At Grammys, victories for unadorned emotion of Beck, Sam Smith

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The annual Grammys gala was once again a spectacle full of sparkling performances, but the music industry this year chose to recognise artists not for showmanship but for unadorned emotion.

The Recording Academy, so often fond of honouring best-selling pop artists, gave three of its four top awards Sunday night to the young British soul singer Sam Smith, and the most prestigious Album of the Year to rock innovator Beck for one of his most introspective works.

Smith, who was working as a bartender in London just a few years ago, has seen his career soar in a matter of months on the popularity of his song Stay With Me, a tender ballad of the lonesomeness after a one-night stand.

The 22-year-old on stage paid tribute to the unnamed lover in the song, saying of him: "Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys."

Smith's rapid rise is all the more remarkable as, in an era of instant entertainment, he has packed arenas not through racy outfits or dance moves but through the power of his rich tenor voice.

Many young stars quickly implode. But Smith said that his earnest, personal approach gave him hope for a healthy future.

"What's beautiful about this record for me is that I didn't play a character, so I don't have to work really, really hard to do what I've done before, because it's just me being me," he told reporters after his Grammy triumph.

Smith, whose personal qualities do not include a trim physique, said that his career began to take off when he started to ignore pressure on his appearance.

"I had my first manager when I was 12 years old and I had a very warped idea of what I needed to do to be heard and to be a pop star. And so I started losing lots of weight, and I started putting on crazy clothes, and I started wearing makeup," he said.

"It's when I started not caring about that and just being myself, and eating lots of In-and-Out Burgers that it all started to go away," he said, referring to the US fast food chain.

The Grammys last year gave top honours to the French electronic duo Daft Punk, who took an exact opposite approach by appearing mute on stage dressed as robots.

This year's nominees included plenty of acts whose sound is crafted by studio effects and production crews including Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande.

Except for a producer's award, the pop stars all left empty-handed, although Swift's blockbuster album 1989 was released too late for contention and is a favourite for next year's Grammys.

Beck was the surprise winner of Album of the Year for Morning Phase, a lush, melancholy work in which strings build off his acoustic guitar and inward-looking voice.

For two decades, the Los Angeles-bred rocker has won critical acclaim and a cult following - if not the mainstream success often recognised by the Grammys - with a discography that swings wildly in direction.

His work has incorporated everything from Mexican mariachi bands to hip-hop to ironic, cryptic lyricism on songs such as Loser, Devil's Haircut and Satan Gave Me a Taco. Morning Phase is a sequel of sorts to Beck's 2002 album Sea Change - a dark, folkish rumination on breaking up with his longtime girlfriend.

Dwight Yoakam, the country guitarist who has collaborated with Beck, said that the Grammy winner's gift was his love of all genres of music.

"He approaches the music with a reverence that allows him irreverence at times, and allows him to be self-deprecating," Yoakam told reporters.

But not all were cheering Beck. The volatile rapper Kanye West blasted the Recording Academy, saying that the top award should have gone to Beyonce for her personal, elaborate self-titled album.

"Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyonce," he told E! television.