Grammy Awards offer both live performances and competition

Jordan Beck

What makes for a truly great night at the Grammys may vary from person to person.

Some say what defines the ceremony is the competition between artists to win the top prize in music. Others insist that the live acts truly make or break the show.

Fortunately, both sides were better than average at the 2013 Grammy Awards, with surprising nominees on the ballot and stunning performances on the main stage.

One of the reasons that the 2013 Grammys stood out from the pack was the competitive, varied list of artists nominated for Album of the Year. Candidates included Frank Ocean’s downtempo odyssey “Channel Orange,” the pure pop of fun.’s blockbuster “Some Nights,” the hook-heavy rock offered by the Black Keys’ “El Camino” and Jack White’s “Blunderbuss.”

However, the night’s big winner was British folk-rock band Mumford and Sons, who took home the gold for sophomore album “Babel.”

The smaller categories weren’t without competition either. In the race for Best Pop Vocal Album, Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” beat out the likes of Florence + the Machine and P!nk. Breakthrough artists fun. and Gotye picked up two and three Grammys respectively. While the Black Keys missed out on winning Album of the Year, they still walked away with four trophies — more than any other artist this year.

When it comes to the Grammys, however, the prizes are only half the story. For many viewers, the real attraction was the night’s profusion of performances by established acts and up-and-comers  — and this year delivered some seriously memorable live moments. On the pop side of things, fun.’s debut Grammy performance was a standout, thanks to an unexpected song choice.

“I was really excited when fun. did their song ‘Carry On,’ because it wasn’t ‘Some Nights’ or ‘We Are Young’ like most people thought it would be,” said freshman English major Kendra Klein.

The Black Keys provided one of the show’s greatest highlights with a version of their biggest hit to date, “Lonely Boy.” In an inspired move, the band brought New Orleans blues legend Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band along for the ride, putting a fresh twist on a beloved single.

Another artist who attracted attention for rearranging his own material was Frank Ocean, who played a stripped-down take of “Forrest Gump” on electric piano near the end of the show.

Justin Timberlake also made a live comeback, playing “Suit & Tie,” complete with a Jay-Z cameo and the previously-unreleased track “Pusher Love Girl.” In keeping with the retro vibe of “Suit & Tie,” the first section of JT’s set was broadcast in sepia.

It just wouldn’t be a Grammy show without a tribute performance or two. One of this year’s biggest was in honor of Bob Marley, which featured Bruno Mars, Sting, Rihanna and Damien and Ziggy Marley.

Along with late-career Bob Marley favorite “Could You Be Loved,” the tribute featured two songs indebted to reggae: “Walking on the Moon” by The Police and “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars.

This wasn’t the only time that the 2013 Grammys honored legends of the past. While an all-star tribute to The Band’s Levon Helm was lower-key than the energetic Bob Marley segment, it was no less powerful for fans. The performance, which featured Elton John, was also one of the night’s highlights, said senior English major Olivia Koepp.

“That was a really cool performance,” Koepp said.

In addition, Jack White’s massive “Blunderbuss” medley, the birth of Taylor Swift’s Gaga phase and Carrie Underwood’s bizarre projector-dress are sure to have people talking. Whether tuned in for live performances or the awards themselves, the Grammys seem able to deliver something for everyone.