The 53RD Annual Gala Signals A New Power Generation

It was a splendiferous night in the City of Angels. After a week of warm winter breezes the lights were about to flash at the Staples Center for the Recording Academy's 53rd annual Grammy Awards.

The Grammys caught some by surprise this year, bestowing two of the top awards on underdogs-Montreal-based rock band Arcade Fire and jazz bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding. Google got a workout as viewers and attendees scrambled to learn more about the nonmainstream winners and performers who appeared on the show, among them Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers (who collectively backed Bob Dylan). And the nominations were dominated by youth, as younger acts took home the general awards of album, record, song and best new artist-that's rare for the Grammys.

Spalding is the first jazz musician to be named best new artist. A "young" rock band hasn't taken home one of the big awards since Coldplay won record of the year seven years ago. Never has a Nashville-based country act ever won the record and song awards in the same year.

Not since the 1996 ceremony have the Grammys handed the top four awards to three young acts. That year, Seal won two, Alanis Morissette got the album trophy, and Hootie & the Blowfish took best new artist.

Unlike that ceremony, though, the 53rd Grammys perplexed onlookers as to how Spalding and Arcade Fire secured enough votes to topple the hip-hop, pop and rock acts they were up against. Backstage, where camera crews, photographers and media greet the winners, there were only two instances of verbal reaction-a gasp of shock over Spalding's win and a cheer of support for Arcade Fire.

Last year's awards provided a sense that the Recording Academy's voting members were more interested in honoring younger acts than in rewarding a lifetime of achievement, which played a role in recent wins for Herbie Hancock, Robert Plant and Ray Charles. This year seemed to take that sentiment even further.

Perhaps that's why most all of the parties were so packed and so celebratory. Maybe that's why nearly all of the parties went until the wee hours; the young people-artists and team members and executives-were out, kicking up their heels. Perhaps this youthful generation was even heralding a new era in music-and in the music business.

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