NEW YORK (AFP) – Rapper Kendrick Lamar took an early lead Sunday at the Grammy Awards, sweeping up five trophies, as retro funk star Bruno Mars and rap mogul Jay-Z remained in the running for top prizes.
The music industry also seized on its annual televised gala to rally on behalf of the growing women’s movement against sexual harassment — Lady Gaga, whispering from her piano in between ballads, declared, “Time’s up!”
The Grammys, taking place in New York after 15 years in Los Angeles, marked the first time that hip-hop has dominated the nominations after years of uneven recognition for the genre.
Lamar opened the televised show in Madison Square Garden with a fierce performance, spitting out his verses as he was joined by U2 frontman Bono amid a sea of camouflage-clad dancers who later fell to the ground as if struck by bullets.
The Los Angeles rapper took a strong lead, winning Best Rap Album for “DAMN.” and Best Rap Song for “HUMBLE.,” a playful take on the trappings of fame in which the 30-year-old portrays himself as Jesus in “The Last Supper.”
Lamar had been a favorite two years ago to win Album of the Year or “To Pimp a Butterfly,” an experimental album that offered a soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement. But he lost out to Taylor Swift.
“DAMN.” has also won critical acclaim but turns to a more classic hip-hop sound.
– Tough competition –
Other major contenders include Mars, with “24K Magic,” his latest return to fun-loving, old-school funk. The Hawaiian-born singer earned three awards in R&B categories before the main telecast.
But Jay-Z started the night in the lead with eight nominations as he basked in acclaim for “4:44,” an introspective album in which he admits infidelity to his wife Beyonce and explores institutional racism.
Jay-Z, who rose from a broken home in Brooklyn to become a multimillionaire businessman, was given an “industry icon” award at a gala Saturday where he sounded contrite for boycotting the Grammys two decades earlier.
“I realize like, man, art is super subjective and everybody is doing their best and the Academy, they are human like we are,” he told the gala, joined by his wife Beyonce.
But Jay-Z was not being universally celebrated.
On Grammy Day, he was taken to task in a tweet by President Donald Trump, who is widely despised in the US entertainment world, for comments he made in an interview to CNN.
“Jay for president,” Lamar said in his acceptance speech.
Other contenders for Album of the Year were “‘Awaken, My Love!’,” the psychedelic, R&B-infused album by Childish Gambino, the rap alter ego of actor and comedian Donald Glover, and “Melodrama” by 21-year-old New Zealand pop prodigy Lorde, the only woman in the category.
– No longer ‘pretend-winning in shower’ –
Alessia Cara, who rose from making YouTube bedrooms in her bedroom to becoming a socially conscious pop singer, won the closely watched award of Best New Artist.
The 21-year-old from suburban Toronto told the music industry’s gala: “I’ve been pretend-winning Grammys since I was a kid in my shower.”
“I just wanted to encourage everyone to support real music and real artists because everyone deserves the same shot,” Cara added.
Cara has quickly found her voice as a singer with singles such as “Here,” which describes the dread of forced emotions at a party, and “Scars to Your Beautiful,” a call for healthy body image.
Amid the growing attention to gender discrimination in the entertainment industry following revelations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, top stars — notably Lady Gaga — walked the red carpet wearing white roses in solidarity with abuse victims and in an appeal for equality.
Country music legend Reba McEntire, who branched across categories to win the Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album, said that the white rose amounted to a message to “treat people kindly.”
“I want to treat you like I want to be treated. And I think if we did that more often, a lot of these problems would be non-existent,” she said.
The Grammys could reach another landmark after a year marked by Trump’s attack on immigrants — with “Despacito,” whose singer Luis Fonsi offered a racy rendition during the televised gala.
The viral dance hit that has broken the record for views on YouTube is in the running for both Record of the Year, which recognizes best tune, and Song of the Year, which awards songwriters.
“Despacito” would be the first non-instrumental song that is not mostly in English to win in either category since the very first Grammys in 1959.