Kendrick Lamar. His peerless To Pimp a Butterfly didn’t beat Taylor Swift for Album of the Year, but he still won five Grammys (including Rap Album) from a leading 11 nominations and unleashed the night’s most powerful, politically charged performance, stomping out of jail in a chain gang for “The Blacker the Berry” and before a bonfire with tightly choreographed African-themed dancers in “Alright” before alluding to Trayvon Martin during a new song where his strobe-flashed face jarringly oscillated in split head-on camera shots.
Meghan Trainor. Our homegrown Nantucket girl takes home Best New Artist (over my longer-shot favorite Courtney Barnett) and cries onstage, thankful to be accepted as an “artist” (and having something better to claim than a forgettable turn in an overly long Lionel Ritchie tribute). Stoughton’s Lori McKenna also scored a country Grammy as co-writer of “Girl Crush,” which was starkly and effectively performed by Little Big Town.
Hamilton. Broadway finds a new audience as the hot musical with hip-hop cred gets a live satellite feed from the New York stage — and a rapped acceptance speech from auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda for its Grammy.
B.B. King tribute. The night’s best tribute with big country winner Chris Stapleton trading contrasted vocals and guitar stings with Texas blues upstart Gary Clark Jr. before Bonnie Raitt slides out for her own turn.
The Weeknd. For a captivating wiggle (with a great voice) through his super single “Can’t Feel My Face” in front of a kaleidoscopic light box, even if Laurel Hill reportedly was a no-show for a collaborative performance.
Glenn Frey tribute. Harmonies ruled in “Take it Easy” as the Eagles soberly but sweetly played their own song in tribute to their fallen co-founder, joined by Jackson Browne, who co-wrote the song with Frey.
Alabama Shakes. Not the best performance this band of Alabama outsiders (above) has given on national TV, but surely still electrifying, as the towering Brittany Howard gave “Gimme All Your Love” her best howl, capping a night where the deserving group snagged three Grammy Awards.
David Bowie tribute. Given sole responsibility, Lady Gaga began strong, singing in closeup Aladdin Sane makeup, getting wild with a hydraulic, bucking keyboard and hitting a peak (fittingly) with “Fashion.” But Gaga’s potent voice was buried amid chaotic choreography as she and Bowie collaborator Nile Rodgers tried to balance too many personas and partial hits. Gaga also looked more like a Vegas-era Elvis impersonator with red hair.
Adele. What sounded like harsh guitar chords cutting across Adele’s anticipated performance reportedly came from a microphone that dropped on her accompanist’s piano strings on “All I Ask,” but the singer fought through the distraction with dreams of her 2017 Grammy goldmine.
Justin Bieber. When he tried to rock out, why did he kick his legs like he wanted to audition for Riverdance?
Pitbull. How does this suave dude rank as an artist and even snag a Grammy in the process? His show-closing number was an embarrassment, first for having Sofia Vergara dress like a taxi and shake her booty and then for having Joe Perry (a bonus cameo after joining Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp in the Spinal Tap-ish Hollywood Vampires for a Lemmy Kilmister tribute) and the awful Robin Thicke add alleged closing star-power.
Taylor Swift. The OMG, hands-in-face “I can’t believe I just won” look. Really? Sure you were up against Kendrick for Album of the Year, but 1989 was a music-biz blockbuster – and what do the Grammys stand for? You got to open the program in your sparkly jumpsuit, delivering better-than-usual vocals that actually got better as you took “Out of the Woods” into the crowd, though the poses outdid the singing. On the other hand, you delivered a cool empowerment message to your young, female followers that also served as a slap back at Kanye West for his attempt to take credit for your fame. Classy, if less subtle than Beyonce’s “Art is the unapologetic celebration of culture… some will react, some will respond” nod to the flack over her black-power Super Bowl gig when Queen Bee presented the night’s most obvious Grammy pick: “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson with Bruno Mars for Record of the Year.
Beyond the performances, here are the 2016 Grammy Award winners.