U2 upstaged major nominees Mariah Carey and Kanye West last night at the forty-eighth annual Grammy Awards, winning five awards, including Song and Album of the Year. “If you think this is gonna go to our head — too late,” joked the band’s singer Bono after accepting the award for Song of the Year for “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own.” Both the song and the album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, Bono said, were dedicated to his late father, whom he thanked “for giving me the voice and a bit of attitude to use it.” The band also won awards for Best Rock Song, Best Rock Album and Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, and colleague Steve Lillywhite was honored as Producer of the Year.
Carey, the comeback diva nominated for eight awards, took home three, for Best R&B Song, Best Contemporary R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. The ambitious rapper West, who also had eight nominations, also won three, for Best Rap Song, Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance.
Soulful newcomer John Legend took home three awards of his own, including Best New Artist and Best R&B Album. Accepting his award for Best Male R&B Performance for “Ordinary People,” he explained that the song came out of a writing session with the Black Eyed Peas: “I kept it, and I’m glad I kept it.”
Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” beat out both Carey’s “We Belong Together” and West’s “Gold Digger” for Record for the Year. “Pop radio playing rock music is a very big deal to me,” said bandleader Billie Joe Armstrong.
Other winners included Alison Krauss and Union Station, who won three awards, including Best Country Album for Lonely Runs Both Ways. Kelly Clarkson, Damian Marley and Stevie Wonder were among the acts taking home two awards apiece.
Paying tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the late Coretta Scott King, one of the evening’s first presenters Wonder said he hoped the evening’s music would “lift us all to higher ground.” Some of the performances did manage some lift, including Mary J. Blige’s rousing collaboration with U2 on “One” and Christina Aguilera’s acrobatic take on “Song for You,” accompanied by Herbie Hancock. Carey sang with a huge gospel choir; West faced off against Jaime Foxx in an inventive marching-band-style segment.
Sixty-three-year-old Paul McCartney raised the roof with a raw version of the Beatles’ metallic “Helter Skelter,” noting that his two-song appearance was his first at the Grammys: “I finally passed the audition,” he joked, echoing an old line by his late bandmate John Lennon.
Other performances were less than electric. Madonna, whose much-hyped show-opening slot was rumored to have irritated Carey, briefly shared the stage with the animated characters of Gorillaz. An all-star medley of songs in tribute to Sly and the Family Stone never got off the ground, despite an appearance by the long-reclusive, bleach-mohawked Sly Stone. Presenter Dave Chappelle, speaking from personal experience, made an apt introduction: “The only thing harder than leaving show business,” he said, “is coming back.”
And McCartney made an awkward encore appearance, joining Jay-Z and Linkin Park to sing the hook from “Yesterday.” “Sounds so beautiful, don’t you agree?” hollered Jay-Z.
The only political note was struck by Bruce Springsteen, who concluded his solo performance of “Devils & Dust” with three words about the military troops in Iraq: “Bring ’em home.”