By Randy Lewis
Los Angeles Times
The Grammy Awards gave their top honor to British roots music band Mumford & Sons for their album “Babel” on Sunday at the 55th awards ceremony on a night that distributed honors broadly to an array of younger generation acts including New York indie trio Fun., Australian electronic pop artist Gotye, rapper-R&B singer Frank Ocean and Akron, Ohio rock group the Black Keys.
“We figured we weren’t going to win because the Black Keys have been sweeping up all day — and deservedly so,” Mumford & Sons front man Marcus Mumford said after he and his band members strode to the stage at Staples Center in Los Angeles to collect the award from last year’s winner, R&B-soul singer Adele.
Pop culture historians may look back at 2013, however, not only as the year the Grammy Awards ushered a new generation of performers into the upper echelon of music industry accolades but also as the year the music business establishment gave up its long, unsuccessful fight against new forms of music dissemination by embracing songs and videos that consumers soaked up not by purchasing them but by way of YouTube and other Internet outlets.
“Somebody That I Used to Know,” the wildly popular collaboration between Gotye and New Zealand pop singer Kimbra, took the top award presented for a single recording upon being named record of the year, which recognizes performance and record production.
“Somebody…” not only was one of the biggest-selling singles of 2012 but also has notched nearly 400 million views on YouTube, powerfully demonstrating the increasingly vital role of the “broadcast yourself” video Internet phenomenon..
“I’m really at a loss for what to say after receiving an award from the man standing behind us with a cane,” said Gotye, born Wally de Backer, referring to pop star Prince, who announced the category winner. His partner on the track, Kimbra, said, “I feel blessed to be part of this award, and I couldn’t share it with anyone more amazing than this artist here.”
New York indie rock trio Fun. was named best new artist, an acknowledgment of the good-time music the group brought to the airwaves last summer largely through its runaway hit single “We Are Young,” which also has racked up nearly 200 million YouTube views.
“All right, I didn’t think we were gonna win this one — Frank Ocean, the Lumineers, everyone is so awesome,” Fun. member Nate Ruess said by way of name-checking some of the other nominees in the category after he and band mates Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost came to the stage to collect their statuettes.
The Fun. song’s title could also serve as a theme for the evening, which was dominated by other relatively young acts in the most prestigious Grammy categories.
Singer, rapper and songwriter Ocean emerged the victor in the one category that pitted him directly against real-life rival Chris Brown, as his critically acclaimed solo debut album, “Channel Orange,” won the urban contemporary album award. A few minutes later he got a second Grammy with Kanye West, Jay-Z and the Dream in the rap-sung collaboration category for their single “No Church in the Wild.”
Ocean’s tuxedo covered all but his hands, but it appeared as he picked up his award that his left arm remained encased in a wrist brace he’d exhibited Thursday at the rehearsals for this year’s broadcast, a remnant of his scuffle last month with Brown over a parking space at a recording studio. LAPD investigators looking into the incident said Ocean informed them that he would not press charges against Brown.
It was the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach who quickly built up steam as the front runner to dominate this year’s awards, taking five statuettes barely an hour into the show, including producer of the year for himself and three with his group including rock performance, rock song and rock album for “El Camino.”
The Black Keys honed in on the fundamentals of rock ’n’ roll — big guitar riffs, lustful lyrics and a bevy of musical hooks on “El Camino,” which took the Grammy for rock album over Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto,” Muse’s “The 2nd Law,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” and Jack White’s “Blunderbuss.”
One of the best reviewed albums of the group’s career, “El Camino” was praised as “a party record, a driving down the highway, ‘I’m in love with rock and roll, and I’ll be out all night’ record” by Times pop music critic Randall Roberts upon its release at the end of 2011. Roberts concluded, “The only question is whether, this late in the year, this constitutes the best rock album of 2011 or 2012. It’ll probably be both.” Grammy voters, however, only had one choice and gave it the nod for 2012.
Auerbach picked up another award as producer of the blues album winner given for Dr. John’s “Locked Down.”
Fun.’s hit song “We Are Young,” another YouTube smash with more than 200 million views, was crowned song of the year, bringing trophies to the group’s songwriters, Antonoff, Dost and Ruess and collaborator Jeff Bhasker.
“Everyone can see our faces, and we are not very young — we’ve been doing this for 12 years,” Ruess said as he and his band mates collected the award.
Original “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson beamed and spoke effusively after taking the pop vocal album award for her CD “Stronger” in a category that also included efforts by Florence and the Machine, Fun., Maroon 5 and Pink, all of whom Clarkson praised during a rapid-fire acceptance speech.
“I did not expect to win!” she said excitedly.
Carrie Underwood grabbed the country solo performance Grammy for the title track from her album “Blown Away,” which also won the country song award for writers Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins earlier during the pre-telecast ceremony at Nokia Theatre across the street from Staples Center, where the big-category awards were to be handed out.
The Zac Brown Band added to its still-building place as a new-generation country powerhouse with a win of the country album trophy for its “Uncaged” built on muscular southern rock guitar riffs, elaborate multipart vocal harmonies and jam-band instrumental excursions.
Last year’s big winner, Adele, collected the first statuette of the night for her single “Set Fire to the Rain” in the pop solo performance category.
The show got off to an eye-popping start with a Cirque du Soleil-inspired performance by Taylor Swift of her nominated single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” marking a year dominated by relatively young rock and pop acts in the highest-profile award categories.
“Welcome to the greatest music show on Earth,” host LL Cool J announced at the top.
The preponderance of youthful acts not broadly known to mainstream TV audiences heightened the necessity on the show of cross-generational pairings, with rising songwriter and singer Ed Sheeran sharing the stage early with veteran Grammy darling Elton John, while Bruno Mars was scheduled to team up with Sting later in the show. Several members of Americana acts, including Alabama Shakes and Mumford & Sons, were on tap to give a tribute to drummer Levon Helm of the Band.
An extra measure of drama undercut the awards with heightened security provided by the Los Angeles Police Department as a massive manhunt for killing suspect Christopher Dorner continued. Because of the extensive deployment of officers in the Big Bear area in the search for Dorner in addition to a beefed-up police presence in and outside of Staples Center for the Grammys, LAPD issued a citywide tactical alert on Sunday just a few hours before the ceremony was to get underway.
One of the best quips from the earlier batch of awards came from veteran folk-rock singer and songwriter Janis Ian during the pre-telecast ceremony. Picking up the Grammy for spoken-word album for her recording of her book “Society’s Child: My Autobiography,” in a category that also included recordings by former President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow and comedian-talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, Ian said, “To say this is an upset is an understatement. I keep thinking there’s a punch line in here somewhere: ‘An ex-president, the first lady and three lesbians walk into a bar …”
The Grammys are determined by about 13,000 voting members of the Recording Academy. The eligibility period for nominated recordings was Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012. The show aired live except on the West Coast, which gets a tape delay.