This year’s Grammy Awards were all about the performances, of which there were many times more (23) than there were actual awards given out during the three-and-a-half hour show. It was also all about performers young and old attempting — sometimes successfully and sometimes not — to bridge the generational divide in music. And it was not, thankfully, all about that bass. That bass is finally over.
Sam Smith was the evening’s big winner, returning to the stage every hour, on the hour, to collect each of his four awards. Beck was the surprise of the night, winning not only Best Rock Album but also Album of the Year, for which he beat out Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Pharrell.
But the awards felt like an afterthought — punctuation marks between performances meant to chase higher ratings than the act of doling out golden gramophones is capable of generating. And those performances were a little heavy on the ballads and a little low on the showmanship, with the night saved from interminable boredom by a handful of worthy showstoppers.
If you didn’t have the stamina for the musical marathon that was Sunday night’s ceremony, here are the highlights (and lowlights) of the evening:
Most Liberating Red-Carpet Moment: Before LL Cool J took the stage for his fourth perfectly fine but altogether unremarkable turn as host, Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic ruled the red carpet with their barrage of “Who are you wearings” and unsolicited body commentary. Rancic’s updo was bothering her, so she liberated her hair from its prison and announced her victory over the tyranny of bobby pins for all who were watching.
Failed Foray Into Psychology: During Seacrest’s red-carpet interview with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, West said he got bored easily and worked hard to constantly innovate with his music. Seacrest wondered aloud whether West’s ADD (which was diagnosed only by Seacrest himself) was an asset to his creative process. West had another word for it: “It’s also called, ah, thinking.”
The Time Traveling Begins: The night started off with a throwback to old-school rock with two songs by AC/DC, who have had a bit of a rough year (guitarist Malcolm Young retired due to an illness and drummer Phil Rudd had some major scuffles with the law). The audience donned red devil horns for “Highway to Hell” and Herbie Hancock was grooving, but it was a surprisingly dated choice for a night dedicated to music made in 2014.
Kindest Words of Consolation: Presenter Taylor Swift — or as LL Cool J dubbed her, “T Swizzle” — offered pre-emptive words of consolation to the Best New Artist nominees who wouldn’t take home the prize. “As a former loser of Best New Artist in 2008, if you do not win this award, it’s gonna be fine,” she said. “Just, like, shake it off.” Sam Smith, unsurprisingly, won the award, and in the first of his many speeches of the night thanked his parents. “Mom and Dad, I won a Grammy!”
The Night of the Ballads Begins: Anna Kendrick, who forgot to wear a shirt under her tuxedo but rocked it nonetheless, introduced ponytail princess Ariana Grande, who sang the slow and soulful “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart.” There were a lot of smoke machines and violins. It was a little on the sleepy side for so early in the evening, but Grande tried to keep us all awake with her serious pipes.
CBS Accidentally Endorses NBC’s The Voice, Repeatedly: First the Grammys paired Jessie J and a disconcertingly orange Tom Jones, co-judges on The Voice U.K., for a duet on the Righteous Brothers’ 1965 hit “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Chrissy Teigen and John Legend also rocked out, demonstrating no loss of loving feelings between them. Later, The Voice coaches Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani teamed up for the Maroon 5 track “My Heart Is Open.” To boot, they were introduced by American Idol fixture Ryan Seacrest.
Best Pop Solo Performance: The most notable part of Pharrell’s win for Best Pop Solo Performance for “Happy” was the futuristic bodysuit worn by his wife Helen Lasichanh. Taylor Swift, who lost to Pharrell in this category, demonstrated her first of many enthusiastic “I’m-genuinely-happy-to-have-lost-to-you” expressions of the night.
A Little Country to Wake Things Up: Miranda Lambert gave the first performance of the night in which a performer seemed to be actually having fun, with a rollicking rendition of “Little Red Wagon.” The guitars were cherry red, the wind machine was on full blast and Lambert even got some lyrics bleeped out. “I love your apron,” she yelled at hubby Blake Shelton (we can only presume), “but I ain’t your mama.”
First PSA of the Night: Sam Smith took home the Grammy for In the Lonely Hour, beating out Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran. In his acceptance speech, he pinned the success of the album on being true to himself. “It was only until I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen.” Sue him all you want, Tom Petty. Sam Smith prevails.
We Interrupt This Program for a Brief Inspirational Message From LL Cool J: “Dreams don’t have deadlines. Believe in yourself.” Now back to the show.
Biggest Missed Opportunity for a North West Cameo: Kanye West’s stripped-down, auto-tuned performance of “Only One,” a song written from the perspective of his late mother, would only have been improved by a re-enactment of the sweet father-daughter moments captured in the song’s Spike Jonze–directed music video.
Winningest Matador: Madonna channeled some Spanish flair in her debut performance of “Living for Love.” After declaring her intention to start a “revolution of love,” she managed to ward off dozens of male dancers dressed as bulls even though her matador flag was the wrong color. It helped that they were wearing jewel-encrusted face masks with no eye holes.
Best Win for Dad Rock: Beck won Best Rock Album for Morning Phase, and a couple of Patriots made some football puns.
The Surfbort Lives to Surf Another Day: Beyoncé won Best R&B Performance for “Drunk in Love.” She thanked God, her beloved husband, her daughter and her loyal fan base, the BeyHive.
Most Camera-Shy: After a performance by Ed Sheeran, Herbie Hancock, John Mayer and Questlove, Sir Paul McCartney was getting his groove on to “Evil Woman,” the first of two songs performed by Electric Light Orchestra front man Jeff Lynne. After the camera had been hovering over him for about five seconds, he looked straight into the lens like a deer in headlights and cowered slowly into his seat. It’s O.K., Paul, Beyoncé was dancing too.
Reason Not to Press Mute During Hozier’s “Take Me to Church”: Annie Lennox. After basically saying she couldn’t care less about the Grammys during her red-carpet interview (“It’s not really my scene, to be frank”), Lennox joined (and totally outclassed) Hozier in a version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” She was basically like, Hozier, step back, son. Sweet dreams are made of Annie Lennoxes.
Proudest Husband: Blake Shelton was all aglow when wife Miranda Lambert won Best Country Album for Platinum. Sorry Jay, it was a close call.
Unhappiest “Happy” Moment: Pharrell swapped out his Smokey the Bear hat for a bellhop’s uniform and bedazzled sneakers and commenced what appeared to be a piece of performance art but turned out to be “Happy” set to moodier, darker chords. And thank goodness, because as good as it is, we have heard that song about 300 times too many.
Most Powerful PSA: President Obama, Katy Perry and domestic-violence survivor and victim advocate Brooke Axtell teamed up for a message about violence against women. In a pre-recorded video, Obama beseeched musical artists to use their positions of influence to speak out against rape and domestic violence. Axtell spoke live about her personal experience of abuse, speaking directly to victims: “Authentic love does not devalue another human being. Authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse.” Perry then took the stage to perform “By the Grace of God,” sounding as good as she’s ever sounded live. It was a complete 180 from last Sunday’s shark-tastic Super Bowl performance. There were more than a few tears in the audience, and she earned them.
Cheekiest Performance: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, who won Best Traditional Pop Album, danced “Cheek to Cheek” during their performance of the classic song. The pair talked on the red carpet about bonding over their shared Italian-American heritage (Bennett née Benedetto, Gaga née Germanotta). It was a good reminder that if you look beyond the beef dresses and egg-hatching stunts, the girl can sing.
Best Surprise Stevie Wonder Unveiling: Usher handily performed Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic,” a cappella but for a harpist. And then, poof! Stevie Wonder standing in the shadows emerged to lend his harmonica to the tune.
And Now, a Country Interlude: Eric Church, whose reference to a pizza chain was not the only one of the night, was followed by newcomer Brandy Clark, who delivered a solid ballad despite the evening’s desperate need for a pick-me-up. The pick-me-up came, immediately afterward, in the form of Rihanna, Paul McCartney and Kanye West’s “FourFiveSeconds,” one of the best performances of the night, and not out of place among the country revue.
Cutest Matching Suits: The “FourFiveSeconds” trio also takes home an unofficial award for cutest coordinated menswear, though LL Cool J and Ryan Seacrest gave them a run for their money with matching midnight blue tuxedos.
The Song That Never. Gets. Old. Sam Smith’s multiple-award-winning “Stay With Me” has shown the kind of staying power that songs like “All About That Bass” lose after a couple of weeks. And when you throw Mary J. Blige into the mix, it only gets better. The two have sung the song together before, and their voices are perfectly suited to each other.
The Latin Grammys No Longer Have to Be a Totally Separate Event: Jane the Virgin star and Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez introduced Juanes for a performance of “Juntos,” allowing the Latin Grammys a brief moment on the Grammys’ central stage.
Presenter Who Elicited the Most Screams from the Audience: Prince, naturally, wearing iridescent orange pajamas. He reminded the audience that “albums still matter, like books and black lives.” An uneven comparison, but the sentiment was there.
The Winner Kanye Almost Didn’t Let Finish: When Beck beat out Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Pharrell for Album of the Year, Kanye jumped out of his chair and approached the stage, presumably to pull an “Imma Let You Finish, But” on Beck like he did on Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Beck was totally game for a brawl, but Kanye had learned from his mistakes. Any stunt that gets the President to call you a “jackass” is one you shan’t repeat again.
Biggest Head-Scratcher of the Night: Shia LaBeouf introduced fellow paper-bag aficionado Sia by reciting a poem that made basically no sense. He’s an artist, though, so you probably just didn’t get it.
Best Wiig in a Wig: Sia’s continued refusal to show her face during a performance was made less annoying by the stellar cameo in her performance of “Chandelier.” Kristen Wiig sported a wig and nude unitard, joining tween dancer Maddie Ziegler to perform the interpretive dance from the song’s video. Wiig joins a long list of celebrities who have performed (or parodied) the dance, including Lena Dunham, Jim Carrey and Kate McKinnon. Wiig’s performance was simultaneously impressive and comical, and Ziegler was stunning as always.
Stop Rubbing It In, Sam: Upon winning Song of the Year for “Stay With Me,” Sam Smith gushed, “I’m having a really, really good night.” Yes we know, Sam. Although the song deserved to win, it was also a relief to see anything but “All About That Bass” take home the award.
Most Unimaginative “Grammy Moment”: Beck deserved a more interesting duet partner than Chris Martin. Sure, it was another ballad on a night of too many ballads. Sure, their voices worked kind of well together. And sure, Grammy Moments (™) are overwrought. But all that being said, this would have been a more exciting duet had they paired Beck with someone whose style differed more from his own. Might we retroactively suggest Kanye West?
Best Audition for Stevie Wonder Biopic: Jamie Foxx, while presenting Record of the Year with Mr. Wonder himself, did a little impression of Stevie. Step aside, Foxx, you’ve had your biopic glory.
Sweet, Sweet Revenge: Upon winning Record of the Year for “Stay With Me,” his fourth Grammy of the night, Sam Smith thanked the love who didn’t love him back: “I want to thank the man whom this record is about, the man I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much, ‘cause you got me four Grammys.” No, Sam Smith, you got you four Grammys.
Taking Care of Business: The RIAA guy gave a speech, as always, shaming you for streaming music without dishing out to the hardworking artists. The “In Memoriam” reel honored those who died in the past year, from Joe Cocker to Pete Seeger to Maya Angelou. And a slew of Lifetime Achievement Awards were announced, including the Bee Gees, George Harrison and Buddy Guy.
The Finish With a Bang: At least a night that mostly dragged finished strong. Introduced by Gwyneth Paltrow, who was not quite the right fit to present a segment on civil rights, Beyoncé channeled Aretha Franklin in her rendition of “Precious Lord.” Backed by a dozen men in white suits and dressed like a goddess with gossamer wings, she delivered the gospel tune in a way that made more than a few viewers hope that this is what heaven sounds like. Bey then introduced John Legend and Common, who sang the Selma hit “Glory” with footage from the movie rolling above the stage. The Academy wants to completely snub Selma at the Oscars? At least it got the last word at the Grammys.
Read next: See All the Winners of the 2015 Grammys
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