LOS ANGELES –
Rock outdueled rap, R&B and even a bit of the fun. at the 55th Grammy Awards.
Ohio’s expert garage rockers The Black Keys – singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney — dominated by winning best rock performance and rock song for “Lonely Boy,” best rock album for “El Camino” and non-classical producer of the year for Auerbach.
Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton), who has Georgia history, produced the Keys’ winning song.
But British folkies Mumford & Songs spoiled that winning trend by snagging album of the year honors for their commercially successful “Babel.” It was their second Grammy of the night.
“We sort of resigned ourselves that last year was Adele’s year and this year was The Black Keys’,” said a jovial Marcus Mumford backstage, drink in hand. “We really don’t care about winning, really…but now that we have [a Grammy] it’s f****** awesome!”
Considering that six artists each nabbed six nominations – the Keys, Frank Ocean, fun., Jay-Z, Kanye West and Mumford & Sons – there were enough gilded trophies to acknowledge the others.
Fun.’s “We Are Young” – featuring Atlanta’s Janelle Monae – snagged song of the year, while the band triumphed in the best new artist category, a win many thought would go to the critically adored Ocean.
The band's Andrew Dost said they wanted Monae on the song because, "She's just a fantastic artist. She's pushing music forward in a creative and powerful way and we want to know and work with people like that. To be around her makes us want to do our best work. She's very inspiring." (Monae gushed equally about fun. at Saturday's Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala.)
Ocean’s “Channel Orange,” meanwhile, won in the new category for best urban contemporary album. He also shared in the prize for best rap/sung collaboration ("No Church in the Wild") with Jay-Z, Kanye West and Atlanta's The-Dream, who said he has a new album, "Foreplay," coming out May 7.
It was a proud night at the Staples Center for Atlanta’s Zac Brown Band, which won its third career Grammy, this time for best country album (“Uncaged”).
Brown, sporting a fedora instead of his usual ski cap, appeared to choke up briefly while thanking, “All my guys who have always backed me up and backed my playing.”
Backstage, Brown, back in ski cap mode, and the rest of the band, humbly talked about their win.
“I was literally in shock,” he said. “It was amazing. This whole weekend has been like out of a dream for me -- it’s like I was hanging out with my entire CD collection… We’re here to prove that the new artist curse (which the band won in 2010) isn’t true. We’re really just getting started.”
Gotye also had reason to celebrate, sweeping his three nominated categories, including record of the year for “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
When the artfully shaggy singer came backstage with Kimbra, he was asked how it felt to have penned an instant classic.
“Everything that has happened with the song since it’s been put out feels disconnected from the experience of writing it,” he said.
Though there were a few lively acceptance speeches – Kelly Clarkson’s for best pop vocal album (“Miguel, I don’t know who the [heck] you are, but we should sing together!” she told the “Adorn” crooner) among them – the Grammys stuck to their successful script of stuffing the show with unique performances.
Taylor Swift ignited the night with a vibrant presentation of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” a Cirque du Swift featuring pyro, stilt walkers and jugglers.
Though subdued by comparison, the teaming of Elton John and his protégé Ed Sheeran on the latter’s nominated “The A Team” was a stirring reminder of the power of simplicity.
The diverse live outings included a foot-stomping “I Will Wait” from single winners Mumford & Sons; the public debut of Justin Timberlake’s soul-grooving “Suit & Tie” with three-time-winner Jay-Z; a steamy “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” from Clarkson; and a couple of all-star jams.
Sting and Bruno Mars teamed for Mars’ Police-like “Locked Out of Heaven,” which dovetailed into “Walking on the Moon” before a festive tribute to Bob Marley with Rihanna and the Marley sons erupted. A tribute to Levon Helm included a rollicking take of “The Weight” with Brown, Mavis Staples, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Mumford & Sons and Elton John.
Last year’s belle of the ceremony, Adele, was back to claim more accolades. The feisty Brit won in her only nominated category, best pop solo performance, for a live version of “Set Fire to the Rain,” outpacing Kelly Clarkson, Carly Rae Jepson, Katy Perry and Rihanna.
Adele popped backstage and said balancing motherhood and pop stardom is “nice,” even though she had been up since 6 a.m. with her baby son. “You have to prioritize when you have a child,” she said, then added that she isn’t very far along on her next record.
“I’ve been out of the loop singing my baby nursery rhymes,” she said.
During the three-hour pre-telecast, held at the neighboring Nokia Theatre, awards were presented in 70 of the 81 categories, many of them featuring Georgia’s more than two dozen nominees.
Heavily praised Drake nabbed best rap album for “Take Care,” besting peers including Nas, Rick Ross and Atlanta’s 2 Chainz, while Usher scored his eighth Grammy award, winning best R&B performance for “Climax.”
Making their Grammy debut were Little Big Town, whose fun-loving “Pontoon” scored best country duo/group performance, their first win among five career nominations.
“When you’re in a category with Taylor Swift, often they’re not going to call your name,” joked the band’s Karen Fairchild – who spent many years in Marietta – backstage.
Atlanta’s Lecrae also won his first Grammy for best gospel album for his groundbreaking “Gravity.” However, the charismatic rapper missed accepting the award because he was detained on the red carpet.
Later, he attributed the success of the album to the fact that he’s “unashamedly truthful about my faith. I’m not misogynistic, I’m not killing anybody. I’m a Christian and I stand firm in my beliefs,” Lecrae said, clad in a spiffy white jacket with black lapels.
Atlanta-based songwriter Micah Massey won his first Grammy with Israel Houghton for “Your Presence is Heaven” (best contemporary Christian music song), beating Casting Crowns and Chris Tomlin in the process.
Steven Lance Ledbetter and Michael Graves, also of Atlanta, were nominated for best historical album for “Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM,” but lost to The Beach Boys’ “The Smile Sessions.”
Brian Wilson was in attendance at the pre-telecast ceremony and accepted the award in typically blunt style.
“[Composer/songwriter] Van Dyke Parks and I knew we were head of our time when we made this so Capitol released it, and …good!” Wilson said, drawing laughs from the audience.
Wilson said backstage that he doubts there will be another Beach Boys reunion and cited “California Girls” as his favorite Beach Boys song.
“Not ‘God Only Knows’?” someone inquired.
“That’s next,” he said with a smile.
Grammy winners are determined by the 12,500 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Eligible recordings were released between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012.