LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Taylor Swift made history Monday as the first woman to win the top Grammy twice, but rapper Kendrick Lamar took home five awards and delivered an electrifying, politically charged performance that rocked the gala.
The top prizes on the music industry’s biggest night mainly went to mainstream chart-toppers, with Swift taking the Album of the Year prize for “1989” and the retro party anthem “Uptown Funk” winning Record of the Year.
Swift, who has transformed from country prodigy to pop superstar, won three prizes on the night, all for work off “1989,” which was one of the best-selling US albums of the past decade.
The 26-year-old, who has fashioned herself as a feminist campaigner, spoke to her legions of girl fans as she accepted her second Album of the Year award.
“I want to say to all the young women out there — there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” Swift said.
“But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you are going, you will look around, and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there,” she said.
In 2010, Swift also accomplished a major feat when she won Album of the Year for “Fearless,” becoming the youngest artist to take the prize as she recorded it when she was 20.
Swift has also created waves in the music industry by becoming the pre-eminent foe of Spotify, the leading streaming service, which she charges is unfair by allowing a free tier.
The Recording Academy, which runs the Grammys, used the national broadcast to urge better compensation for artists, while stopping short of criticizing any company in the fast-growing streaming industry.
Charged statement by Lamar
While Swift won the top award, the most Grammys went to Lamar, whose album “To Pimp a Butterfly” offered an innovative meditation on race relations with infusions of jazz and spoken word.
Lamar, whose song “Alright” has become an unofficial anthem for protesters against police abuse, took five awards out of 11 nominations — the most nods for a single artist in one night since Michael Jackson earned 12 following his massive “Thriller.”
In a politically charged yet genre-spanning appearance, Lamar shuffled onto stage as part of a chain-gang as a jazz saxophone merged with a heavy guitar on “The Blacker the Berry.”
As his performance transitioned to “Alright,” Lamar — his face painted with a bruise — metaphorically walked back to his African roots in a performance with rhythmic dancers in traditional garb before a firepit.
“This is for hip-hop,” the 28-year-old Lamar said, receiving the award from gangsta rap legend Ice Cube. “We will live forever — believe that.”
‘Uptown Funk’ triumphs
Record of the Year went to “Uptown Funk,” a dance track with echoes of early Prince by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.
Ronson, a longtime producer from Britain who has notably worked with superstar Adele, found unprecedented success in his own right with “Uptown Funk,” which spent a near record 14 weeks at the top of the US Billboard singles chart.
The 40-year-old Ronson, who also put on a well-received performance at last week’s Super Bowl, said he was still getting used to his success.
“I would be just as happy and proud if I produced it,” he said of the song, which also won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
“I’m a record producer, not a pop star,” he said.
English singer and guitarist Ed Sheeran won for Song of the Year, which recognizes songwriting whereas Record of the Year looks at overall singles, for “Thinking Out Loud” — a bare love ballad that has become a favorite at weddings.
Meghan Trainor, 22, won another key award, Best New Artist, after the breakthrough success of “All About That Bass,” her tongue-in-cheek doo wop take on weight struggles and self-acceptance.
Trainor broke down in tears as she accepted the award, thanking Epic Records executive L.A. Reid who signed her after hearing her perform “All About That Bass” on ukulele.
Alabama Shakes, the bluesy indie rock band defined by Brittany Howard’s thunderous voice, won three Grammys — Best Alternative Music Album, Rock Song and Rock Performance.
Alabama Shakes hail from the small town of Athens, Alabama where Howard was a postal delivery woman before the band made it big on a trip to New York.
Lady Gaga transforms into Bowie
The Grammys also paid tribute to a number of artists who recently died — chief among them the rock icon David Bowie.
Lady Gaga appeared to transform on stage into Bowie, her face merging into his thunderbolt logo, against a three-dimensional backdrop of space imagery befitting the Starman.
She sang a medley of hits including “Space Oddity,” “Changes” and “Let’s Dance” to guitar by Nile Rodgers of Chic fame, a longtime friend and collaborator of Bowie.
Other performers included British singer Adele, whose album “25” has smashed early sales records but came out too early for Grammys contention.
Adele sang her powerful new ballad “All I Ask,” although her performance was marred by a technical glitch when a microphone fell and she drifted out of tune.
“The piano mics fell on to the piano strings, that’s what the guitar sound was. It made it sound out of tune. Shit happens,” she tweeted.
One non-performer was the R&B superstar Rihanna, who canceled at the last minute, citing voice problems due to illness.