By Todd Leopold
(CNN – Feb. 9, 2015) — The 2015 Grammys offered the familiar — a slew of awards for a newcomer, some outstanding performances — and the unfamiliar: Kanye West laughing and smiling?
Here are a few things that dominated the evening:
Welcome, Sam Smith!
A year ago, the British soul singer was an unknown in America. Sunday night, he took home four Grammys, including song of the year, record of the year (both for “Stay with Me”), best new artist and best pop vocal album (for “In the Lonely Hour”).
He also gave a dazzling performance of “Stay with Me” with Mary J. Blige pitching in. About the only thing that could have made it better was if Tom Petty, who was credited on the song thanks to similarities to “I Won’t Back Down,” had joined him.
“I’m having a really, really, really good night,” Smith said as he won song of the year. That was an understatement.
Is that Kanye West?
Like dancing unicorns and functioning Congresses, a smiling, laughing Kanye West was considered a mythical creature: occasionally talked about but never seen.
On Sunday night, though, the usually grim-faced rapper gave a soulful performance of “Only One,” joined Rihanna and a somewhat awkward Paul McCartney for “FourFiveSeconds” and then jokingly stole the show by running on stage when Beck won album of the year for “Morning Phase.”
On the other hand, maybe he wasn’t joking at all.
Beck’s big night
Obviously, Kanye didn’t expect Beck to win album of the year — and neither did Beck himself. But “Morning Phase” took home that major prize as well as best rock album.
Obviously flustered, Beck thanked the entire production team, as well as his children for “letting me keep them awake extra longer.”
The Grammys got in some issue-oriented statements
President Obama dropped by via video to speak against domestic violence, with activist Brooke Axtell giving a moving speech.
Others weren’t even spoken aloud: During his performance of “Happy,” Pharrell and his background performers held up their hands in the now-familiar “Don’t shoot” move.
And then there was Prince, who came out to present album of the year.
“Like books and black lives, albums still matter,” he said.
Annie Lennox goes to church; AC/DC goes to hell; Sia goes looking for a place to hide
Hozier was doing a fine job with his “Take Me to Church,” but Lennox gave the song a new dimension — and then took the audience to church with her soulful, dramatic version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.”
Then were was AC/DC, which started the show with “Rock or Bust” and “Highway to Hell.” As surprising as it was to see the heavy-metal heroes on the Grammys — not usually known for a fondness for metal — it was equally surprising to see a group of celebrities wearing devil horns in the group’s honor.
And Sia, known for hiding her face, performed her song “Chandelier” while facing a wall. Kristen Wiig and Maddie Ziegler handled the dancing duties. Sia was even reclusive on the red carpet.
Is it over yet?
About 11:10 p.m. ET, the Grammys gave out the final award of the night, record of the year. But the show still had about 35 minutes to go — including an In Memoriam montage, a speech by Recording Academy head Neil Portnow about streaming royalties and performances by Beyonce (“Hold My Hand, Precious Lord”) and John Legend and Common (“Glory”).
Johnny Carson once joked that the Oscars were “two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over a four-hour show.” One wonders how many viewers hung around to watch the Grammys after the final award — usually the sign that it’s time to go, folks.
But, of course, there’s always something unexpected about the Grammys.