The 55th annual Grammy Awards said goodbye baby-boomers and hello fresh-faced newcomers.
Elton John, Sting, Mavis Staples and Grammys host LL Cool J were the only oldies invited to the party Sunday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, and a bunch of newer names walked home with the most prizes, including fun., Mumford & Sons, Gotye, the Black Keys and Frank Ocean.
Still, the night’s big winner was arguably someone who wasn’t even nominated for a Grammy. That’s because Justin Timberlake hasn’t released an album since 2007. Yes, he’s a triple threat who can act, dance and sing. He returned to music Sunday in a tuxedo, with black-and-white two-tone shoes and black-and-white camera work, doing “Suit and Tie,” his new single, with a mid-song rap from Jay-Z. Then Timberlake unleashed a string section, full orchestra and small choir on “Pusher Love,” a falsetto-spiked seduction. Can’t wait for his new album, can we?
England’s Mumford & Sons commanded attention — first with an introduction by Johnny Depp, who looked like Keith Richards channeling Steven Tyler, and then with a spirited rendition of their folk-rock hit “I Will Wait.” They won the night’s biggest prize, album of the year, for “Babel,” a folk-rock collection that has more connections to the 1960s than any other of Sunday’s big triumphs.
Garage blues-rock duo the Black Keys, who had previously collected Grammys in alternative categories, also had a trophy-filled night. They rocked out on “Lonely Boy” with swampy, jazzy abandon, accompanied by New Orleans legend Dr. John on piano (and in full Mardi Gras regalia) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on horns.
That performance may have been more satisfying than the awards for the group’s guitarist and singer, Dan Auerbach. Besides winning three Grammys with the Keys, for best rock album (“El Camino”) and song and performance (“Lonely Boy”), he landed a prize for producer of the year and another for producing the blues album of the year, Dr. John’s “Locked Down.”
Some rookies also got a big boost from Sunday night’s 3½-hour show.
Rising soul star Miguel asserted his falsetto-fueled soulfulness with his No. 1 R&B song “Adorn” before presenting — go figure — the Grammy for best country solo performance. When Kelly Clarkson picked up her trophy for best pop vocal album, she blurted: “Miguel, I don’t know who the hell you are. But we need to sing together. That was the most sexy damn thing.”
The acoustic-loving Lumineers, from Denver, triumphed with their hootenanny sing-along “Hey Ho,” which found Taylor Swift belting the words in the superstar-filled front row.
Some still-young veterans also impressed in the live spotlight. Clarkson honored Patti Page with a heart-warming “Tennessee Waltz” and Carole King with a restrained but soulful “Natural Woman.” Both classics were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Blues-rock hero Jack White, backed by his all-female band, got sultry on a violin-accented “Love Interruption” before shifting into overdrive with his male backup band for the rip-roaring rocker “Freedom at 21” with plenty of his raunchy guitar.
Fiery pop siren Rihanna dialed down to show off her vocal prowess, charming on her own piano ballad “Stay” and later rocking out during a salute to reggae icon Bob Marley, joining Ziggy Marley, Bruno Mars and Sting.
Swift, who collected only one trophy (for a movie soundtrack song), seized the moment at the start of the show with an over-the-top Alice In Wonderland-like staging of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” While the production might have been too busy, at least she proved that she’s never, ever going to sing off-key again on the Grammys.
When Grammy darling Swift picked up her statue in the pre-telecast, she was teased by the co-writer of her song “Safe and Sound” (written for the movie “Hunger Games”), John Paul White of the Civil Wars. “I think it’s appropriate that Taylor thanks us,” he said. “We’ve been carrying her for a while and it gets a little tiring.”
Surprisingly, Gotye did not perform, but the Aussie pop star earned record of the year for “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
The New York pop-rock trio known as fun. performed “Carry On” with rain falling on them but did not offer “We Are Young,” which was named song of the year; the trio also was honored as best new artist. And they had some fun at the podium.
“I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that chorus,” lead singer Nate Ruess said about “We Are Young.” “If you have HD [high-def TV], you can see our faces. We are not very young. We’ve been doing this for 12 years.”
On Sunday, electronica artist Skrillex pulled a rare Grammy triple double, winning three trophies for the second consecutive year.
But on a night when, jazz piano giant Chick Corea, Christian artist Matt Redman and jazz singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding captured two Grammys each, music lovers were talking more about performances than trophy tallies.
Twitter @JonBream • 612-673-1719