He stole the show with a stunning performance, cruised to five Grammy wins and declared his Best Rap Album victory a win for hip-hop. But Kendrick Lamar, for the second time now, was shut out of the major awards for his latest album, To Pimp A Butterfly, and its anthemic song “Alright.” Instead, it was Taylor Swift who took home the top honor for Album of the Year for 1989, Ed Sheeran who scooped Song of the Year for “Thinking Out Loud,” and Mark Ronson who took home Record of the Year for helming “Uptown Funk” to ubiquity, while Meghan Trainor was named Best New Artist at the 58th Grammy Awards Monday night (Feb. 15).
Swift, who opened the show performing “Out Of The Woods,” made a pointed (if unstated) reference to Kanye West in her acceptance speech days after the rapper included the lyric, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/I made that bitch famous” on his just-released album The Life of Pablo. “As the first woman to win album of the year twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: there will be people who try to undercut your success and take credit for your fame,” she said strongly. “But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, some day when you get where you are going, you will look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you that put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
Album of the Year was Swift’s third award of the night; 1989 also took home Best Pop Vocal Album, while she shared Best Music Video with Lamar for their collaboration on Swift’s “Bad Blood” remix. Alabama Shakes also won big, taking home four awards, while “Uptown Funk” also picked up three for Ronson’s song featuring Bruno Mars. The Weeknd, D’Angelo, Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town and Ed Sheeran won two apiece, while Justin Bieber can celebrate his first Grammy victory as “Where R U Now” with Jack U (Skrillex and Diplo) succeeded in the Best Dance Recording category, capped with a performance that saw Skrillex play guitar and Diplo manning a Mellotron and percussion.
Until the moment that Swift (and her speech) catapulted her into the headlines, it was Lamar’s night to shine. The Compton MC was the most-awarded artist across the board, but aside from sharing Best Music Video with Swift, all of his victories were in the rap categories as he swept Best Rap Album (TPAB), Best Rap Song (“Alright”), Best Rap Performance (also “Alright”) and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (“These Walls” feat. Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). However, it was his performance that was most striking. Taking the stage leading dancers in prison garb and chains — with his band performing in cells — he launched into a freeform version of “The Blacker The Berry” with a feverish intensity; as the song raced forward, the performers broke out from the chains and moved into a second side of the stage as Lamar ripped into “Alright” in front of a raging bonfire in the background. As the song wound down, he then re-appeared solo in front of the mic and delivered a blistering, previously-unheard freestyle addressing Trayvon Martin’s death and the hopelessness that has arisen over the past few years, at one point rapping, “2012 was taken from the world to see/Set us back another 400 years, this is modern day slavery.” It was, simply put, breathtaking.
The rest of the show’s performances were schizophrenic at best; Taylor Swift opened the show with “Out Of The Woods” to few complaints, The Hamilton cast performed the breakout hit Broadway show’s opening theme live from New York City and Alabama Shakes impressed with a groovy, letter-perfect version of “Don’t Wanna Fight” as vocalist Brittany Howard crushed the opportunity. Andra Day, after a stirring “Rise Up,” complemented Ellie Goulding effortlessly on the latter’s “Love Me Like You Do,” while The Weeknd stripped down his latest single “In The Night” with a pianist and cellist on stage in support, showcasing his earnest falsetto without the arena-sized production of Beauty Behind the Madness.
But an overabundance of slower ballads made the show feel like it was dragging at times. And Adele, on stage to perform her latest single “All I Ask,” was flustered by tech issues with the sound that caused an acoustic guitar to pop up oddly in the mix and submarined her performance on the broadcast, even as those in the room praised her vocals. Both Rihanna — who had to cancel her performance of “Kiss It Better” at the last minute on doctor’s orders — and Lauryn Hill, scheduled to appear with The Weeknd, were no-shows as well.
Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, the show was filled with tribute performances after a series of high-profile deaths of late. Stevie Wonder, flanked by “new friends” Pentatonix, performed Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s The Way Of The World” in honor of the band’s founder Maurice White who died Feb. 4, a simple yet effective tribute. Lady Gaga led the much-hyped David Bowie tribute by running through 10 of his career-spanning hits, updating her outfit and vocal intonation for each cut. A tribute to B.B. King was helmed by Bonnie Raitt, Chris Stapleton and Gary Clark, Jr. — who nailed the piercing, staccato guitar style that B.B. made his own — on “The Thrill Is Gone.” And Glenn Frey was feted by his former Eagles bandmates and Jackson Browne, who took lead vocals on Frey’s “Take It Easy,” while Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp as Hollywood Vampires performed Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” in tribute to both Lemmy and drummer Phil Taylor, who died within a month of each other last year.
But overall, it will be Swift and Lamar who lead the headlines, each for very different reasons. We’re sure Kanye West has something to say — or tweet — about it all before the dust settles.