It was a Grammy night dominated by subdued live performances and uncontroversial award victories. That all changed the with third-to-last trophy, in a roughly four-hour proceeding that had included remarkably few of them.
Prince, who last month presented the Golden Globe for Best Original Song to Common and John Legend, took the stage to hand out Album of the Year. The applause from the assembled celebrities and industry types was as rapturous as it had been all night. “Albums,” Prince began, “…remember those? Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” And then, in a win that would be improbable anywhere but the perennially late Grammys, Beck won Album of the Year for last year’s gorgeous but sleepy Morning Phase. And then, in a flashback to 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West rushed the stage, in what he later confirmed was protest of Beyoncé‘s defeat for her masterful 2013 self-titled opus.
West left the stage without grabbing the microphone, but the disjunction from the rest of the stuffy, self-congratulatory evening was clear. Sam Smith had the biggest night, as widely expected, winning four Grammys including Best New Artist, Song of the Year and Record of the Year for “Stay With Me.” But he was outshined by Mary J. Blige in their performance of the tear-jerker, and his most charismatic moment, when he thanked the man who broke his heart to inspire his Grammy-winning run, was an echo of a Grammy speech by clear influence Adele three years ago.
The performances that stood out were the ones that shared either a sense of raw impulsiveness or at least righteousness with West’s stage-crashing. Irish singer/songwriter’s Hozier‘s dreary folk-rocker “Take Me to Church” turned out to be a surprise highlight when Annie Lennox joined in for a powerfully sung version of rhythm and blues classic “I Put a Spell on You.” And Beyoncé actually took us to church, delivering “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” — Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite gospel song and one her own mother used to sing to her — so movingly as to transcend tacky award shows.
Others picking up Grammys during the broadcast included Miranda Lambert, who took home Best Country Album for last year’s dazzling Platinum (and gave a nervy performance of “Little Red Wagon”), and Pharrell, who nabbed Best Pop Solo Performance for “Happy” (which he performed, in a weirdly apocalyptic rendition, with film score composer Hans Zimmer). Beck also won for Best Rock Album, presented with an “interception” by Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. Beyoncé won Best R&B Song for “Drunk in Love.”
Among the many, many other performances, Rihanna‘s “FourFiveSeconds,” with West and Paul McCartney, couldn’t help but be another highlight through sheer force of personality alone, although her commanding vocal was the final touch.
That song’s drumless, mellow vibe was more of the norm at the 57th annual Grammys than an exception, though. Katy Perry, fresh off her kitschy Super Bowl performance, pivoted toward a more grown-up audience with decorous torch song “By the Grace of God” — presented after anti-domestic-abuse messages from President Obama and an abuse survivor. Beck and Chris Martin’s all-pro take on Morning Phase‘s “Heart Is a Drum” was unlikely to quiet the pro-Beyoncé camp. The Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine duet that CBS promised us we’d be talking about this morning? We’re not talking about.
Madonna, who presided over a mass wedding in last year’s moment of quasi-political Grammy back-patting, this year showcased her new single “Living for Love,” in a staging that was one part pagan ritual, one part past Kanye West tour. (AC/DC opened the show; “Highway to Hell” wasn’t all wrong.)
West saved his comments for the after the show. “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé, and at this point, we tired of it,” he told E!. “Because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in their face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration.”
Beck told US Weekly he wasn’t upset about West stealing his spotlight. “I was just so excited he was coming up,” the longtime great behind such albums as Odelay and the Prince-influenced Midnite Vultures said. “He deserves to be on stage as much as anybody … How many great records has he put out in the last five years, right?”
Was West right that Beyoncé should’ve won? “Absolutely,” Beck said, adding: “I thought she was going to win. Come on, she’s Beyoncé!”
Watch the incident below, followed by Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s reactions, and scroll down to watch “Heart Is a Drum” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”