LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Sam Smith, the British soul singer who was virtually unknown a year ago, dominated the Grammys Sunday with four awards, although adventurous rocker Beck unexpectedly took home Album of the Year honours.
Superstar Beyonce and “Happy” creator Pharrell Williams took home three prizes each on the music industry’s biggest night, which was marked by displays of artist activism against domestic violence and police brutality.
The 22-year-old Smith swept up three of the night’s four top trophies – Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist – as well as Best Pop Vocal Album honours.
Smith, who not long ago was working as a bartender in London, thanked the person he fell in love with last year and who inspired “Stay With Me” – his mega-hit ballad.
“Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys,” Smith said to applause.
He earned an ovation at the Staples Center in Los Angeles when he performed his signature tune in his rich, soulful tenor voice with Mary J Blige.
“Before I made this record, I was doing everything to try to get my music heard. I tried to lose weight and … I was making aweful music,” said Smith.
“It was only until I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen. So, thank you, guys, for accepting me to be just me.”
Smith was prevented from a clean sweep of the top categories by Beck, whose introspective “Morning Phase” – full of lush orchestration around his acoustic guitar – won the Album of the Year prize.
Beck, who also won Best Rock Album, has for two decades been known for his inventive and often ironic style which has won him critical acclaim and a cult following, if not the mainstream success usually recognised by the Grammys.
Beck’s Album of the Year award was presented by the often-elusive Prince who, sporting a futuristic orange suit and carrying a staff, pointedly spoke out against a series of killings of African Americans that has galvanised public opinion.
“Like books and black lives, albums still matter,’ Prince said.
Beyonce won for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance with “Drunk In Love,” her tale of marital bliss sung with her husband Jay-Z, as well as for the more technical Best Surround Sound Album.
With the latest honour, Beyonce has won 20 Grammys – topping Aretha Franklin for the woman with the second biggest all-time haul, although still well behind the country star Alison Krauss at 27.
“This has been such an incredible year. I love you all. I’d like to thank my beloved husband. I love you deep,” said the 33-year-old singer.
Williams took home prizes for Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Video for “Happy”, as well as Best Urban Contemporary Album honours for “Girl”.
Rosanne Cash – the daughter of folk legend Johnny Cash – took home awards in three Americana categories in her first Grammys since 1985.
Eminem won a record sixth Grammy for Best Rap Album for “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.”