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Few surprises at Grammys

Major gongs at music's biggest night went to white artists such as Taylor Swift

African-American rap artist Kendrick Lamar, acclaimed for his complex and politically charged music, won five out of the 11 nominations he received at the 58th Grammy Awards.

But when it came to the major gongs, the chart-topping pop hits by white artists Taylor Swift and Mark Ronson still ruled at what is touted as music's biggest night, held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday (US time).

Still, it was not entirely a case of #grammystoowhite.

Uptown Funk, which won Record of the Year, is Ronson's single with Bruno Mars, who is of Puerto Rican- Filipino descent. And Swift's win for Album of the Year with 1989 - beating Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, among others - avoids that other criticism aimed at the Academy Awards that it is too male-dominated.

Before the show, Lamar's multiple nominations were hailed as an example of how the Grammys are more inclusive than the upcoming Oscars, which has been criticised for the lack of non-white nominees.

Unfortunately, the big categories were out of reach for artists like him, with the organisers - the United States' National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences - instead awarding him accolades in niche categories such as Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song.

WHO SAID WHAT

As the first woman to win Album of the Year twice, I want to say to all the young women out there, there will be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame.

TAYLOR SWIFT after accepting Album of the Year for 1989, possibly aimed at rapper Kanye West taking credit for her popularity

Aptly, in a segment reminiscent of Beyonce's recent pro-black power Super Bowl performance, Lamar put on a fiery performance that addressed race issues with his hands bound in chains amid a mock-prison set-up.

You can't read, you can't read it, you can't read Braille.

STEVIE WONDER jokingly gloats at his fellow presenters Pentatonix after he opens the envelope containing the name of the winner of Song of the Year, which is printed in Braille. The award went to Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud. Wonder also made a call for more things to be made accessible to people with disabilities

His medley included Alright, the unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement, which lost in Song of the Year - another major category - to Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud.

The piano mics fell onto the piano strings, that's what the guitar sound was. It made it sound out of tune. Sh** happens. X.

ADELE tweets in response to online criticism of her pitchy singing and the bad sound that plagued her live rendition of All I Ask, a track off her recent blockbuster album 25

Lamar also shared the Best Music Video prize with Swift for Bad Blood, a song taken off her 1989 album that featured him rapping.

  • MAJOR WINNERS

  • Record of the Year: Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars

    Album of the Year: 1989 - Taylor Swift

    Song of the Year: Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge, songwriters

    Best New Artist: Meghan Trainor

    Best Pop Solo Performance: Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran

    Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars

    Best Rock Performance: Don't Wanna Fight - Alabama Shakes

    Best Country Album: Traveller - Chris Stapleton

    Best Pop Vocal Album: 1989 - Taylor Swift

    Best Rock Album: Drones - Muse

    Best Rap Album: To Pimp A Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar

    Best Music Video: Bad Blood - Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar

    Best Musical Theatre Album: Hamilton

    Best Music Film: Amy (Amy Winehouse)

    REUTERS

But the actual bad blood is between Swift and rapper Kanye West. In his new album released only a few days ago, he took credit for her popularity.

Without mentioning his name, during her acceptance speech for Album of the Year, Swift said: "As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there, there will be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame."

As expected, there were live performances galore, many dedicated to the significant artists who had died in the past year.

Lady Gaga led the way with an effects-laden David Bowie tribute, running through 10 of his signature songs, including Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust and Heroes in a six-minute medley. Bowie died last month.

The Eagles were joined by fellow American veteran Jackson Browne in their hits as the backdrop displayed portraits of founding member Glenn Frey who, too, died last month.

In a meeting between acts old and new, Stevie Wonder performed with rising a cappella stars Pentatonix in a tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire's Maurice White, who died less than two weeks ago.

Chris Stapleton, winner of Country Album of the Year and Best Country Solo Performance, joined Bonnie Raitt and Gary Clark Jr in honouring blues legend B.B. King, who died last year, in one of his most loved songs, The Thrill Is Gone.

The biggest snafu of the night would be Adele's pitchy singing and the overall bad sound during her live performance of All I Ask, a song off her recent blockbuster album 25. She later took to Twitter to blame microphones that had fallen over for marring the performance.

In a bizarre choice for the closing act, rapper Pitbull, whose album Dale won Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album, sang with Robin Thicke, who not only has no nominations, but has also not released anything significant of late.

Perhaps a performance by Rihanna would have been more apt to round up the ceremony. It is a shame that the singer, who at least has a recent album out, had to pull out of her Grammy slot at the last minute due to an illness.

While the telecast ran over three hours long, the awards given out on stage were few and far between. Many were awarded before the live telecast started, including Best Pop Vocal Album for Swift's 1989, Best R&B Performance for Earned It and Best Urban Contemporary Album for Beauty Behind The Madness, both by The Weeknd.

Justin Bieber also won his first Grammy pre-show for Best Dance Recording for Where Are U Now, his song with Skrillex and Diplo.

Unlike other award shows such as the MTV Video Music Awards, the stars were pretty much on their best behaviour, with no meme- worthy moments such as stage invasions or celebrities falling over.

Kanye, where were you when we needed you to spice things up?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'Few surprises at Grammys'. Print Edition | Subscribe