BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
NEW YORK — The 60th annual Grammy Awards were poised to be a showdown between hip-hop heavyweights Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, who came in with a leading eight nominations to Lamar’s seven.
But it was more of a KO by Lamar, as Jay-Z remained empty-handed through the first half of Sunday’s ceremony, and Lamar carried five trophies — best music video, best rap performance and best rap song for “Humble,” best rap/sung performance featuring Rihanna on “Loyalty” and best rap album for “Damn.”
“Rap music … showed me the true definition of what being an artist was. I thought it was about the accolades, but it’s about putting that paint on the canvas. Hip-hop has done that for me,” Lamar said, before flashing a smile and adding, “Jay for president!”
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The “Humble” rapper opened the show with a blistering medley of “XXX,” “DNA,” “New Freezer” and “King’s Dead.”
His fiery set, which offered pyro, marching soldiers and plenty of social commentary, scored a pop-up from Dave Chappelle (“Rumble, young man, rumble!” the comedian proclaimed in the middle of the performance, which was labeled “This Is a Satire”) and Bono and The Edge.
Lamar’s launch marked the return of the Grammys to New York for the first time in 15 years.
Host James Corden — back for a second year — aimed some city-centric jokes at Brooklyn native Jay-Z in the front row; presenters Tony Bennett and John Legend vamped on “New York, New York” (and the camera cut to a beleaguered-looking Jerry Seinfeld); and Sting, Shaggy and Corden engaged in a humorous takeoff of Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” feature with “Subway Karaoke.”
Rap aside, another prominent winner was Bruno Mars with song of the year, best R&B performance and best R&B song (“That’s What I Like”) and best R&B album (“24K Magic”).
Ed Sheeran added two more Grammys to his collection, for best pop vocal album (“Divide”) and best pop solo performance (“Shape of You”), as did the always-genuine Chris Stapleton, who won best country album (“From a Room: Vol. 1”) and best country song (“Halos”).
Politics entered later in the show, when Camila Cabello introduced a U2 performance from a barge on the Hudson River, in view of the Statue of Liberty.
“I’m a proud Cuban-Mexican immigrant, standing on a Grammy stage in New York City, and all I know is just like dreams, these kids can’t be forgotten and are worth fighting for,” she said, in reference to the controversial DACA program.
Many performers also donned a white rose, which has been a symbol of the #TimesUp movement.
Janelle Monae introduced an emotional performance from Kesha, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and others with a powerful speech: “We come in peace, but we mean business. For those who would dare try to silence us, we have two words — time’s up!”
Best new artist winner Alessia Cara said backstage that to her, wearing a white rose “means speaking up for women who don’t have a voice, who aren’t as lucky to have a platform like I do.”
As usual with the Grammys, the performances provided the highlights.
Lady Gaga played a white piano decorated with feathers and a giant set of wings. She dedicated “Joanne” to its namesake — her late aunt — and said, “This is for love and compassion, even when you can’t understand.”
Pink also demonstrated that purity reigns with her “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” while Sting and bromance partner Shaggy added a touch of nostalgia with “Englishman in New York.”
The collective of Brothers Osborne, Maren Morris and Eric Church — who all performed during the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas in October — unveiled a heartfelt version of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” in honor of those gunned down during the last night of the event.
There were several prominent firsts for Georgia artists during the “Premiere Ceremony,” when trophies for 75 of the 84 categories were distributed a few hours before the telecast.
The Atlanta hard rock mainstay, Mastodon, scored its inaugural Grammy with “Sultan’s Curse” in best metal performance.
Backstage, drummer Brann Dailor, guitarist Bill Kelliher and bassist Troy Sanders cradled their Grammy gold (guitarist Brent Hinds wasn’t feeling well, Dailor said, and didn’t make the trip).
Dailor credited Atlanta fans for the band’s 18 years of success.
“Our first show had hundreds of people, and they came out to support us from the time we were playing the Parasite House to the Fox Theatre,” he said.
Childish Gambino — aka Stone Mountain native Donald Glover — also nabbed his first career Grammy for best traditional R&B performance for “Redbone.”
The singer/rapper/actor earned five Grammy nominations this year and impressed with his falsetto on a seductive performance of “Terrified.”
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit bested the late Gregg Allman in two categories in which they shared a nomination — best American roots song (“If We Were Vampires”) and best Americana album (“The Nashville Sound”).
Backstage, a respectful Isbell said Allman’s influence was “huge on me. … Some of the first music I learned to play were Allman Brothers records.”
Posthumous awards were bestowed upon Leonard Cohen (best rock performance for “You Want It Darker”) and Carrie Fisher (best spoken word album for “The Princess Diarist”).
Reba McEntire delivered one of the most affecting speeches of the ceremony after winning for best roots gospel album (“Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope”).
“Our job in the entertainment business is to heal hearts and to help other people,” she said. “Music is so healing.”
The eligibility period for the 2018 awards was Oct. 1, 2016-Sept. 30, 2017.