Daft Punk Carries Dance Music to Primetime

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Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Pharrell Williams and Thomas Bangalter, winners of Record of the Year and Album of the Year for "Random Access Memories" attend the 56th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA

The tuxedoed robots walked into the 56th GRAMMY Awards tonight with four artist nominations and they walked out with four trophies including Record of the Year and Album of the Year, marking the first time an artist has won in both Album of the Year and Best Dance/Electronica Album categories.

Daft Punk also won for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Get Lucky." Behind the scenes, their album, "Random Access Memories," took home the prize for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical for a quintet of engineers including Daniel Lerner and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. 

The scope of nominees in the Dance Field - from hitmakers like Calvin Harris to scene favorites like Kaskade - represented the breadth of musical style within mainstream dance music. Both Harris' and Kaskade's presence on the red carpet made it clear that dance music has arrived. But Daft Punk's dominance in major categories (not to mention their show-stopping performance) says more about the duo's artistic singularity than it does about America's EDM boom. 



For the past two years, as dance music has crossed over from underground to mainstream, the Dance GRAMMYs have been won exclusively by one artist - Skrillex. The dubstep prince didn't release any new music in the last year of eligibility to have been nominated (though his presence was noted when Zedd dedicated his win for Best Dance Recording to him), leaving the field wide open.

In that void, EDM faves Zedd and Cedric Gervais took home awards for their respective hits, "Clarity" and "Summertime Sadness," both records that spent some time in the Hot 100 Top 10. Their wins affirm that as dance music has crossed into the mainstream, the industry also recognizes its artistic value. 

Still, despite these successes and EDM's ubiquity on radio and the Hot 100, the Dance awards were relegated to the pre-telecast, leaving Daft Punk as the sole ambassadors of the genre in prime time, even as their own work has little musically in common with the EDM.  What would it take, one wonders, for the Recording Academy to find dance music as worthy of prime time as it does country, rap or pop?

For their part, Daft Punk made the absolute most of their time on the broadcast. Flanked by the song's vocalist, Pharrell Williams, as well as Nile Rodgers and Stevie Wonder, their showstopping performance of "Get Lucky" redeemed any EDM misdeeds of GRAMMYs past (including incongruous appearances by Deadmau5 and David Guetta) by bringing the house down and Beyoncé and Jay-Z to their feet. Even for those who had never been to a rave or stepped inside a dance club, the live rendition of "Get Lucky" showed how and why the record connected to an audience ready to embrace the blend of past (Wonder, Rodgers) with the future (Daft Punk, Williams) in a dance party created by robots. 

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Williams, who served as the robots' spokesperson each time they accepted an award, also won the prize for Producer of the Year, thanking the helmet-wearing artists for including him in their award-winning project. Had the robots chosen to speak, they would have likely thanked Williams too, for as much as his work on "Get Lucky" was one of many feathers in his formidable hat of the past year, Williams was the pop interlocutor who introduced them to the mainstream acclaim they had not previously seen. 

German electronic music group Kraftwerk also took home a lifetime achievement GRAMMY this year, in recognition of more than four decades of work by the pioneering outfit. Their catalogue largely been ignored by the American mainstream but critical in the musical influence of artists like Nine Inch Nails and of course, Daft Punk. That their win comes the same year as Daft Punk's sweep is officially a coincidence, but it's likely the robots' big year shone a light (or laser beam) on their techno progenitors. 

With four artist GRAMMY awards in one year, including two in major categories, Daft Punk has undoubtedly left their mark, but whether their success lays the groundwork for future crossovers from dance to pop remains to be seen. Artists looking to match the robots' achievements might want to take note: Daft Punk's big night comes not overnight, but two decades into their career.