Rapper Kendrick Lamar took an early lead Sunday at the Grammy Awards, sweeping up five trophies, as retro funk star Bruno Mars and rap mogul Jay-Z remained in the running for top prizes.
The music industry also seized on its annual televised gala to rally on behalf of the growing women’s movement against sexual harassment, Lady Gaga, whispering from her piano in between ballads, declared, “Time’s up!”
The Grammys, taking place in New York after 15 years in Los Angeles, marked the first time that hip-hop has dominated the nominations after years of uneven recognition for the genre.
Lamar opened the televised show in Madison Square Garden with a fierce performance, spitting out his verses as he was joined by U2 frontman Bono amid a sea of camouflage-clad dancers who later fell to the ground as if struck by bullets.
The Los Angeles rapper took a strong lead, winning Best Rap Album for “DAMN.” and Best Rap Song for “HUMBLE,” a playful take on the trappings of fame in which the 30-year-old portrays himself as Jesus in “The Last Supper.”
Lamar had been a favorite two years ago to win Album of the Year or “To Pimp a Butterfly,” an experimental album that offered a soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement. But he lost out to Taylor Swift.
“DAMN.” has also won critical acclaim but turns to a more classic hip-hop sound.
Other major contenders include Mars, with “24K Magic,” his latest return to fun-loving, old-school funk. The Hawaiian-born singer earned three awards in R&B categories before the main telecast.
But Jay-Z started the night in the lead with eight nominations as he basked in acclaim for “4:44,” an introspective album in which he admits infidelity to his wife Beyonce and explores institutional racism.
Jay-Z, who rose from a broken home in Brooklyn to become a multimillionaire businessman, was given an “industry icon” award at a gala Saturday where he sounded contrite for boycotting the Grammys two decades earlier.
“I realize like, man, art is super subjective and everybody is doing their best and the Academy, they are human like we are,” he told the gala, joined by his wife Beyonce.
But Jay-Z was not being universally celebrated.
On Grammy Day, he was taken to task in a tweet by President Donald Trump, who is widely despised in the US entertainment world, for comments he made in an interview to CNN.
“Jay for president,” Lamar said in his acceptance speech.
Bruno Mars, who has revived retro funk and R&B for a new generation, on Sunday swept the Grammy Awards in a surprise snub for the hip-hop world, which had hoped for a major breakthrough on the music industry’s biggest night.
The industry seized on its annual gala to rally on behalf of the growing women’s movement against sexual harassment, with pop singer Kesha delivering a fierce performance about her own abuse story.
But for the awards, the feel-good Mars carried the night.
He won the top prize, Album of the Year, for “24K Magic” as well as Record of the Year, which recognizes top tune, for the title track – a tale of good times with beautiful women set to 1980s-style synths and rhythms.
The Recording Academy, the body of 13,000 music professionals, also gave him Song of the Year, which awards songwriting, for another track on the album – “That’s What I Like,” an old-school ode to making love in high style.
The 32-year-old singer, sporting a bright smile and sunglasses, recalled how he first performed as a child for tourists in his native Hawaii.
“I remember seeing it firsthand – people dancing that had never met each other from two sides of the globe, dancing with each other, toasting with each other, celebrating together,” he said.
“All I wanted to do with this album was that,” he told thousands of industry players at Madison Square Garden in New York, where the Grammys temporarily shifted after 15 years in Los Angeles.
Mars won all of the awards for which he was in the running on what was expected to be a major night for hip-hop, which for the first time dominated nominations for the major categories.
But the industry either preferred Mars, or the vote for rappers split.
Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, who had led with eight nominations, ended the night empty-handed.
Other contenders for Album of the Year were “‘Awaken, My Love!’,” the psychedelic, R&B-infused album by Childish Gambino, the rap alter ego of actor and comedian Donald Glover, and “Melodrama” by 21-year-old New Zealand pop prodigy Lorde, the only woman in the category.
Alessia Cara, who rose from making YouTube bedrooms in her bedroom to becoming a socially conscious pop singer, won the closely watched award of Best New Artist.
The 21-year-old from suburban Toronto told the music industry’s gala: “I’ve been pretend-winning Grammys since I was a kid in my shower.”
“I just wanted to encourage everyone to support real music and real artists because everyone deserves the same shot,” Cara added.
Cara has quickly found her voice as a singer with singles such as “Here,” which describes the dread of forced emotions at a party, and “Scars to Your Beautiful,” a call for healthy body image.
Amid the growing attention to gender discrimination in the entertainment industry following revelations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, top stars — notably Lady Gaga — walked the red carpet wearing white roses in solidarity with abuse victims and in an appeal for equality.
Country music legend Reba McEntire, who branched across categories to win the Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album, said that the white rose amounted to a message to “treat people kindly.”
“I want to treat you like I want to be treated. And I think if we did that more often, a lot of these problems would be non-existent,” she said.
The Grammys could reach another landmark after a year marked by Trump’s attack on immigrants — with “Despacito,” whose singer Luis Fonsi offered a racy rendition during the televised gala.
The viral dance hit that has broken the record for views on YouTube is in the running for both Record of the Year, which recognizes best tune, and Song of the Year, which awards songwriters.
“Despacito” would be the first non-instrumental song that is not mostly in English to win in either category since the very first Grammys in 1959.
South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo clinched its 5th Grammy for its album Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Collection. The all-male group of vocalists known for its traditional Zulu style of harmonies known as isicathamiya, won the Best World Music Album award.