Yet even the Grammys' penchant for overblown musical numbers couldn't undermine a strong showing by Beyonce Knowles, who took home five awards to lead a night of overdue recognition for R&B and hip-hop.
OutKast's genre-bending commercial and critical hit, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, was honored as album of the year and best rap album. The hit "Hey Ya!" took the award for best urban/alternative performance.
OutKast's Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and Andre 3000 accepted the best album award after Andre closed the show with an outrageously choreographed "Hey Ya!" featuring a marching band.
Beyonce teamed with Prince to open the show with a medley of songs from Purple Rain, a landmark album celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
"Performing was enough for me," she told the crowd moments later, accepting the best contemporary R&B album award for Dangerously in Love. "I'm just so honored."
Beyonce also was honored for best female R&B performance for the song "Dangerously in Love," as well as for best R&B song and rap/sung collaboration for the hit "Crazy in Love," which she recorded with boyfriend Jay-Z. That song won for best remixed recording.
She shared the award for R&B performance by a duo or group for "The Closer I Get to You" with Luther Vandross, a nominee in five categories.
Vandross, who was unable to attend because of a stroke last year, was saluted with a musical tribute by Alicia Keys and Celine Dion.
He took home the best male R&B vocal performance award and best song trophy for "Dance With My Father," a song he co-wrote with Richard Marx. Dance With My Father also was best R&B album.
It was the evening's most sentimental victory - the R&B crooner's first win in a major category in his 20-year-plus career. He was unable to attend but sent a videotaped message, his first public remarks since his April 2003 stroke.
"I want to thank everyone for your love and support," said a weak-looking Vandross. "And remember, when I say goodbye it's never for long, because" - and he sang a line from one of his many hits - "I believe in the power of love!"
Although the focus was on R&B, a few rock acts managed to take major awards. Evanescence prevailed over favored 50 Cent as best new artist and Coldplay took best record for "Clocks," an award they dedicated to Johnny Cash and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Overdue for mainstream acknowledgment by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, hip-hop and R&B stars were showcased last night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In addition to Beyonce, Jay-Z, OutKast and producer Pharrell Williams were each up for a leading six nominations.
The Wind, the final album from rocker Warren Zevon, also garnered five nominations. It took home the award for best contemporary folk album. The song "Disorder in the House," a duet with Bruce Springsteen, won for best rock performance by a duo or group.
Johnny Cash, who died at 71 on Sept. 12, won for best short form music video for "Hurt," his version of a Nine Inch Nails song. Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, was honored for traditional folk album for Wildwood Flower, released after her death last spring. She also won best female country vocal performance for "Keep on the Sunny Side."
There were no one-liners about the incident, but Timberlake apologized as he was accepting the award for male pop vocal performance for "Cry Me a River."
"It's been a rough week on everybody," said Timberlake, who also won for pop vocal album for Justified. "What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys are offended."
Despite a tightly scripted show devoid of outrageousness or spontaneity, Janet Jackson's breast flash remained the major subplot. CBS and Jackson offered conflicting reports about why she was not at the show, which was televised on a delay to avoid anything like the Super Bowl incident.
CBS need not have worried - the already staid Grammys were even more conservative than usual. Curses and cleavage were in short supply, with the exception of Christina Aguilera's dangerously low-cut pink dress.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.