The Grammy Awards celebrated outcasts and outsiders, lionizing a couple of French robots, white rappers and a country gal espousing gay rights, and a Goth teenager who’s clearly uncomfortable with the current themes in pop music.
The Recording Academy’s voters mined some of pop music’s biggest hits to send an open-hearted message, awarding French electronic music pioneers Daft Punk for teaming with R&B legends to make a hybrid album that celebrated both genres, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Kacey Musgraves for espousing gay rights and Lorde for her anti-swag message to the masses.
Daft Punk and collaborator Pharrell Williams won four awards, including top honors album and record of the year, and best new artists Macklemore and Lewis matched that with four of their own. Lorde won two awards for her inescapable hit "Royals."
Beyond their awards, each offered one of the more powerful moments at the Sunday night ceremony at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Lorde performed "Royals" wearing black lipstick and fingernail polish with little production, standing in opposition to the large-scale presentations from some of the night’s other performers. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo of Daft Punk continued the celebratory feel of their hit, record of the year "Get Lucky," by asking Stevie Wonder to join them with Williams and Nile Rodgers in a colorful performance. And Macklemore and Lewis invited 33 couples, including some of the same sex, to get married with Madonna serenading them and Queen Latifah presiding.
The moment brought tears to the eyes of Keith Urban and though the robots don’t reveal themselves or speak in public, they had feelings about it, too, asking producer Paul Williams to relay their thoughts.
"It was the height of fairness and love and the power of love for all people at any time in any combination, is what they wanted me to say," Williams said.
The robots, clad in formal white suits and masks, spent much of the night humorously deferring to collaborators as they stood on stage. The job of spokesman often fell to producer of the year Pharrell, who guessed his way through a couple of acceptance speeches. "I suppose the robots would like to thank ...," he joked before noting, "Honestly, I bet France is really proud of these guys right now."
Their "Random Access Memories" was the year’s event album, capitalizing on both the growing popularity of electronic dance music and the presence of popular music figures like Rodgers and Pharrell. They beat out reigning pop queen Taylor Swift, the odds-on favorite to win the award.
The award helps to square The Recording Academy with the burgeoning dance music crowd, who’ve been waiting for a major win since the Bee Gees’ 1977 "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack, the last dance LP to win album of the year.
"If you go to the headwaters of EDM, electronic dance music, you’ll find them," Paul Williams said.
Rodgers said the duo richly deserved the win after taking years to put the album together as they sought authentic musical moments that can only be recorded live by real musicians.
"The fact that they decided to put this much effort into the music and bring in musicians, it shows that they had an incredible vision and they believed that you actually achieve something greater by doing that," Rodgers said. "I happen to believe in that philosophy, too, that as a composer I can write a composition but when people interpret that composition it gets better."
Hours earlier, it looked like the day might belong to Macklemore and Lewis, a couple of virtually unknowns from Seattle who dominated the pop world with three huge hits that were wildly different and rivaled "Get Lucky" in popularity - "Thrift Shop," ’’Can’t Hold Us" and the gay rights anthem "Same Love."
They won three awards during the Grammys’ pre-telecast ceremony - rap song and rap performance for the comical "Thrift Shop" and rap album for "The Heist," beating out Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z and Kanye West in that category before taking major award best new artist. They’re just the third rap act to win best new artist, but their wins in the rap categories are sure to chafe average hip-hop fans - especially after Kendrick Lamar failed to win an award despite seven nominations. The Recording Academy’s own rap committee tried to exclude Macklemore and Lewis from the genre’s categories before being overruled.
Queen Latifah, who was certified by the state of California to perform the wedding ceremony, spoke out after the show about rap being more inclusive.
"I think this is exactly what hip-hop is capable of," she said. "When I started rapping it was much more common for rappers to speak about different things going on in the world. We’re part of the reason that apartheid (in South Africa) was changed. ... Or violence in the communities or anything that was some type of social injustice we’ve always been able to talk about through hip-hop."
Musgraves explored similar themes to take home country album for "Same Trailer Different Park" and country song "Merry Go ’Round," categories that Swift seemed destined to win given her history with the Grammys. Musgraves also performed a neon-inflected version of "Follow Your Arrow," a song that includes the line "Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/if that’s something you’re into" among other socially conscious messages.
And then there’s the curious case of Lorde, the New Zealand teenager whose invitation to ignore all the status symbols and swag signifiers of pop music in her song "Royals" was one of the year’s out-of-nowhere hits. She took major award song of the year and best pop solo performance.
The singer shyly summed up the experience in just a few words during her acceptance speech: "Thank you everyone who has let this song explode. Because it’s been mental."