Trapped half a world away by the place she promised to never “go, go, go,” a vibrant, exuberant Amy Winehouse dominated the Grammys on Sunday night, winning five awards and delivering a defiant performance of her autobiographical hit “Rehab” via satellite from London.
Winehouse, nominated for six awards, lost the final prize in a shocker when Herbie Hancock took album of the year for “River: The Joni Letters.”
“You know it’s been 43 years since the first and only time that a jazz artist got the album of the year award,” Hancock said, then proceeded to honor “the giants upon whose shoulders I stand, some of whom like Miles Davis, John Coltrane ... unquestionably deserved the award in the past. But this is a new day, that proves that the impossible can be made possible.”
For a while it seemed impossible that Winehouse would perform at all. She recently entered a drug rehabilitation center after months of erratic behavior and canceled performances, not to mention the anthemic “no, no, no” resistance of her hit song.
As the ceremony approached, suspense built over whether her drug troubles would cost her a work visa. When her visa application was rejected Thursday, Grammy producers arranged for her to perform remotely. On Friday, the U.S. government reversed itself and approved the visa, but it was too late for her to make the cross-continental trek.
So she took the stage at almost 4 a.m. London time before a small cabaret audience, wearing a sly smile as she performed a sultry, soulful rendition of the hit that has defined her recent fall from grace. She looked just as coy as she sang the song “You Know I’m No Good” — almost reveling in the irony of her words.
Shortly afterward, Winehouse seemed dumbfounded when she was announced as the record of the year winner. She was immediately enveloped by her band, then her mother and father, who have publicly worried whether the 24-year-old artist would survive her demons.
“I am so proud of this album,” Winehouse told The Associated Press in a statement. “I put my heart and soul into it and it’s wicked to be recognized in this way. I feel truly honored to be mentioned in the same breath as many of the artists present tonight and to win is even more amazing!”
Her other awards were for best new artist, song of the year, pop vocal album and female pop vocal performance.
Winehouse’s performance was not the only dramatic moment of the night. Kanye West, who had a leading eight nominations and won four trophies, delivered an electric, glow-in-the-dark rendition of “Stronger,” then segued into a stirring tribute to his mother, Donda West, who died unexpectedly last year at age 58 after undergoing plastic surgery.
“Last night I saw you in my dreams, and now I can’t wait to go to sleep,” sang West, dressed in black and with MAMA etched into his haircut, as he launched into “Hey Mama,” a celebratory tune from his second album that has now turned into a somber ode.
West won awards for best rap album for “Graduation,” best solo performance for “Stronger,” best rap song for “Good Life” and best rap performance by a duo or group for his collaboration with Common on “Southside.”
While West was accepting the best rap album trophy, the orchestra tried to play him off the stage as he began speaking about his mother.
“It would be in good taste to stop the music,” West said — and the music stopped.
“I know you’re really proud of me right now and I know you want me to be the No. 1 artist in the world and Mama,” West continued, “all I’m going to do is keep making you proud. We run this.”
The Grammys, celebrating its 50th year, emphasized its history from the first performance. Alicia Keys, glammed-up with a ’50s style, sat at the piano and sang “Learnin’ the Blues” along with a black-and-white video performance from the late Frank Sinatra.
“Frank Sinatra looked good for 150, didn’t he,” Prince joked moments later before introducing Keys as the best female R&B vocal winner for her smash “No One.”
Later, the casts from Cirque Du Soleil’s “Love” Beatles’ show and the Beatles-inspired movie “Across the Universe” paid tribute to the Fab Four as Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and George Harrison’s widow Olivia Harrison watched from the audience.
It was a hot-legs competition when Tina Turner teamed up with Beyonce on “Proud Mary.” The senior citizen kept up with her younger counterpart, showcasing her famous dance moves while wearing a tight-fitting silver bustier and pantsuit.
Carrie Underwood earned two Grammys, including for best female country vocal performance. Bruce Springsteen took three awards, including best rock song for “Radio Nowhere.” Other winners included the White Stripes, Justin Timberlake and Mary J. Blige with two each, the Foo Fighters, Herbie Hancock and even Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama for best spoken-word album.
In any other year, West would have been the main story line thanks to his history of awards-show tirades, his huge album “Graduation” and the shocking death of his mother. But Winehouse’s drama upstaged West and everyone else.
Many artists expressed support for her, such as Grammy-winner Chaka Khan, who admitted having her own problems in the spotlight during her long career.
“She’s walking her walk. We all have a walk in life, we have hard and difficult times and going through that chaos often leads to clarity,” Khan said. “We have to have that room and that space, that privacy time, to be able to walk your walk, make your mistakes and come out of it. It will make you stronger.”