Lil Wayne and Coldplay also win big as Academy kicks off the next 50 with GRAMMY winners and memorable musical performances
(For a complete list of 51st GRAMMY Awards winners, please click here.)
The Recording Academy presented the 51st GRAMMY Awards in celebratory style in an evening that mixed performances from legendary artists and newcomers across multiple genres.
The formidable duo of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss were the evening's top winners, picking up five total GRAMMYs for Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals, Best Country Collaboration With Vocals, and Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album.
Rapper Lil Wayne took home an impressive four awards of his own: Best Rap Album, Best Rap Solo Performance, Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group, and Best Rap Song. Coldplay won the coveted Song Of The Year honors, in addition to Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals and Best Rock Album.
A host of other diverse artists picked up two GRAMMY wins each including Adele (including Best New Artist), R&B artists Al Green and Ne-Yo, John Mayer, Brad Paisley, and Sugarland, among others.
Music's Biggest Night got off to a momentous start with a thundering performance by U2. Bono and company stormed the stage with their latest single "Get On Your Boots" amid a swirling psychedelic backdrop that electrified Staples Center.
Next, Justin Timberlake ran down his childhood love of Al Green before joining the Reverend himself alongside Boyz II Men and Keith Urban for an impassioned take on Green's soul classic "Let's Stay Together." Green's uplifting vocals — paired with Timberlake's silky voice, Boyz II Men's able harmonies and a superbly improvised guitar solo from Urban — resulted in the type of knockout performance only seen on the GRAMMY Awards.
Coldplay's performance got off to an introspective start with singer Chris Martin poised at a piano to deliver a brilliantly poignant version of "Lost." Midway through, Jay-Z came in for a surprise cameo, name-checking everyone from the Notorious B.I.G. and Jesus to Caesar and Brutus and rapping with his patented cool ferocity. Then leaping from the piano to the stage, Martin joined his bandmates for their GRAMMY-winning song "Viva La Vida." Gliding across the stage, Martin melded with Will Champion's drums and Jonny Buckland's guitar with agility and the sure-fire confidence the band has built its worldwide reputation on.
Urban came back to the stage to introduce his former tourmate Carrie Underwood, who hip-thrusted her way through her girl-gone-bad song "Last Name."
Kid Rock mixed a potent cocktail of rock and soul for a fist-pumping rendition of his "Amen" before segueing into his hit "All Summer Long," an anthem that samples classics such as Warren Zevon's "Werewolves Of London" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." For a third number, Rock marched into "Rock N Roll Jesus" triumphantly loud and proud.
Youth was on full display when 19-year-old Taylor Swift welcomed 16-year-old friend Miley Cyrus for an intimate performance of Swift's "Fifteen." With Swift providing quiet accompaniment on her acoustic guitar, the two starlets poignantly took the audience through the milestones of youth — the first day of high school, a first kiss, a devastating breakup — while singing with a sweetness and maturity beyond their combined years.
Fresh off her GRAMMY win for Best R&B Album, Jennifer Hudson performed an upbeat "You Pulled Me Through" with her trademark bravura. The song showed off her magnetic vocals and her recent triumph over personal tragedies. Toward the end, a gospel choir added to the drama of Hudson's words and, as she finished singing, she waved off some tears.
In an inspired if unexpected collaboration, GRAMMY-winning legend Stevie Wonder joined Best New Artist nominees the Jonas Brothers for a medley that included the Jonases' pop barnstormer "Burnin' Up" and Wonder's classic "Superstition." The JoBros may look the pop part, but they also proved they can give up the funk and, with Wonder and his trademark vocals and keyboard skills on display, the temperature did indeed get hotter.
Following a fun introduction from "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson, GRAMMY nominee Katy Perry commandeered the stage from her perch in a giant golden banana to deliver her infectious "I Kissed A Girl" with a special twist: Videos from the finalists to this year's My GRAMMY Moment contest flashed on screens behind her. In a sparkling fruit-themed outfit and accompanied by a cadre of white-suited ladies eager to be the recipients of her curious affection, Perry shimmied with the kind of lustful emotion the song demands.
Kanye West, who picked up two GRAMMYs of his own, then paced his way around a tiny round stage before slamming into his GRAMMY-winning "American Boy" with English songstress Estelle. Dipping into the chemistry that suffuses the song, they bounced their lyrics off each other like a gentle breeze blowing off the stage.
Bathed in a smoky blue light, fun-loving country star Kenny Chesney delivered his heartfelt, introspective breakup song "Better As A Memory." This qualified as one of the night's quieter stunners, plainly delivered on acoustic guitar and every note sung with a touch of aching melancholy.
A clearly pregnant M.I.A. — tonight was her baby's due date — joined a hip-hop all-star team of T.I., Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West onstage for the aptly titled "Swagga Like Us." Stomping, head-bobbing and otherwise cavorting to M.I.A.'s insanely infectious opening beat, West called himself "Christopher Columbus" before handing over the spotlight to Jay-Z and Lil Wayne, who marched around with an authoritative swagga. T.I. tackled spotlight duties last, leaning into his verses with a worked-up fervor.
Seconds later, Sir Paul McCartney rocked it old school with a rendition of the Beatles classic "I Saw Her Standing There" with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl — hair loose and sticks flying — joining on drums. The electric performance not only brought the house down but also proved that the Beatles' music still translates decades later across both genres and generations.
Led by singer Jennifer Nettles, two-time GRAMMY winners Sugarland crept up on the emotionally vulnerable with "Stay," a lilting number made all the more memorable by Nettles' crystal delivery. Before listeners had snapped out of the gentle spell cast by Nettles, Best New Artist winner Adele joined in as the group segued into her contemplative "Chasing Pavements." Her understated but intense vocal — combined with surprise harmonies from Nettles — ended the classic soul-flavored song on an emotional note.
GRAMMY nominee Gwyneth Paltrow, in a sparkling strapless dress, then introduced Radiohead — a band that hasn't performed on live U.S. television since 2000. Thom Yorke and friends launched into "15 Step" from their GRAMMY-winning album In Rainbows. Backed by the USC Marching Band and its massive percussion section, the band launched into a song that came across as unclassifiable, underscoring the mysterious genius of Radiohead.
Timberlake came back to the stage with T.I. for "Dead And Gone," a song on which they collaborated. Timberlake opened with a vulnerable vocal as he played piano before T.I. tore off a rapid-flow rhyme.
The next performance paid tribute to Lifetime Achievement Award recipients the Four Tops (one of 12 Special Merit Award recipients acknowledged during the evening), represented by original member Abdul "Duke" Fakir, with a Motown medley of "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)." Fellow Motown favorite Smokey Robinson assumed vocal duties with his quiet storm trademark alongside Fakir and R&B newcomers Jamie Foxx and Ne-Yo, who both looked and sounded the part. Fakir, tall and dashing, was as sure of voice as he was in his heyday.
MusiCares Person of the Year Neil Diamond, looking like a man who knows sincerity when he sings it, sailed into his chestnut "Sweet Caroline." In crowd-pleasing Diamond fashion, he swayed, smiled and gestured to the audience. Following Diamond's performance and a montage acknowledging those music giants who passed away this past year, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, John Mayer, and Urban — each with six-strings in tow — plucked out a flawless, organic tribute to the late Bo Diddley, who died in June.
Melding the distinct genres of hip-hop, R&B and jazz in a tribute to the still-recuperating city of New Orleans, native sons Lil Wayne, Allen Toussaint and Terence Blanchard, along with Robin Thicke, took the stage for a medley of "Tie My Hands," "Big Chief" and "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," backed by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. While Hurricane Katrina footage flashed behind Lil Wayne and Thicke on "Tie My Hands," the two exchanged raps and R&B verses amid Blanchard's trumpet stylings and a brilliant piano solo from Toussaint.
In the night's final performance, angel-voiced Krauss and classic rock hero Plant took the stage with producer T Bone Burnett and eased into "Rich Woman." Standing just inches apart at their microphones, they sang quietly together. Then, when the band kicked up for "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)," the duo broke out hip-shaking moves reminiscent of Plant's Led Zeppelin glory days. Clapping their hands and circling Burnett, they were exuberant — a pair of sophisticated pros who also showed they know how to have fun.
Wonder appropriately closed the show with "All About The Love Again." The uplifting tune struck an inspirational chord and drove home the notion that America is indeed at the beginning of a new era. It was a wonderful conclusion to an evening that once again proved that music can provide not only entertainment, but also a powerful backdrop to a nation in the midst of change.Read Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow's telecast remarks here.