Retro-futuristic electronic act Daft Punk triumphed over country superstar Taylor Swfit and hip-hop heavyweight Kendrick Lamar to take the most prestigious Grammy prize, album of the year, for its “Random Access Memories.” The win makes Grammy history, as Daft Punk is the first act ingrained in underground dance culture to score album of the year.
Since the Grammys first announced an award for dance/electronica album in 2004, no act nominated in the field has also won album of the year. “Random Access Memories,” in fact, is the first pure dance record to win album of the year since the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” took top honors at the 1979 ceremony, although dance-centric artists such as Michael Jackson, George Michael, Madonna and Lady Gaga have all either won or been nominated for album of the year.
The Grammys have been making grander overtures to the dance community in recent years, most obviously in 2012 with a Deadmau5-anchored live performance. What’s more, “Random Access Memories” has something Grammy voters love even more than Adele: It sounds old-fashioned. Though its retro flavoring may be Space Age cool, “Random Access Memories,” in fact, owes more than a little debt to the era defined by the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack.
The French duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo started out in Paris as a punk-leaning indie rock group before trading their guitars for computer sequencers and making a name as an underground rave act. “Random Access Memories” saw the act moving in a slightly more organic direction, ditching digital trickery to recreate ’70s-era funk and disco. Collaborators included Chic’s Nile Rodgers and disco producer Giorgio Moroder.
While this was Daft Punk’s first album of the year nomination, the longstanding dance act was far from unknown to Grammy voters. The group appeared with Kanye West on the Grammy telecast in 2008 and its “Alive 2007” won the trophy for dance/electronic album at the 2009 awards. The band was also nominated for its soundtrack work on the 2010 film “Tron: Legacy.”
Released in May of last year, “Random Access Memories” has sold more than 884,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, and spawned the summer hit “Get Lucky.” The latter, featuring acclaimed artist and producer Pharrell Williams, has sold more than 3.3 million downloads.
Daft Punk bested one of the biggest hits of 2013, Swift’s “Red.” The latter has sold more than 3.9 million copies and would have given Swift her second album of the year win. Other contenders for the top prize this year were Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “The Heist” and Sara Bareilles’ “The Blessed Unrest.”
In recent years the Grammys have largely rewarded traditional musicianship with its album of the year prize. Last year, the turned-to-11 folk group Mumford & Sons won album of the year, and soulful vocal stylist Adele took top honors two years ago.
The Grammys are determined by about 13,000 voting members. The eligibility period for nominated recordings was Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013. The 56th awards are being held at Staples Center and telecast on CBS. They are broadcast live except for viewers on the West Coast. The latest headlines and any breaking news will be posted here on Pop & Hiss.
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