By MESFIN FEKADU
AP Music Writer
Jay-Z, the leading nominee with eight, walked away empty handed Sunday — a year after his wife lost album of the year to Adele, causing fans and peers to criticize the Recording Academy for not properly rewarding Beyonce’s bold “Lemonade” project.
And though Kendrick Lamar won five awards, he lost in the top categories, marking another year where rappers were restricted to wins in the rap categories, instead of earning coveted prizes like album of the year.
Mars picked up album of the year for “24K Magic,” record of the year for the title track, and song of the year — shared with seven co-writers — for the No. 1 hit, “That’s What I Like.”
Jay-Z and Lamar could have become the first rapper to win song or record of the year, and the third rap-based act to win album of the year.
But Mars’ win still marked some growth for the Academy: His is one of the few R&B albums to win the top prize. He dedicated his win to songwriters who have made history in R&B music, including Babyface, Teddy Riley, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Lamar’s wins at Madison Square Garden in New York City included best rap album, best rap song, best rap performance, best rap/sung performance and best music video. He has a career total of 12 Grammys.
Lamar also won with his performance: He kicked off the Grammys with a powerful and poignant performance featuring video screens displaying a waving American flag behind him, as background dancers dressed as army soldiers marched and moved behind him. At one point, Lamar’s background dancers, dressed in red, were shot down as he rapped lyrics, later coming back to life as fire burst to end the six-minute performance.
But the night’s top performer was Kesha, who was passionate and striking onstage with the help of powerful women behind her, including the Resistance Revival Chorus, Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and Bebe Rexha. Dressed in white, they won over the audience while singing Kesha’s “Praying” and hugged at the song’s end as some audience members cried, including Hailee Steinfeld.
Kesha , who earned her first pair of Grammy nominations this year, has been in a legal war with former producer and mentor Dr. Luke. Janelle Monae introduced the performance with strong words.
“We come in peace but we mean business. To those who would dare try to silence us, we offer two words: Time’s Up,” Monae said. “It’s not just going on in Hollywood. It’s not just going on in Washington. It’s here in our industry, too.”
Before the performance, Maren Morris, Eric Church and Brothers Osborne performed an emotional rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” — written after his son died — in honor of the 58 people who died at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas last year. The names of victims were displayed behind them as they performed.
The performances were two of the show’s serious moments. Dozens of artists and music industry players also sported white roses in support of the Time’s Up and (hash)MeToo movements against sexual abuse and harassment.
“Black is beautiful, hate is ugly,” rapper Logic said onstage after performing the suicide prevention anthem “1-800-273-8255.” The performance, with best new artist winner Alessia Cara and Khalid, included a group of suicide attempt and loss survivors selected by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Sting’s performance was somewhat political as he sang his 1987 song, “Englishman in New York,” which includes the lyrics, “Oh, I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in New York.”
Chris Stapleton paid tribute to Tom Petty with Emmylou Harris and also won three awards, including best country album, best country song and best country solo performance.
“We always try to make great records … and I guess this is a testament to that,” Stapleton said.
Little Big Town, who beautifully sang their Taylor Swift-penned No. 1 hit “Better Man,” won best country duo/group performance with the song.
Others who shined onstage included Lady Gaga, who won over the audience with a rousing performance of the songs “Joanne” and “Million Reasons”; Sam Smith gave a powerful performance of the song “Pray”; and Pink was a vocal powerhouse while she sang “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken.”
During the pre-telecast, The Rolling Stones picked up their third career Grammy — for best traditional blues album for “Blue & Lonesome” — while Ed Sheeran won best pop vocal album. Emmy and Golden Globe winner Childish Gambino, who picked up best traditional R&B performance, gave a smooth and sultry performance of “Terrified” in all-white featuring screeching high notes. Gambino was joined by young singer-actor, JD McCrary, who matched his vocals and sings on the original track.
The show, hosted by James Corden, also featured some comedy. Hillary Clinton , John Legend, Cher, Snoop Dogg, Cardi B, and DJ Khaled won over the audience in a skit when reading lines from Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Corden said the book could compete for the best spoken world album Grammy next year.
“That’s the one,” Corden said in the video after Clinton, a 1997 spoken word Grammy winner, spoke. It earned a rousing applause from the crowd.
Dave Chappelle, who was part of Lamar’s opening performance, won best comedy album during the televised show.
“I am honored to win an award, finally, and I wanted to thank everyone at Netflix, at ‘Saturday Night Live,’ at ‘The Chappelle Show,”’ he said.
Puppies were passed to the losers of best comedy album, including Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman and Jim Gaffigan.
Posthumous Grammys were awarded to actress Carrie Fisher, singer Leonard Cohen and engineer Tom Coyne, who worked on Mars’ “24K Magic” album.
Double winners included Jason Isbell, Justin Hurwitz and CeCe Winans.