The splintered music world truly coalesces for only one night of 365: the Grammy Awards. And this year, it was united in the triumph of recovered British soul singer Adele’s trophy haul and the tragedy of Whitney Houston’s death.
Adele swept the major honors of song, record and album of the year Sunday for her lost-love epic “21” and its driving single “Rolling in the Deep.” She picked up her final two awards after making her first public performance since being sidelined for throat surgery. Her total of six Grammys matched Beyonce for most ever by a female act.
After seeming almost sheepish in picking up some of the trophies (“This is ridiculous,” she said after winning record of the year), Adele’s tears flowed upon winning best album.
“This record is inspired by something that is really normal and everyone’s been through it - just a rubbish relationship,” she said. “It’s gone on to do things that I can’t tell you how I feel about them. It’s been the most life-changing year.”
Show host LL Cool J’s neat pivot allowed the assembled industry leaders to mourn Miss Houston while enjoying the night’s music. He offered a prayer at the outset for Miss Houston, who died Saturday in a Beverly Hills hotel. Jennifer Hudson, under a portrait of the late vocalist, sang a portion of “I Will Always Love You.” Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys, Rihanna and Stevie Wonder all saluted Miss Houston.
“This night is about something truly universal and healing,” LL Cool J said. “This night is about music.”
Artists have fewer opportunities these days to reach large, diverse audiences, and it has made the Grammys an increasingly important venue. Producers take advantage of the star power to pack the night with performances, de-emphasizing the actual awards. Sunday’s was a sprawling variety show, occasionally historic.
Bruce Springsteen sang a new populist anthem, “We Take Care of Our Own.” Rihanna sang a duet with Chris Martin of Coldplay. Katy Perry debuted a shiny blue haircut. Miss Keys and Bonnie Raitt honored Etta James. The Foo Fighters sang “Walk” and later participated in a tribute to new dance artists. Chris Brown hoofed it up a series of steps, although his voice was barely recognizable. Glen Campbell, soon to retire because of Alzheimer’s, appeared in a tribute.
Maroon 5 and Foster the People played Beach Boys songs, then joined the Boys as they reunited for their 50th anniversary. Many believed Brian Wilson and Mike Love, who looked slightly stiff going through “Good Vibrations,” would never appear onstage together again.
Paul McCartney sang a jazzy new song from his album of standards, then was joined by Mr. Springsteen, Mr. Grohl and Joe Walsh on the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” closing medley.
Then there was the truly unexplainable: Nicki Minaj’s exorcism outing, ending with her levitating above the stage.
Adele was the uniting force. Her album was a critical hit and commercial powerhouse, and it would have been an upset if she hadn’t joined Eric Clapton, the Dixie Chicks, Carole King, Paul Simon and Christopher Cross among the artists to sweep the three biggest awards in one night.
“It’s nice to see as music keeps evolving that something as authentic as she’s putting out can still be not just relevant but dominating,” said Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum, last year’s record of the year winners.
Adele said backstage that her victories hadn’t sunk in yet. She said she enjoyed the two months during which a throat ailment forced her to keep quiet.