Bruno Mars and Kendrick Lamar were big winners at the 60th annual Grammy Awards in New York on Sunday, and Philadelphia band the War On Drugs won best rock album for A Deeper Understanding.
In a CBS telecast marked by spoken and musical statements about immigration, sexual misconduct, gun violence, and suicide prevention, among other social and political issues, Mars won seven awards — including album of the year, for 24K Magic; record of the year, for the title song; and the songwriter’s song of the year trophy for “That’s What I Like.”
The high-energy Hawaiian song-and-dance man turned in a crowd-pleasing performance with rapper Cardi B on “Finesse,” thanked veteran producers and hitmakers Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, James “Jimmy Jam” Harris, Terry Lewis, and Teddy Riley in a feel-good acceptance speech for album of the year. The show was held in New York for the first time since 2003.
Mars overtook Lamar — who won five awards but none in the three major categories in which he was nominated — as the evening’s biggest winner. For the third time — as with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in 2013, To Pimp a Butterfly in 2016 and this year with DAMN. — Lamar made the strongest album in the competition, yet was denied the top prize by Grammy voters.
Lamar, the Compton, Calif., emcee, won for best rap album, and his song “HUMBLE.” took home trophies for best rap song, best performance, and best video. The precise, impassioned rhymer opened the telecast with a commanding performance of songs from DAMN., in which he also employed U2, comedian Dave Chappelle, dancers costumed as U.S. soldiers, and a taiko drummer as bit players.
U2 performed a snippet of “America Soul,” from their new album, Songs of Experience, on which Lamar is a guest. (Later, the Irish rock band performed “Get Out of Your Own Way” on a barge on the Hudson River in front of the Statue of Liberty.) And Chappelle stopped the show to share an observation with the audience: “The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America.”
Taking the stage to accept the rap album trophy, the 30-year-old Lamar talked about hip-hop as a way “to really express yourself, and put that paint on canvas.” He shouted out such predecessors as Nas, Sean “Puffy” Combs, and Jay-Z, who garnered eight nominations to Lamar’s seven, and whose critical words for President Trump on CNN over the weekend had made him the target of the president’s tweets on Sunday morning. “Jay for president,” Lamar said with a grin before exiting the stage. (Jay-Z didn’t have any reason to smile about the Grammy results, though. He lost in all eight categories he was nominated.)
The Adam Granduciel-fronted War on Drugs took home the rock album award in the Grammy’s pre-telecast ceremony in New York on Sunday, which was held in the Theater at Madison Square Garden and hosted by Paul Shaffer.
The Philly band’s fourth album of elegantly ebbing and flowing guitar jams beat some heavy-duty and hard-rocking competition, in fellow nominees Metallica, Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age, and Nothing More. Savvy prognosticators, however, had picked the band to win.
The Golden Globes award telecast earlier this month had found focus in making a statement against the sexual harassment allegations that have rocked Hollywood and in standing with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
The Grammys were hosted by late-night chat show host James Corden, whose carpool karaoke routine is a viral and now Apple Music sensation. Mostly the British comic worked hard at being ingratiating — interviewing his parents in one cute segment — and sometimes failing badly, as in a prerecorded Subway Carpool Karaoke segment with Sting and Shaggy that was a silly waste of time.
But Corden did an able job of getting out of the way as the telecast busily took on a variety of political and serious issues. Sexual misconduct was powerfully addressed by Kesha, with the assistance of Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Andra Day, Julia Michaels, and others. The women sang a fist-clenched version of Kesha’s outraged yet forgiving song “Praying,” which addresses her legal battle with her former producer Lukas “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, whom she has accused of sexual misconduct. The group hug at the song’s conclusion was earned.
October’s deadly shooting massacre at the country music festival in Las Vegas was the subject of a somber cover of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” — itself a 1993 Grammy winner — by Eric Church, the Brothers Osborne, and Maren Morris. Cabello, a Mexican-Cuban immigrant who’s had success with her hit single “Havana,” introduced U2 with a speech in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, immigrant “dreamers” whose lives have been politicized as the president and Congress fight over immigration reform.
And Corden’s most daring and funniest bit was a skit whose conceit was that because many prior presidents have won spoken-word Grammys — this year’s went to Carrie Fisher — he would hold tryouts for the reading of Michael Wolff’s incendiary book Fire & Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Among the readers were John Legend, Cher, the particularly amusing Cardi B, and DJ Khaled and … wait for it … Hillary Clinton. Corden declared her to be perfect for the job.
The two biggest awards given out early in the show both were in categories that featured prominent Philadelphians — who lost. For best new artist, 21-year-old Canadian pop songwriter Alessia Cara, who debuted in 2015 with her album Know-It-All, beat out a strong field that featured Philly mumble rap luminary Lil Uzi Vert, as well as teen singer-producer Khalid, Iowa singer Julia Michaels, and New Jersey alt-R&B star SZA.
Shortly thereafter, Doylestown’s own Pink — née Alecia Moore — was in contention for best pop solo performance for her anthem of the dispossessed “What About Us?,” which was given out by keyboard player Jon Batiste and guitarist Gary Clark Jr. after they paid tribute to recently deceased giants Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.
Massively popular songwriter Ed Sheeran won instead for “The Shape of You,” but the ginger Brit — who was widely regarded as the most snubbed Grammy performer, with only two nominations — didn’t bother to show up to pick up his award.
But Pink turned out a performance that served as a reminder that the Grammys’ biggest winners are those who deliver standout performances that make the prime-time audience take notice. The singer known for her high-flying Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics kept it simple, delivering a showstopping, full-throated version of her power ballad “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” accompanied by an American Sign Language interpreter.
Comedian Kevin Hart was another Philadelphian who had a shot at on-camera glory but came up short. In the best comedy album category, he lost out to Chappelle, who won for The Age of Spin & Deep in the Heart of Texas. Hart also lost out by not showing up at the ceremony: Grammy host James Corden made funny by having the comedy category losers who attended — Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, and Jim Gaffigan — win live puppies.
Other Philly-connected acts also took home trophies in the early ceremony, in which 75 of the 84 total trophies were given away before the Corden-hosted telecast even began.
Tony- and Oscar-winning Ardmore native Benj Pasek continued his award-winning ways. He now has two Grammys to put on his mantel. Dear Evan Hansen, the Broadway musical he coproduced and wrote the songs for with partner Justin Paul, won for best musical theater album. And La La Land won for best compilation soundtrack for visual media.
Bassist and Jazz Night in America radio host Christian McBride won best large jazz ensemble for Bringin’ It, recorded with his Christian McBride Big Band.
Philadelphia group the Crossing won best choral performance for “The Fifth Century,” written by British composer Gavin Bryars. And Cheltenham-born jazz keyboard player Jeff Lorber won best instrumental album for Prototype with his band Jeff Lorber Fusion.
Philadelphia-based composer Jennifer Higdon won two awards in connection with her Viola Concerto. The concerto itself won for Best Contemporary Composition while the album at large, which included her Oboe Concerto and bore the overall title All Things Majestic, won for Classical Compendium. The viola soloist on the concerto was Curtis Institute president and CEO Roberto Diaz. Previously, Higdon won Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2009 for her Percussion Concerto.
David Patrick Stearns contributed to this article.