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Grammys 2015: All the highs, lows, and head-scratching moments

The Grammys dominated music headlines all weekend long, with the televised portion of the awards show stretching out over three-and-a-half hours long on Sunday night. And with only nine of the 83 awards actually handed out during the televised ceremony, the producers opted to cram in a whopping 23 performances by artists that spanned generations and genres in the music industry.

As with past years, this year’s Grammys seemed hell-bent on forcing disparate acts to perform together in order to create “classic Grammy moments,” and the hamfisted nature of those collaborations led to more than a few awkward and WTF-worthy performances. But before we travel too far down that rabbit hole, let’s discuss the biggest showstoppers of the night.

The 15 seconds that blew up Twitter

“Albums. Remember those? Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” Keeping things short and sweet, Prince brought the audience to their feet with his surprise presentation of the Album of the Year award—and he couldn’t have predicted that he was about to reveal the biggest upset of the night.

In a category dominated by mainstream artists like Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams, and the night’s biggest winner, Sam Smith, the award ultimately went to Beck’s latest, Morning Phase, which also picked up trophies for Best Rock Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, earlier in the day.

As a clearly awestruck Beck wandered up onto stage to accept his award and hug Prince, Kanye West reprised his role as Beyoncé’s biggest awards show advocate and pretended like he was about to jump in front of Beck steal the spotlight, turning away just before taking over the microphone. “Oh my God, hi Prince,” Beck said, finally catching his breath, as Prince stood by stoically and delivered the most epic side-eye of the entire night.

So a Scientologist, a Jehovah’s Witness, and Kanye West walk into a bar…

fvm899xm5ebv7spepksuKanye was clearly still miffed about the Best Album award after the ceremony let out, and was sure to tell E! that, “Beck needs to respect artistry. He should’ve given his award to Beyoncé.”

The biggest winner

The Best New Artist award ended up being just the tip of the iceberg for Sam Smith, the breakout English singer-songwriter whose single “Stay With Me” has been omnipresent this past year. Smith got the opportunity to deliver four separate acceptance speeches throughout the telecast (for Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year), and took the stage with Mary J. Blige and a full gospel choir to duet on his big song.


A photo posted by Sam Smith (@samsmithworld) on

Smith is notably the first openly gay man to snag any of these big awards, and he was sure to thank his ex-boyfriend for inspiring his collection of award-winning heartbreak songs. “I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart, because you got me four Grammys.”

The diva showdown

So many of the evening’s stars seemed stuck in the slower tempo ranges (even AC/DC’s kickoff performance of “Highway to Hell” seemed to drag at an unusually slow pace), and most of the night’s big pop divas opted for big, showy ballads. Beyoncé warmed up the stage for the night’s finalé performance of “Glory” by Common and John Legend with a flawless run through the hymn “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” dressed in a magnificent white gown and flanked by choir members in white suits.

beyonce-grammysKaty Perry chose a similarly stark white caped gown for her performance of “By the Grace of God,” which came just after a sobering anti-domestic violence PSA by President Obama and a heartwrenching speech from abuse survivor Brooke Axtell.

Sia brought out her now infamous dancing friend Maddie Ziegler and actress Kristen Wiig to fling their their bodies across the stage in matching blonde wigs to her powerhouse anthem “Chandelier,” while she stood in the corner with her back turned to the cameras and belted out the melody.

Madonna tried to distract from the mediocrity of her new single “Living for Love” by donning a matador’s costume, hiring a few dozen dancers dressed in bullhorns and diamond-encrusted masks, and flying through the air in a harness. It didn’t work. The song had all the life of a deflated balloon.

Amid all that star power, the real standout pop singer of the night was Annie Lennox, who joined Hozier for his runaway single “Take Me to Church” and then delivered a powerhouse cover of the blues ballad “I Put a Spell on You” that channeled both Nina Simone, who famously covered it in 1965, and its composer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. There was wailing, there was unholy bellowing, and there was a period of absolutely insane mock-harmonica playing. Lennox knocked it so hard out of the park that the entire room had no choice but to spring to their feet in a standing ovation.

The squandering of talent

And now we have arrived at some of the Grammys’ trickier moments. The all-star collaboration that got the biggest PR push leading up to the awards show was the new song by Kanye, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney, and the trio had even been posting photos of their rehearsals to social media in the days leading up to the show. But somehow, despite the obvious talent that lies within each performer, they managed to come up with a collaborative song, “FourFiveSeconds,” that sounded vaguely country, vaguely pop, and exceedingly mediocre. Where was the hook? What was the point? And why did McCartney seem to be leaning on both the teleprompter and both of his fellow performers to remember what any of the words were supposed to be? The whole ordeal felt very awkward and odd. It was way more fun watching McCartney freak out to ELO and dance around to “Mr. Blue Sky” earlier in the broadcast.

Speaking of immense talent that was flushed down the toilet during this year’s Grammys, it was downright painful to watch the legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and hip-hop icon Questlove grin and bear it as they played rhythm section to Ed Sheeran and John Mayer’s snoozefest of a duet, and for some reason Usher waited until the very end of his rendition of “If It’s Magic” to bring Stevie Wonder out for the tiniest 10-second-long harmonica solo. Maybe CBS just wanted to make sure everyone would tune in for the big tribute to Stevie’s Songs in the Key of Life that’s airing next Monday, February 16.

The squandering of money

Target reportedly dropped a cool $8 million to inexplicably air a portion of Imagine Dragons’ concert live from Las Vegas during a commercial break, causing many people on social media to wonder whether the mini-show was part of the Grammys, part of an ad, or simply a hole that had torn open in the time-space continuum. Imagine Dragons performed last year at the Grammys (along with other 2015 repeats like Katy Perry, Beyoncé, John Legend, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Williams, Madonna, and Miranda Lambert), so it’s unclear why anyone thought they needed more screen time Sunday night.

Plus everything else…

Here’s a quick overview of the awards handed out at this year’s Grammys. In addition to Prince’s appearance, Minnesotans were represented in the “in memoriam” montage, which paid tribute to the late composer Stephen Paulus, and in both the Best Choral Performance (which went to St. Olaf grad Craig Hella Johnson for “The Sacred Spirit of Russia) and Best Rap Song (which went to Kendrick Lamar’s “i,” co-written by hometown hero Rahki) categories. And although the Okee Dokee Brothers were nominated for the Best Children’s Award category, the award ultimately went to I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education And Changed The World.

Record of the Year
Sam Smith – “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)”

Song of the Year
Sam Smith – “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)”

Album of the Year
Beck – Morning Phase

Best New Artist
Sam Smith

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
A Great Big World With Christina Aguilera – “Say Something”

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – Cheek To Cheek

Best Pop Solo Performance
Pharrell Williams – “Happy”

Best Pop Vocal Album
Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour

Best Rock Performance
Jack White – “Lazaretto”

Best Rock Album
Beck – Morning Phase

Best Rock Song
Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun”
Hayley Williams & Taylor York, songwriters

Best Alternative Rock Album
St. Vincent – St. Vincent

Best Metal Performance
Tenacious D – “The Last In Line”

Best Rap Performance
Kendrick Lamar – “I”

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
Eminem Featuring Rihanna – “The Monster”

Best Rap Song
Kendrick Lamar – “I”
K. Duckworth & C. Smith, songwriters

Best Rap Album
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP2

Best R&B Performance
Beyoncé Featuring Jay Z – “Drunk In Love”

Best Traditional R&B Performance
“Jesus Children”
Robert Glasper Experiment Featuring Lalah Hathaway & Malcolm-Jamal Warner

Best R&B Song
Beyoncé Featuring Jay Z – “Drunk In Love”

Best Urban Contemporary Album
Pharrell Williams – Girl

Best R&B Album
Toni Braxton & Babyface – Love, Marriage & Divorce

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album
Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer – Bass & Mandolin

Best Dance/Electronic Album
Aphex Twin – Syro

Best Dance Recording
Clean Bandit Featuring Jess Glynne – “Rather Be”

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat, composer

Best Song Written for Visual Media
“Let It Go” from Frozen

Best Country Album
Miranda Lambert – Platinum

Best Country Solo Performance
Carrie Underwood – “Something In The Water”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance
The Band Perry – “Gentle On My Mind”

Best Country Song
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You”
Glen Campbell & Julian Raymond, songwriters (Glen Campbell)

Best Bluegrass Album
The Earls Of Leicester – The Earls Of Leicester

Best American Roots Performance
Rosanne Cash – “A Feather’s Not A Bird”

Best American Roots Song
Rosanne Cash – “A Feather’s Not A Bird”

Best Americana Album
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread

Best Folk Album
Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy

Best Music Video
Pharrell Williams – “Happy”

Best Music Film
20 Feet From Stardom

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
Max Martin
“Bang Bang” (Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj)
“Break Free” (Ariana Grande Featuring Zedd)
“Dark Horse” (Katy Perry Featuring Juicy J)
“Problem” (Ariana Grande Featuring Iggy Azalea)
“Shake It Off” (Taylor Swift)
“Unconditionally” (Katy Perry)

Best Instrumental Composition
John Williams – “The Book Thief”

Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella
Pentatonix – “Daft Punk”

Best Arrangement, Instrumental and Vocals
Billy Childs – “New York Tendaberry”

Best Recording Package
Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package
The Rise & Fall Of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-27)

Best Album Notes
John Coltrane – Offering: Live At Temple University

Best Historical Album
Hank Williams – The Garden Spot Programs, 1950

Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
Beck – Morning Phase

Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical
John Legend – “All Of Me (Tiesto’s Birthday Treatment Remix)”

Best Surround Sound Album
Beyoncé – Beyoncé

Best Regional Roots Music Album
Jo-El Sonnier – The Legacy

Best Reggae Album
Ziggy Marley – Fly Rasta

Best World Music Album
Angelique Kidjo – Eve

Best Children’s Album
Neela Vaswani – I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education And Changed The World (Malala Yousafzai)

Best Musical Theatre Album
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Best Blues Album
Johnny Winter – Step Back

Best Spoken Word Album
Joan Rivers – Diary Of A Mad Diva

Best Comedy Album
“Weird Al” Yankovic – Mandatory Fun

Best New Age Album
Ricky Kej & Wouter Kellerman – Winds Of Samsara

Best Improved Jazz Solo
Chick Corea – “Fingerprints”

Best Jazz Vocal Album
Dianne Reeves – Beautiful Life

Best Jazz Instrumental Album
Chick Corea Trio – Trilogy

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band – Life In The Bubble

Best Latin Jazz Album
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra – The Offense Of The Drum