Pop music's elite convened at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday for the 55th annual Grammy Awards, hosted by actor and rapper LL Cool J and featuring performances by Justin Timberlake, Jack White, Carrie Underwood, Sting, Rihanna, Elton John and Taylor Swift.
To judge by the Grammys, 2013 was a year with no overwhelmingly dominant musical force. Instead, six separate acts representing a range of genres scored six nominations apiece: Dan Auerbach, Frank Ocean, fun., Jay-Z, Kanye West and Mumford & Sons. The coveted best album category pits four of those acts -- Ocean, fun., Mumford & Sons and Auerbach's Black Keys -- against Jack White.
Mumford & Sons prevailed in that race, but Auerbach and his band The Black Keys won the night with four Gramophones, for best rock performance, best rock album and best rock song, as well as producer of the year for Auerbach. Gotye, Skrillex and Jay-Z and Kanye West were tied with three awards apiece.
fun. beat Ocean in the best new artist category and claimed the award for best song, which recognizes songwriting, for their hit single "We Are Young." "I don't know what I was thinking, writing this song," said lead singer Nate Ruess. "If this is in HD, everyone can see our faces, and we are not very young." Guitarist Jack Antonoff also thanked his girlfriend, "Girls" creator and star Lena Dunham.
Frank Ocean's critically adored "channel ORANGE" won best urban contemporary album, beating out Chris Brown's "Fortune." Ocean and Brown were reportedly involved in a fight over a parking spot in West Hollywood last month. Ocean also joined Jay-Z and The-Dream onstage to accept the award for best rap/sung performance for "No Church in the Wild," from "Watch the Throne," though Jay-Z got off the best line when he thanked "the swap meet" for The-Dream's hat.
Prince presented the award for record of the year to Gotye and Kimbra for "Somebody That I Used to Know," and gave them a special thrill when he declared, "I love this song," before reading the envelope. Adele's winning streak carried over from last year when she picked up the award for best pop solo performance, presented by Jennifer Lopez. "My good luck charm, J-Lo!" Adele exclaimed as she accepted the Gramophone. Carrie Underwood claimed the statue for best solo country performance for "Blown Away," and Kelly Clarkson appeared unusually loose as she accepted the award for best pop vocal album. "Miguel, I don't know who the hell you are, but we need to sing together," she declared from the stage. "That was the sexiest damn thing I've ever seen." (A complete list of winners can be found here.)
As usual, though, the performances were more memorable than the awards. Ocean sang "Forrest Gump" amid projections that called to mind Kraftwerk's stage set at the Museum of Modern Art last year. Bruno Mars and Sting paired up for an homage of sorts to Bob Marley that culminated in a rousing performance of "Could You Be Loved" with Ziggy Marley and Rihanna. The Black Keys tore through "Lonely Boy" with Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Rihanna sang a moody version of "Stay" with Mikky Echo, and Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z, dressed in matching tuxedoes, teamed up to perform Timberlake's new single "Suit & Tie." The broadcast switched to Instagram-esque black-and-white for that tune, then reverted to color as Timberlake launched into "Pusher Lover Girl," a song he debuted at the Super Bowl pre-show.
The Lumineers brought a fresh-faced innocence to their rendition of "Ho Hey"; Carrie Underwood stood stock still as she sang "Two Black Cadillacs" to allow a light show to unfold on the front of her satin gown; Jack White wore a nudie suit worthy of The Flying Burrito Brothers as he worked through two songs from his 2012 album, "Blunderbuss"; and Kelly Clarkson paid tribute to Patti Page and Carole King, singing a medley of "Tennessee Waltz" and "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman."
Taylor Swift appeared in white top hat, tails and hot pants to kick off the proceedings with a rendition of her hit single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," dancing alongside acrobats, clowns, men on stilts and a stand-in for her ex-boyfriend pinned to a spinning target.
Johnny Depp introduced "the sublime Mumford & Sons," who played "I Will Wait" in front of a stripped-down version of their lightbulb-heavy touring backdrop. Earlier in the evening, Elton John appeared with UK up-and-comer Ed Sheeran to sing the latter's song "The A Team"; Miranda Lambert sang two numbers with Dierks Bentley and a fake tree; Miguel and Wiz Khalifa performed the former's Grammy-winning single, "Adorn"; and Alicia Keys channeled 80s musician Sheila E., banging on two drums as she collaborated with Maroon 5 on her single "Girl on Fire."
In the hours before the official ceremony, broadcast live on CBS, the Recording Academy handed out some 70 awards. Jay-Z and Kanye West won best rap performance and best rap song for "N----s in Paris"; Paul McCartney won best traditional pop vocal album; Miguel won best R&B song; Drake won best rap album; and Esperanza Spalding, famous for beating pop sensation Justin Bieber in the best new artist category in 2011, won best jazz vocal album.
Even before the broadcast began, the Recording Academy continued its tradition of producing head-scratcher results, handing best R&B album to the Robert Glasper Experiment over more familiar names including R. Kelly and Tyrese.
CBS attempted to minimize its FCC concerns by sending out a memo banning bare "buttocks" and otherwise exposed "fleshy" body parts. The hopeful note was met with a bit of ridicule, as music's red carpet is known for playing host to some skimpy getups -- and this year was no exception. Katy Perry wore a mint-green dress that showcased her ample cleavage, and Jennifer Lopez showed off one bare leg, Angelina Jolie-style.
The Recording Academy, the association of industry members that votes on the nominees and winners, calls its award show Music's Biggest Night. While the relevancy and judgment of the Grammys has often been called into question, "Grammy-winner" remains music's most coveted prefix.
According to the Grammys, the 2012 award telecast brought in 39.9 million viewers -- the largest TV audience for the event since 1984. The Twitterverse was also engaged, ramping up to 160,341 tweets per minute during the broadcast.
Last year's Grammy winners included Kanye West and Adele, who took home a combined ten awards. Skrillex was among the buzziest acts, ending the night with the first three Grammy trophies of his career.
For more on the Grammys, click here. Find more Grammy award 2013 winners in the liveblog below.