On a night in which Beyoncé set a record for women with six Grammy Awards, the reigning diva of R&B still had to share the spotlight with 20-year-old country-pop princess Taylor Swift, who collected four awards, including album of the year, for “Fearless,” the biggest-selling album of 2009.
Swift’s win at the end of Sunday night’s 3 1/2 -hour ceremony seemed to stun the music-industry audience inside Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“I just hope you know how much this means to me . . . that we get to take this back to Nashville,” a breathless Swift said onstage at the 52nd awards. “Oh, my God. Our family is freaking out, my dad and little brother are losing their minds in our living room. This is for my dad and all those times he said I could do anything I wanted.”
Beyoncé's stellar evening included song of the year, a writer’s award, for her effervescent endorsement of matrimony, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” But she and Swift lost their bids for record of the year to the dark horse win by the Southern rock group Kings of Leon for their hit “Use Somebody.”
Beyoncé and Swift’s combined 10 awards honored recordings that sold in numbers last year that defied the beleaguered music industry’s downward trend in recent years, saluting broad-based success at a particularly difficult time in the record business.
“For me, genres have really become something that I don’t think people focus on anymore,” Swift said backstage. “Country music is my love. [But] when you’re making music, I think the healthiest thing to do is remove titles or stereotypes from what you’re trying to do. It’s not country versus rap . . . it’s not anything you don’t make it. It’s about trying to make an album you hope is good enough to win album of the year.”
Beyoncé's haul also included R&B female vocal and R&B song, for “Single Ladies,” contemporary R&B album for “I Am . . . Sasha Fierce” and traditional R&B performance for her recording of “At Last” from the film “Cadillac Records.” Besides her album of the year win, Swift collected trophies for country song and female country vocal for “White Horse,” and country album for “Fearless.”
The night took on an added country accent with the new artist award going to the Zac Brown Band, the Atlanta-based group that took the category largely on the strength of its hit “Chicken Fried,” a curious ode to the U.S. military’s defense of Americans’ right to beer and fried chicken.
Michael Jackson was the subject of an emotion-packed tribute in 3-D. “Earth Song,” an ecologically minded clip from the posthumous concert film “This Is It,” spurred the audience to don 3-D glasses to watch the image of a young girl amid a lush tropical setting while Céline Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Usher added live vocal accompaniment
Then Lionel Richie, Jackson’s long-ago partner in the “We Are the World” benefit project, introduced two of Jackson’s children, Prince Michael and Paris, who wore black suits and red armbands and caused tears to well for many in the crowd.
“We would like to thank God for watching over us for these past seven months and also our grandma and grandpa for their love and support,” Prince Michael said. “We’d also like to thank the fans, because he loved you so much.”
During the eye-popping opening sequence, Lady Gaga faced off with her 1970s forebear in flamboyant fashion, Elton John, both their faces smeared with blotches of makeup as they played a big-budget version of dueling pianos. They joined other members of the pop music elite who dressed to the nines, hoping to remind the world and perhaps themselves that the beleaguered music business can still sparkle.
The most electrifying -- and most buzzed-about -- performance teamed Eminem, Lil Wayne and Drake in an expletive-laced rap that resulted in multiple bleeps of the audio during their delivery of hip-hop newcomer Drake’s song “Forever.”
The show also included a pitch for relief efforts in Haiti by Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean, who referenced “the worst earthquake in history” and said on behalf of his countrymen, “We thank you for your support, and we will continue.”
The Recording Academy is making performances from the show available for download, including those by Swift, Beyoncé, the Black Eyed Peas, Elton John and Lady Gaga, Jeff Beck, Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige, with proceeds earmarked for Haiti.
Noticeably absent was Kanye West, who was honored in the rap-sung collaboration category, in which he was nominated for three of the five entries. Having upstaged Swift last year at the MTV Video Music Awards, West was nowhere in sight of a live microphone as Jay-Z and Rihanna walked onstage to pick up the award for “Run This Town.”
Beyoncé started her groundswell early, having picked up four awards in the pre-telecast portion. The award for “At Last” carried extra emotion, as the torch song’s most famous performer, R&B great Etta James, remained hospitalized in Riverside with a serious infection and other ailments.
James’ son recently told reporters that his 72-year-old mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that may have been at play when the veteran singer lashed out at Beyoncé for singing the tune last year at President Obama’s inauguration.
Staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.