Artists responsible for two of the biggest-sellers of 2012 were rewarded with Grammy Awards on Sunday night at Staples Center, a rare moment in which public taste and the ballots of Recording Academy voters were in sync.
Fun. was named best new artist and their “We Are Young,” which has sold 6.2 million copies, was named song of the year. “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra was crowned record of the year; it has sold 7 million since its release in January 2012 and was Billboard’s No. 1 song of the year.
“I won’t mind if I don’t have another record like this one,” Gotye said after his third win of the night. “I think I’ve written better songs and I hope to keep writing better songs.”
Mumford & Sons won the album of the year award for “Babel,” which registered the biggest sales week for an album in the first 10 months of 2012, selling 600,000 copies. It has sold 1.7 million total. Mumford’s only other win was for long-form video for the film “Big Easy Express.”
Before the Grammys spread out the big four among three acts, the night appeared to belong to the Black Keys. They won the rock song, rock performance and rock album Grammys, and the Akron, Ohio, duo’s guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach was also named producer of the year, non-classical. One of his projects, Dr. John’s “Locked Down,” was named best blues album.
Gotye and fun.’s Nate Ruess were surprised when their names were called. Gotye thought he would go home empty handed — instead he has three trophies — and Ruess figured Frank Ocean or the Lumineers would win.
Spreading the top four awards among three acts is rare enough, but the only time in the last 12 years the Grammys were spread among three significant hitmakers was in 2005 with Green Day, U2 and John Legend.
Auerbach led the way with four awards. His partner, Patrick Carney, Gotye and Jay-Z won three awards each. Besides record of the year, Gotye’s “Making Mirrors” was named best alternative album and “Somebody That I Used to Know” was deemed best pop duo/group performance.
Jay-Z won two Grammys for his duet with Kanye West, “N****s in Paris” — rap song and rap performance – the rap/sung collaboration with Kanye West, Frank Ocean and The-Dream for “No Church in the Wild.”
In the genre awards, Zac Brown Band’s “Uncaged” took home the country album Grammy; Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” received the pop vocal album award, Drake’s “Take Care” won rap album and “Black Radio” by Robert Glasper Experiment won on the R&B album category.
Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” was honored twice, one win for best country song for songwriters Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins and again to Carrie Underwood for country solo performance.
Taylor Swift, who opened the show with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” in a production that drew inspiration from Cirque du Soleil and “Alice in Wonderland,” won a single Grammy: song written for visual media for “Safe and Sound,” the song she wrote with John Paul White, T Bone Burnett and Joy Williams for “Hunger Games.”
For all the talk of EDM having its moment, the Grammy Awards emphasized the other trend in pop music, the return to formality in songwriting in several genres and the embracing of the rustic in pop. Justin Timberlake went big band, Rihanna recalled torch singers of the ’50s and Miguel’s suaveness recalled Marvin Gaye and won him a new fan.
“I don’t know who the hell you are,” Kelly Clarkson said in her acceptance speech, addressing Miguel, “but that was the sexiest thing I have ever seen.”
One production number after another placed instrumentalists on equal footing with the stars. Bruno Mars, a good example, was in a line with his band and horn players, just as Mumford and Sons and Lumineers did; music, these Grammys stated, is a communal activity created where people gather and not in isolation with electronics and overdubs.
“It’s cyclical,” Zac Brown said backstage after winning country album, “and it’s great to have people who play their own instruments, write their own songs and form real bands. Mumford and Sons is one of my favorite bands and they won album of the year. They deserve it. It’s great to see real music is getting the spotlight.”
Instruments beyond the usual guitar and piano received a fair amount of air time – big drums, string basses, a tuba, banjos were in the spotlight in performances that included Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Jack White and the Black Keys. The show included instrumental jazz, folk music, country music from the 1950s, reggae and a moving tribute to the late Levon Helm.
“In lots of these multi-genre settings, they could always use a little more music from Nashville,” Carrie Underwood said backstage. “This year they did a good job of having a little bit of everything.”
As usual, the Grammys create unique medleys with varying results. Rather than carp about any that did not work, they landed a gem in the blending of Bruno Mars’ “Locked out of Heaven,” the Police’s “Walking on the Moon” and Bob Marley’s “Could You be Loved.”
The Grammys, unlike the Oscars, tend to not fill the script with inside jokes and references. That changed when Jennifer Lopez came out to the solo pop performance, she was wearing a modest, for her, charcoal gray dress. “As you can see I read the memo,” she said, referring to CBS’ pre-show warning that “buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered” and that performers should “avoid shear see-through clothing.”
Among other artists with multiple wins were the team of Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, jazz pianist Chick Corea, Christian artist Matt Redmond and bassist-composer Esperanza Spalding. Corea’s two wins put his career take at 20, the same number guitarist Pat Metheny hit this year after winning best jazz instrumental album.
Corea and Pat Metheny, both of whom have now won 20 Grammy Awards each, unveiled their plans for the coming year. Corea, who released six albums in 2012, says he will put out 10 this year. Metheny, who won for his Unity band project, said the Grammy win is part of the impetus to continue working with the group and they will tour again this year and release a second album in 2014.