LOS ANGELES — Sam Smith’s soulful sound and heartbreaking songs resonated with fans — and his breakthrough was solidified when he took home three of the top four Grammy Awards on Sunday, though Beck earned a surprise win for album of the year.
“I want to thank the man who this record is about ... Thank you so much for breaking my heart because I have four Grammys,” said the British singer, who won best new artist, song and record of the year for “Stay with Me” and best pop vocal album for “In the Lonely Hour.”
Smith, along with Beyonce, Pharrell and Ed Sheeran, lost album of the year Sunday to Beck’s “Morning Phase,” which also won best rock album. Smith said backstage he was surprised Beyonce didn’t win, but said Beck deserved to walk away with the trophy.
Kanye West, who famously interrupted Taylor Swift when she beat Beyonce at the MTV Video Music Awards, briefly walked onstage when Prince announced Beck’s name. Some in the audience seemed shocked, from Pharrell to Questlove to Beck himself.
Beck’s album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and sold about 300,000 units. He last won a Grammy in 2000.
Pharrell, who was the top nominee with six along with Beyonce and Smith, walked away with three awards, as did Rosanne Cash. The rapper-singer-producer won best pop solo performance for a live version of “Happy,” released in 2013 as well as best music video for the song and urban contemporary album for “G I R L,” beating Beyonce.
“I am going to moonwalk my way off the stage right now,” said Pharrell, wearing a blazer and shorts.
The awards at the Staples Center featured a number of collaborative performers: Beck sang onstage with Chris Martin; Beyonce was pitch perfect as she performed “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” before Common and John Legend performed the Oscar-nominated “Glory” from “Selma;” Actress Kristen Wiig danced with teen Maddie Ziegler while Sia sang “Chandelier” with her head turned: and Hans Zimmer and Lang Lang joined Pharrell for a dramatic and awkward performance of “Happy.”
Rihanna gave an impressive vocal performance of “FourFiveSeconds” with Paul McCartney to her right and Kanye West to her left. Her hair slicked back, she rocked a black suit like her co-stars. She won best rap/sung collaboration for “The Monster” with Eminem.
Katy Perry, in all white, sang the ballad “By the Grace of God” after a woman who had been abused talked about getting help and moving on with her life. A video of President Barack Obama appeared before she spoke, and he encouraged artists to help out.
“It’s on us, all of us, to create a culture where violence isn’t tolerated,” he said.
Another serious moment came when Prince appeared onstage to introduce album of the year.
“Albums — you remember those? They still matter. Like books and black lives, they still matter,” he said.
Madonna, dressed as a matador, performed “Living for Love” atop a platform surrounded by a plethora of background dancers wearing bull masks. A choir did most of the singing, while Madonna danced and the audience clapped in unison. She ascended into the air as the performance finished.
West performed on a nearly pitch-black stage, with a light glowing from under his feet (he also sported the new sneakers he designed). He sang the new song about his late mother, “Only One.” And Annie Lennox was a powerhouse when she sang “I Put A Spell On You” and joined Hozier for “Take Me to Church,” which was nominated for song of the year.
Beyonce won best R&B song and R&B performance for “Drunk In Love” and surround sound album for “Beyonce.”
“This has been such an incredible year,” she said, thanking her “beloved husband” and “my daughter who is watching.”
AC/DC kicked off the show with a performance of their latest single, “Rock or Bust,” and then transitioned into the classic “Highway to Hell.” It earned a rousing applause from Pharrell, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, who wore devil horns.
Cash, who won all of her awards in the Grammy pre-show, was excited backstage after winning back-to-back Grammys.
“Reagan was president last time I won a Grammy,” said Cash, who won best American roots performance, American roots song and Americana album. “I just showed up for work for 35 years and this is what happened.”
Double winners included Eminem, Chick Corea, the “Frozen” soundtrack and Kendrick Lamar, who lost in seven categories last year. The performer marked a redemption by taking home best rap performance and rap song for “i.”