LOS ANGELES – A guy riding a tricycle with a flame-thrower attached and a company of mime clowns helped Taylor Swift open the Grammy Awards on Sunday night.
Swift dressed as the Mad Hatter in white top hat, tails, shorts and tall boots during the surreal version of her hummable hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
The singer pretended to talk to the offending boyfriend on the phone: “I’m busy opening the Grammys, and we’re never getting back together.”
It was the first of a number of blockbuster performances expected during the live telecast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Her performance was quickly followed by Ed Sheeran and Elton John teaming up to sing Sheeran’s nominated hit “The A Team.”
The Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach took the early lead during the pre-telecast show, picking up three trophies and assisting with a fourth. Auerbach won producer of the year alone and best rock song for “Lonely Boy” and rock album for “El Camino” with his bandmate Patrick Carney, joining electronic dance music innovator Skrillex atop the early leaderboard. He was also producer for another winner, Dr. John.
A slew of artists sit one back going into the main awards show at the Staples Center, including Kanye West and Jay-Z, Gotye, former best new artist winner Esperanza Spalding, jazz man Chick Corea and Christian singer-songwriter Matt Redman.
Most of the attention has been on Frank Ocean going into the awards, but his fellow lead nominees got an early lead on the R&B singer during the pre-telecast show.
West and Jay-Z won best rap song and best rap performance for the song “... in Paris” from their “Watch the Throne” collaboration and lost a third for short form video for “No Church in The Wild,” which featured Ocean. Ocean will be up for five awards later in the evening.
Other early winners included Rihanna, Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Mumford & Sons, one of six top nominees with six nods apiece. Ocean is up for the major awards best new artist, album of the year and record of the year.
The Grammy pre-telecast awards show at the Nokia Theatre had 70 trophies up for grabs, including rock, pop, rap and country categories.
Skrillex won best dance recording for “Bangarang,” featuring Sirah, best dance/electronica album for “Bangarang” and best remixed recording.
“Let’s keep making music,” he said. “... We’re a big family. We’re a big community. We support music and forward-thinking ideas here.”
Gotye won best alternative album for “Making Mirrors” and best pop/duo performance for “Somebody That I Used To Know,” featuring Kimbra.
Spalding had one of the most touching moments of the pre-telecast awards show, taking the stage with her longtime jazz teacher Thara Memory for their win in the best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocalist category. She also won for best jazz vocal album for her “Radio Music Society.”
Corea, who competed against himself in two categories, won best improvised jazz solo for “Hot House” with Gary Burton and best instrumental composition for “Mozart Goes Dancing.”
And Redman won best gospel/contemporary Christian music performance and best contemporary Christian music song (in a tie) for “10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord).”
Other early winners included Rihanna, who won short form music video for “We Found Love” featuring Calvin Harris, and Swift won the Grammy for best song written for visual media for “Safe & Sound,” her collaboration with the Civil Wars on “The Hunger Games” soundtrack. It was Swift’s seventh Grammy and the third for Joy Williams and John Paul White of the Civil Wars.
“I think it’s appropriate that Taylor thanks us, because we’ve been carrying her for a while, and it’s getting really tiring,” White joked.
Beyonce won for best traditional R&B performance, Mumford & Sons took their first Grammy, winning along with Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros for their long form video documentary “Big Easy Express.”
Celebrities rolled down the red carpet in the early afternoon, showing a fair amount of skin despite CBS’s mandate that stars dress appropriately with butts, breasts and other sensitive areas covered adequately.
“I think it’s just, you know, we should always stay classy and dress according to the event that’s being held,” Ashanti said on the red carpet. “So I don’t think people should be limited so much and told what you can and cannot do. But, you know, you do have to have a certain class and prestige about yourself.”
Celebrities also felt an increased Los Angeles Police Department presence in light of a manhunt involving an alleged cop killer. Police were everywhere, including atop the hotel across from the Staples Center.
Ocean might be riding a wave toward some of the night’s biggest honors. He is still up for five awards going into the night along with fellow top nominee fun.
“It feels cool,” Ocean said on the red carpet. “It’s really bright, a lot of beautiful ladies walking around being fancy. I have to perform tonight so the wheels are constantly spinning. You can’t really just sit in your seat and take it all in.”
All the night’s major awards are still to come. Jack White’s “Blunderbuss” competes with fun’s “Some Nights,” Ocean’s “channel ORANGE,” Mumford’s “Babel” and The Keys’ “El Camino” for the night’s top award, album of the year.
Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” featuring Kimbra, Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” join the fun., Ocean and Black Keys entries in record of the year.
Fun. and Clarkson also are nominated for song of the year along with Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Miguel’s “Adorn.”
And rounding out the major categories, fun., Ocean, Alabama Shakes, Hunter Hayes and The Lumineers are up for best new artist.
AP writers Nekesa Mumbi Moody and Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.