Music’s biggest night was all about soul and surprises, from honoring the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, to Train’s big Grammy win for their ubiquitous single “Soul Sister,” with the rest of the evening being marked by some dazzling performances and a few upset winners and losers along the way.
Country group Lady Antebellum won Best Record for “Need You Now" and captured four other awards while Montreal-based indie group Arcade Fire provided a shocking end to the night by winning Album of the Year for "The Suburbs," beating out bigwigs Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Eminem. Clearly overwhelmed by their win, the band showed their appreciation by doing what they do best, breaking into an unscheduled performance of "Ready to Start" to close out the festivities.
In perhaps the night's biggest upset, 26-year-old jazz artist Esperanza Spalding defeated Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons and another north of the border product, the rapper Drake, for Best New Artist.
"I take this honor to heart so sincerely and I'll do my damnedest to make great music for all of you. It's such an honor and God bless," she said during her acceptance speech.
Train frontman Pat Monahan had a little fun at Bieber's expense while accepting the Grammy for best pop performance by a duo or group for their hit "Hey, Soul Sister (Live)."
“Thanks, Justin Bieber, for not being a duo or group,” he said, a reference to the "Baby" singer's tendency to rack up awards in whatever category he's nominated in.
Eminem, who came into the night as the top nominee with ten, picked up best rap album and best rap solo performance trophies.
The Grammys opened with a tribute to Aretha Franklin with a diverse litany of current female superstars singing Franklin's "Natural Woman," trying to out-diva each other with vocal aerobics. Christina Aguilera made her first public performance since the infamous Super Bowl National Anthem flub, and while she didn’t forget the lyrics on this night, she very obviously stumbled when making her way offstage. Other singers included Jennifer Hudson, Yolanda Adams, Florence (of Florence and the Machine), and Martina McBride.
Franklin, who was recovering from surgery, was not in attendance, but had a video acceptance speech. “I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be here,” the Queen of Soul emoted. “I wish that I could have been without tonight, but since I couldn’t…next year!”
From there the show jumped to the much-hyped live debut of Lady Gaga's “Born This Way.” Gaga took to the stage very reminiscent of Madonna, hair in a high ponytail and wearing what looked like a yellow tarp, surrounded by a plethora of backup dancers after setting the awards night abuzz earlier in the evening after being “birthed” from an egg. The singer won the Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video for “Bad Romance,” and thanked Whitney Houston for the courage to sing the song. “I had this dream when I was really young that I could be whoever I wanted to be,” Gaga said in her acceptance speech. “I mean to thank Whitney Houston, because when I wrote “Born This Way,” I imagined she was singing it because I wasn’t secure enough in myself. “
Lady Gaga didn’t have the only over-the-top performance. Mick Jagger, still spry at 67, performed for the first time at the Grammys, as did music legends Bob Dylan and Barbara Streisand.
Other memorable performances included Justin Bieber, who started out with an acoustic version of “Baby,” which transformed into homage to his new film, “Never Say Never.” Rihanna, Eminem, and Dr. Dre performed in what could be considered the trifecta of R&B/Rap fusion.
And who could forget Cee-Lo Green’s Muppet-filled Technicolor performance? The singer, who was nominated for his explicit single “F*** You,” took the stage in a red feather suit with red, yellow, and blue plumage and a breastplate, looking half like an endangered bird and half like a Medieval Tournament knight. Cee-Lo was joined by Gwyneth Paltrow who reprised her rendition of “Forget You” from “Glee."