Esperanza Spalding, Arcade Fire top a night of upsets at 2011 Grammys

It was a night of surprises as indie band Arcade Fire and jazz newcomer Esperanza Spalding earn big wins.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2011; 1:34 AM

LOS ANGELES - Gaga, schmaga.

Lady Antebellum, the adorable country-pop trio with the slavery-era name, won big at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, winning both record of the year and song of the year for "Need You Now," a gorgeous ballad about a boozy late-night booty call.

The wins marked a night of huge upsets that included Canadian indie rock underdogs Arcade Fire taking home album of the year for their surging rock opus "The Suburbs" and jazz newbie Esperanza Spalding besting the likes of Justin Bieber and Drake for best new artist.

"What the hell?" Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler exclaimed in disbelief at the podium, Grammy in hand, in what felt like an apt assessment of the entire evening.

But with big upsets in all four of the major Grammy categories, Sunday night's winners weren't always tucked inside the envelopes - they were revealed in the umpteen performances crammed into this sprawling 31/2-hour telecast, where the musical numbers outnumbered the trophy handoffs, 16 to 10.

And as the beleaguered recording biz continues to unravel, Grammy organizers tried to hold things together the only way they know how: with a big trans-generational group hug.

More than 30 performers of all ages graced the Staples Center stage during Sunday's Grammy telecast - some cherubic (Bieber, age 16), some grizzled (Bob Dylan, age 69).

The show opened with the widest genre-jumping, decade-leaping embrace of the night, with Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine trilling in tribute to the ailing Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

(For those keeping score at home: Aguilera had her princess-of-soul tiara snatched away by Hudson but did manage to remember all of the words.)

Few performers eclipsed Lady Gaga, who had already won a Grammy for best female pop vocal performance by the time she was wheeled up onstage inside a giant, translucent egg. She popped out sporting a plastic bodysuit with pointy shoulders, singing her anthemic new single "Born This Way" like a sci-fi Madonna.

With it hatched the subtext of this year's Grammys, an awards show that celebrated big 21st century personas (Gaga), while honoring big 20th century voices (Franklin).

In today's wildly competitive popscape - more than 1,000 individuals were nominated for Grammys this year - a galactic persona is a must.

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