Marcus Mumford beamed as he and his bandmates were handed the award after a long night of watching others win. "We figured we weren't going to anything because the Black Keys have been sweeping up all day, and deservedly so," he said.
The night's other big winner was the Australian songwriter Gotye. He garnered three trophies, including record of the year and best pop or group performance for his smash single with Kimbra, Somebody That I Used to Know, which the best-selling single in the United States last year. His album Making Mirrors also won best alternative album. Gotye seemed as impressed that Prince handed him the record of the year award as he was with the trophy itself. "It's a little bit flabbergasting," he said.
Fun., the Brooklyn pop-rock trio, won best new artist and song of the year for We Are Young, their inescapable hit that spent six weeks atop the Hot 100 and sold more than 6 million copies.
The group's frontman, Nate Ruess, seemed nonplused as he accepted the song of the year. "I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote the chorus of this song," he said. "Look at our faces. We are not young. We have been doing this for 12 years, and we could not do it without the help of all our fans."
The night's other winners of triple awards included Skrillex, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Taylor Swift began the 55th Annual Grammy Awards with an extravagant circus-themed production number here, singing her young woman's lament about a feckless boyfriend - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together - amid confetti, fire-eaters, dancing clowns, jugglers, men on stilts and trapeze artists.
It was a festive opening to an award year that seemed to tilt toward youth and new music. Many of the musicians up for the top four awards were alternative bands, Americana groups or young R&B singers who were not household names.
"What's unusual about it is the youth of most of the acts in these categories," said Bill Freimuth, the Recording Academy vice president for awards, which bestows the Grammys.
"It feels to me like a transitional year, a passing of the baton."
Adele became the first woman since Barbra Streisand in the mid-1960s to win the award for best pop solo performance two years in a row, as Grammy voters said her live version of Set Fire to the Rain deserved the trophy.
The R&B singer Frank Ocean, a critical darling for his solo debut Channel Orange, took home award for the best urban contemporary album, beating out Miguel and Chris Brown, as well best rap-sung collaboration award, for No Church in the Wild, a track he made with Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Mumford & Sons, the British folk-rockers whose second album, Babel, sold 1.4 million copies in four months, also had six nominations, including album and rock song of the year. The band had already picked up a trophy for best long-form music video during the pretelecast ceremony.
The Black Keys, the stalwart blues-rock duo whose Lonely Boy was a hit, were up for five awards, including record and album of the year. But in the end they won best rock performance and best rock song for Lonely Boy as well as best rock album for El Camino. Auerbach, the frontman, also won nonclassical producer of the year, in part for his work on Dr John's Locked Down, which won best blues album.
Miguel, a newcomer, was nominated for five awards, including song of the year for his hit Adorn, which won best R&B song early in the evening.
In the rap category, meanwhile, West and Jay-Z, adding three Grammys to their already large collection for their collaborations on Watch the Throne. ... in Paris won both best rap song and best rap performance, while No Church in the Wild was named best rap-sung collaboration.
The nominations seemed to reflect several currents in pop music last year, as well the Recording Academy's recent efforts to broaden its ranks to include younger members from diverse backgrounds.
The multiple nominations for Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers, who are up for best new artist and best Americana album, underscore the rise of acoustic folk-rock relying on banjos and close harmonies rather than Auto-Tuned voices and electronic dance tracks. Two years ago such groups were relegated to college radio stations and NPR, but over the past year have broken through on rock and Top 40 stations. Mumford & Sons had one of the best-selling albums of the year, and the Lumineers' Ho Hey was a crossover hit on the rock and Top 40 charts.
That Ocean and Miguel received so many nominations reflects a new wave of R&B artists who have been stretching the boundaries of that genre, among them the Weeknd and Elle Varner. Nominations of the Black Keys and Jack White for album of the year also suggest a resurgence of interest and reverence for blues-based guitar rock, at least among Grammy voters.
Melodic pop-rock also appears to have made a comeback in 2012. The two front-runners for record of the year were Fun.'s We Are Young, which evokes the theatrical grandeur of Queen, and Gotye's Somebody That I Used to Know, which seems to echo the Police's tightly wound hits.
Still, the nominations for the top four awards seemed to ignore what many in the music industry saw as the biggest trend last year - the continuing growth of electronic dance music as a genre and the influence of its heavily mechanized and computer-generated sounds on Top 40 pop songs. None of those artists - Skrillex, Avicii, Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia - were nominated in the top four categories, though all were on the list for best dance or electronica album. Country and rap also failed to make the cut for the top awards this year.
In recent years the music industry has passed through a turbulent transition, as album sales have continued to drop, sales of digital singles have grown slowly, and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have grown in size and influence.
With 3 1/2 hours of prime-time coverage on CBS, the Grammy Awards are seen by many in the business as more important than ever as a way to increase record sales. The performances have become as important as the awards, and the Grammys resemble a giant variety show. The producers squeeze about 10 award presentations into a show with 20 music segments. Those performances often pair older stars with emerging musicians or throw together artists who would not normally work together.
This year's collaborations included a tribute to Bob Marley starring Bruno Mars, Sting, Rihanna and three of Marley's children, Damian, Stephen and Ziggy. The Black Keys brought the crowd to their feet with their hit Lonely Boy, as Dr. John, in his psychedelic headdress, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a natural fit since Auerbach's songs have always had a swamp-rock undercurrent.
Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley arranged a duet combining her song Over You with his Home. Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys were also planning a mash-up of their songs Daylight and Girl on Fire. Elton John, the veteran British rocker, joined with his 21-year-old countryman Ed Sheeran, a precocious songwriter, to sing Sheeran's tender ode to a drug-addicted prostitute The A Team.
There were several tributes to fallen legends. Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Kenny Garrett were to honor Dave Brubeck, who died in December, with a rendition of Take Five. And Levon Helm, who died in April, was to be remembered with a hootenanny version of The Weight involving Mavis Staples, Zac Brown and Mumford & Sons.
Justin Timberlake performed Suit and Tie, a song from his first new album in seven years, as Jay-Z joined him to rap a couple of choruses. Rihanna, forsaking her usual sexy dance numbers, was to sing Stay, a tortured love song from her new album. Several other nominees were given solo spots. The Lumineers were lined up to do their stripped down Ho Hey, Mumford & Sons powered through their thumping love anthem I Will Wait. And Fun. sang Carry On on an abstract urban set, where a downpour opened up, soaking the band members and their instruments during the climax of the song.
© 2013 New York Times News Service