LOS ANGELES—Taylor Swift seemed to stun the audience in Staples Center tonight by snatching the final Grammy Award of the evening when the 20-year-old country-pop princess' best-selling collection "Fearless" was named album of the year, her fourth award of the night, two shy of Beyonce's record six in an evening dominated by women.
"I just hope you know how much this means to me that we get to take this back to Nashville," a breathless Swift said on stage at the 52nd awards. "Oh, my God. Our family is freaking out, my dad and little brother are losing their minds in our living room. This is for my dad and all those times he said I could do anything I wanted."
In a tribute to Les Paul, actor Jeff Bridges introduced British guitar hero Jeff Beck as "Les' favorite disciple of all," lauding the electric-guitar and recording technology pioneer who died in August as "much more than a familiar name on some really cool guitars. He made music history." The segment originally was to have been a guitar summit featuring Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, but pre-show wrangling left it a solo spot for Beck.
An emotional Beyonce collected her sixth award, a record on a single night for a female artist, for "Halo," named best female pop vocal. Her win came on the heels of a sweeping rendition by the Dave Matthews Band of the uplifting anthem "You and Me." Matthews, recently crowned the highest-grossing concert attraction in North America during the past decade by Pollstar, the concert industry-tracking magazine, took an all-hands-on-deck approach in the performance after an introduction by actor Adam Sandler that noted the loss the group suffered in 2008 with the death of its longtime saxophonist, LeRoi Moore.
The odds were with Kanye West in the rap-sung collaboration category, since he was nominated for three of the five entries, including the winning track, "Run This Town." West, a persona marginally grata since upstaging Taylor Swift last year at the MTV Video Music Awards, was nowhere in sight of a live microphone as Jay-Z and Rihanna walked on stage to pick up their award. Jay-Z acknowledged "the genius that is Kanye West" for his contribution.
Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean referenced "the worst earthquake in history" and said on behalf of his countrymen, "We thank you for your support, and we will continue." Proceeds from downloaded performances from the night's show are benefiting Haitian relief efforts.
Jean introduced Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige's duet on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which spawned multiple Grammy Awards four decades ago.
Lionel Richie introduced the show's much-hyped 3-D segment, "The Earth Song," an ecologically minded clip from the Michael Jackson concert film "This Is It." Jackson's recorded vocal accompanied by the image of a young girl amid a lush tropical setting was supplemented live on stage by Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Usher.
Then Richie introduced two of Jackson's children, Prince and Paris, who wore black suits and red armbands. "We would like thank God for watching over us for these past seven months, and also our Grandma and Grandpa for their love and support. We'd also like to thank the fans, because he loved you so much."
In another of the Grammys' many pairings of artists from different generations, Taylor Swift shared a microphone with '70s rock goddess Stevie Nicks in a wobbly duet on Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon."
Bay Area punk trio Green Day brought comparatively new blood to the night with a win for "21st Century Breakdown" as rock album, a category otherwise populated by such veterans as AC/DC, Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood, U2 and the Dave Matthews Band.
In a major upset, the Southern rock group Kings of Leon upstaged Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas by taking record of the year for its single "Use Somebody," a song that rapidly has generated many versions by other artists. Record of the year recognizes songwriting, vocal performance and record production.
Robert Downey Jr. offered a faux high-brow introduction to what was to be an opera number, the proceedings quickly turning into an auto-tuned dance sequence featuring Jamie Foxx, T Pain, guitarist Slash and Keith Sweat.
"I feel like I'm accepting an impossible dream right now, and I thank you so much for that," 20-year-old singer-songwriter Taylor Swift said after winning the award for country album for her runaway hit collection "Fearless," the biggest-selling album of 2009.
It was her third trophy of a still-young evening after taking female country vocal and country song for "White Horse" in the pre-telecast awards.
The Zac Brown Band was named best new artist, and members of the country-rock quintet accepted with the least heartwarming thank-you speech imaginable, acknowledging its marketing company and publicists in addition to its record label and management.
The Atlanta-based group rode to the award over the Silversun Pickups, the Ting Tings, Keri Hilson and MGMT on the success of its down-home hit "Chicken Fried," a curious ode to Americans' freedom to drink beer and eat fried chicken thanks to the sacrifices of U.S. military personnel around the world. The Brown band teamed during its performance slot with Oklahoma Southern rocker Leon Russell on a medley that married its hit with "America the Beautiful" and Russell's "Dixie Lullaby."
Beyonce, who came into the evening with a field-leading 10 nominations, started signs of a groundswell early, taking four awards given out during the pre-telecast and grabbing the first Grammy of the show for song of the year for her effervescent hit endorsement of matrimony, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." She also earned awards with the song for R&B female vocal and R&B song in addition to wins for contemporary R&B album for "I Am Sasha Fierce" and for traditional R&B performance for her recording of "At Last" from the film "Cadillac Records."
The award for "At Last" came with extra emotion, as the torch song's most famous performer, R&B great Etta James, remained hospitalized in Riverside with a serious infection and other ailments. James' son recently told reporters his mother is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, a condition that may have been at play when the veteran blues, R&B and jazz singer lashed out at Beyonce for singing the tune last year at President Obama's inauguration.
"Meet my sister, Hollywood," Lady Gaga said during the opening sequence when she faced off with her 1970s forebear in flamboyant fashion, Elton John, both their faces smeared with blotches of makeup as they played a big-budget version of dueling pianos.
They joined other members of the pop music elite who dressed to the nines, hoping to remind the world and perhaps themselves that the beleaguered music business can still sparkle.
"We are here tonight to celebrate our most precious right: the right of celebrities to congratulate each other," presenter Stephen Colbert said drolly, waving to Taylor Swift and Jay-Z in the crowd in front of him.
Noting the show's penchant for unexpected collaborations on stage, Colbert expressed a hope to see " Adam Lambert and any sense of personal restraint." Anything can happen at the Grammys, insisted Colbert, who took an award of his own a few minutes later for comedy album for his holiday-themed "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All."
Black Eyed Peas, nominated for six awards along with rapper Kanye West and R&B singer Maxwell, also started strongly by landing three in the pre-show, among them pop vocal album for "The E.N.D." The hip-hop collective took the spotlight with its ever-present single "I Gotta Feeling," which was staged with clips interspersed with fan-generated videos as part of the show's continuing efforts to be more audience-friendly.
Maxwell collected his first two Grammys before the telecast began, and country-pop sensation Swift also squealed at snagging her first two trophies from the Recording Academy in those early hours.
The academy's love affair with the Beatles continued with the award for long-form music video going to "All Together Now," the documentary on the making of Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas show "Love," built on the Fab Four's music and history. The award went to the film's director and producers. Neil Young was recognized at a fund-raising dinner Friday night as the MusiCares person of the year for his music and philanthropic efforts, and Universal Music chairman and CEO Doug Morris received the academy's industry icon award.
Shortly before the telecast, nonclassical producer of the year nominee T Bone Burnett expressed his excitement at the growing momentum of the country-music-centric film he produced, "Crazy Heart": "Every musician I talk to has a different scene in that movie they talk about, one that exactly parallels some experience they've had. I think the fact that this movie was made out of love has really connected with people. It shows that people still really care about musicians and what they do."
The Grammys are determined by about 12,000 voting members of the Recording Academy, who select among recordings released from Oct. 1, 2008, to Aug. 31, 2009. The eligibility period was cut a month short this year to accommodate the bumping up of the Grammy ceremony in connection with the shift in the Academy Awards telecast.