Contrary to late-night TV host David Letterman's list of biggest surprises at the GRAMMYs, Lady Antebellum and Lady Gaga may not have actually formed a super group called Lady Antegagum, but between them, the two acts claimed eight awards at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards.
During a show memorable for the breadth and excitement of its three-and-a-half hours of performances, country group Lady Antebellum sang a pitch-perfect medley of tunes that ended with a quiet rendition of the song that launched them to superstardom, "Need You Now," a song that shortly afterward earned them the Song Of The Year GRAMMY (along with co-writer Josh Kear, with whom they also took Best Country Song). But there was plenty more to come for the trio. They also took home the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for Need You Now. In accepting that award, lead singer Charles Kelley said, "This song has completely flipped our world upside down." By the time Lady Antebellum stood up to collect the trophy for Record Of The Year for "Need You Now," they were in disbelief, and possibly discombobulated. "Oh my gosh, we're so stunned we started walking the wrong direction," said singer Hillary Scott breathlessly after being waved to the correct spot by presenter Jennifer Lopez.
Also racking up awards was Lady Gaga, who claimed three: Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video for "Bad Romance." Never one to miss the chance to make an entrance, she hatched herself onstage from a giant opaque egg as a nod to her new single, "Born This Way," and her bare shoulders, which sprouted pointy appendages, were likely a way to show the power and beauty of being unique. Her dancers and outfit gave off a Cleopatra vibe, but Gaga couldn't be stopped from seeming ultra-modern, and her performance reflected that; it was a warp-speed whirlwind.
In keeping with that same modernist — or maybe futurist — spirit, she accepted her award for Best Pop Vocal Album in black body armor. But Gaga also proved she can be an old-fashioned girl with a soft side. In an emotional acceptance speech, she surprised the audience by thanking Whitney Houston: "I imagined she was singing … because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar. Whitney, I imagined you."
The evening began with a spirited tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, but by the time the last of the awards was handed out several other singers and bands looked something like royalty.
Leading the nominee field with 10 nods revolving around his album, Recovery, Eminem took home trophies for Best Rap Album — a triumph over rivals including Jay-Z, Drake and B.o.B — and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Not Afraid." Onstage, his swagger proved undiminished.
A flame-haired Rihanna opened Eminem's performance with a searing rendition of their duet "Love The Way You Lie," but it was Slim Shady who came out blazing, spitting the lyrics to that song before raging into "I Need A Doctor" with Dr. Dre and singer/songwriter Skylar Grey as Maroon 5's Adam Levine handled piano duty.
Rihanna would return later for a sexy rendition of "What's My Name?" with Drake, which added some passionate heat to an already hot night.
Closing the show and likely lifting the Sunday spirits of indie fans everywhere was the Canadian collective Arcade Fire, who won Album Of The Year for The Suburbs and turned in a frothy and fierce rendition of the rocking "Month Of May." And frontman Win Butler may have summed up the spirit of the evening when he introduced a final surprise performance by the band after they received their GRAMMY. "We're gonna play another song because we like music," he said.
Other multiple winners for the evening included classical music producer David Frost, legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck, rap titan Jay-Z, and R&B artist John Legend, who each earned three awards. Among those who won two each were producer T Bone Burnett, alternative rock duo the Black Keys, jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Alicia Keys, urban/alternative group the Roots, and gospel singers BeBe & CeCe Winans.
And in a bit of surprise, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over teen phenom Justin Bieber, Canadian rapper Drake, and adventurist rock outfits Florence & The Machine and Mumford & Sons.
For good measure, the show also featured a few firsts, including the first-ever GRAMMY performance by Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger, who helped pay tribute to fallen R&B singer Solomon Burke with Raphael Saadiq.
But if there was a constant, it was the annual, high-profile celebration of music that the GRAMMYs represent, and the 53rd GRAMMYs fit the bill once again, with performances, pairings and awards presentations that were full of pleasant musical surprises, providing an upbeat opportunity for the music world to show its continued vitality.