LOS ANGELES – British soul singer Sam Smith and R&B singer-producer Pharrell Williams led the early winners at Sunday’s Grammy awards, while Katy Perry and President Barack Obama teamed up to take a stand against domestic violence at the music industry’s top awards.
Minutes before Perry’s performance of “By the Grace of God,” Obama delivered a pointed speech in a video message urging artists attending the awards to help end domestic violence, saying “It’s not OK and it has to stop.”
Brooke Axtell, a survivor of domestic abuse, shared her personal story on stage, saying “authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse.”
Perry’s stripped-down act was a study in contrasts with her raucous, vibrant, prop-filled performance at the Super Bowl a week ago.
Smith took an early lead among the winners with two Grammy awards; Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album for “In The Lonely Hour.” The 22-year-old British newcomer made his mark by encouraging people to accept who they are.
“Before I made this record, I was doing everything to try and get my music heard,” Smith said. “I tried to lose weight and I was making awful music and it was only until that I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen.”
Pharrell beat out Smith’s “Stay With Me” in the best pop solo performance category with his toe-tapping track “Happy.”
Both Pharrell and Smith entered Sunday with six nominations each, and Pharrell won two Grammys in the pre-telecast awards show, including Best Urban Contemporary Album for “GIRL.”
Pharrell delivered an eclectic rendition of “Happy” on the Grammys stage, teaming up with film composer Hans Zimmer to channel a “Grand Budapest Hotel” vibe dressed as a bellhop and accompanied by pianist Lang Lang and gospel singers.
Singer-songwriter Beck won Best Rock Album for “Morning Phase,” while Miranda Lambert, who performed her hit “Little Red Wagon,” won Best Country Album for “Platinum.”
“I poured my heart and soul into this record,” Lambert said.
Music’s top couple, R&B singer Beyonce and rapper Jay-Z won Best R&B Performance for their steamy track “Drunk in Love.”
“I’d like to thank my beloved husband, I love you deep,” Beyonce said.
While the Grammy show televised on CBS awards a handful of winners, much of the show is dedicated to dynamic performances of the industry’s biggest stars.
The night kicked off with an energetic performance by veteran rockers AC/DC singing classics “Rock or Bust” and “Highway to Hell,” the first of many throwback tunes.
Known to be a stage where veterans and current music stars come together, British singers Jessie J and Tom Jones delivered the first of many Grammy duets with The Righteous Brothers’ classic 1964 song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.’ “
Ed Sheeran and ELO performed a medley of “Evil Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky,” with former Beatle Paul McCartney dancing along in the audience, while Irish singer Hozier and Annie Lennox brought the crowd to their feet with a medley of “Take Me To The Church” and “I’ll Put a Spell on You.”
Madonna delivered a dance-filled performance of “Living For Love,” accompanied by male dancers in elaborate horned face masks and singers dressed in mariachi costumes. She ended the high-octane set by being suspended above stage in a harness.
No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, both judges on NBC’s “The Voice” singing competition, teamed up for a heartfelt rendition of “My Heart is Open.”
All eyes are on Smith amid speculation that he could emulate Adele’s 2012 six-win sweep of music industry’s top honors handed out by the Recording Academy.
On the red carpet, where pop stars are known for making statements in bold outfits, Madonna split critics with the choice of a matador-inspired derriere-baring black lace Givenchy bodysuit.