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By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Heartbreak paid off handsomely for British soul singer Sam Smith, a newcomer who won four Grammy awards on Sunday including record and song of the year for his anthem “Stay With Me.”
The 22-year-old was also anointed best new artist and his debut album “In The Lonely Hour” won best pop vocal album. But rocker Beck robbed Smith of a sweep in the top three Grammy categories by winning album of the year for “Morning Phase.”
“I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year,” Smith said as he accepted his gramophone-shaped trophy for record of the year. “Thank you so much for breaking my heart because you got me four Grammys.”
The music industry’s biggest night took on a somber note with a powerful message against domestic abuse delivered by President Barack Obama by video, by a survivor’s testimony and by a Katy Perry performance.
While Smith was favored to win big, Beck pulled off the surprise of the night in album of the year, beating out Smith, Pharrell Williams, Beyonce and Ed Sheeran. “Morning Phase,” an album with a laid-back vibe, won three Grammys on the night, including best rock album.
“We made this record at my house for the most part, so I would like to thank my kids for letting me keep them awake a little bit longer,” Beck said as he accepted his trophy from R&B star Prince.
Other notable winners were Pharrell and Beyonce, who won three Grammys each and delivered some of the most popular performances of the night.
Smith’s win echoes that of fellow British soul singer Adele, who swept the Grammys with six wins in 2012 with her heartbreak album “21” and song “Someone Like You,” also about a failed relationship.
Smith has found his audience by being himself and encouraging people to discover his music through social media and online streaming, one of the few growth segments in an industry of declining record sales.
“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.”
Obama delivered a pointed speech in a video message urging artists at the Grammys to help end domestic violence, saying “It’s not OK and it has to stop” and urging artists to tell their fans to make a pledge to help stop it.
Survivor Brooke Axtell shared her own story of domestic abuse in an emotional speech on stage, before introducing Perry on a white stage. Perry sang her inspirational survival anthem “By the Grace of God,” dressed in a simple white caped dress as shadows of dancers were projected behind her.
Backstage, Axtell said she teared up during Perry’s song.
The performance was a study in contrasts with Perry’s vibrant, lively and prop-filled spectacular at the Super Bowl a week ago.
On the other end of the spectrum was Pharrell’s 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.
Australian singer-songwriter Sia recreated her “Chandelier” video with comedienne Kristen Wiig and teen dancer Maddie Ziegler in a contemporary dance-off on a set designed like a decrepit apartment.
Madonna delivered an energetic 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.
But numerous artists opted to strip down their performances to showcase their music.
Known to be a stage where veterans and current music stars come together, British singers Jessie J and Tom Jones sang The Righteous Brothers’ classic 1964 song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga channeled New York-style romance with their jazz tune “Cheek to Cheek.”
Rihanna joined Kanye West and Paul McCartney against a white stage backdrop to perform the jaunty “FourFiveSeconds,” while 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.”
The night ended on civil rights with Beyonce and gospel singers belting out a rendition of the hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” before artists Common and John Legend took the stage to perform their Oscar-nominated “Glory,” from the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic “Selma.” (Additional reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)