the Russian punk trio was nominated) and accepting awards for others. “I want to thank all of you for voting for me, Michael Bublé,” she said.
Some of the bigger names who did appear:
Steve Martin (American Roots Song), who sprinted onstage, and then went back to collect his fellow winner Edie Brickell. “We are truly stunned,” he said, “if I can speak for Edie — and I will.”
Vampire Weekend (Alternative Music Album) ambled onstage. “Thanks a lot,” singer Ezra Koenig said. Turning to the rest of the band, he asked, “You guys want to say anything else?” They demurred. “We’re good, thanks,” he concluded.
Kathy Griffin (Comedy Album) shouted, “Six years in a row, and I finally won, dammit, thank you!” She also thanked Justin Bieber “for giving me his relax juice” and described his recent legal troubles as stemming from “driving his Lamborghini with his dick.” She concluded, “I never made my 93-year-old alcoholic mother prouder than with that joke.”
Rodney Crowell, who won in conjunction with Emmylou Harris in the category of Americana Album, explained that she was absent because of a brother who just underwent surgery. Butch Vig accepted the award for Compilation Soundtrack Album, for producing Dave Grohl’s Sound City, and used the word “schveet.” Lalah Hathaway gave a shoutout to her mother, watching online, and her late father, the singer Donny Hathaway. Gary Clark Jr. (Traditional R&B Performance) said “I was told I should prepare a speech, and I said, ‘Nah, I’m not going to,’ and now I wish I had.”
A statistical anomaly: two different categories ended in ties. The World Music Album prize was shared by the Gipsy Kings and Ladysmith Black Mambazo (who missed the moment, stuck in traffic en route from LAX). Historical Album was shared by the Rolling Stones soundtrack to Charlie My Darling and The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums of Bill Withers. Accepting the award, Withers’ daughter noted that her parents “met at the Roxy in the mid-Seventies.”
The best musical moments came from Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite (Blues Album winners), who did some excellently heavy blues, and the powerful a cappella group Roomful of Teeth (also winners for Chamber Music / Small Ensemble Performance).
All but the most omnivorous music fans wouldn’t be familiar with most of the nominees, but there was joy in seeing winner after winner having the best day of their lives. As jazzman Gregory Porter put it, “Wow, I got a Grammy.” Or as John Paul White of the Civil Wars (Country Duo/Group Performance) said, “I apologize for depriving Dolly Parton — of anything.” Or as Foxes said when she and Zedd won for “Clarity” (Dance Recording), “I’m chewing gum, but I took it out.”