Grammys 2015: Highs and lows

Updated 5:32 PM EST, Mon February 9, 2015

Story highlights

Sam Smith wins four Grammys, including song, record of the year

Kanye West creates another kerfuffle

(CNN) —  

The 2015 Grammys offered the familiar – a slew of awards for a newcomer, some outstanding performances – and the unfamiliar: Kanye West laughing and smiling?

Here are a few things that dominated the evening and ideas to make the show better:

Welcome, Sam Smith!

A year ago, the British soul singer was an unknown in America. Sunday night, he took home four Grammys, including song of the year, record of the year (both for “Stay with Me”), best new artist and best pop vocal album (for “In the Lonely Hour”).

He also gave a dazzling performance of “Stay with Me” with Mary J. Blige pitching in. About the only thing that could have made it better was if Tom Petty, who was credited on the song thanks to similarities to “I Won’t Back Down,” had joined him.

“I’m having a really, really, really good night,” Smith said as he won song of the year. That was an understatement.

Is that Kanye West?

Like dancing unicorns and functioning Congresses, a smiling, laughing Kanye West was considered a mythical creature: occasionally talked about but never seen.

On Sunday night, though, the usually grim-faced rapper gave a soulful performance of “Only One,” joined Rihanna and a somewhat awkward Paul McCartney for “FourFiveSeconds” and then jokingly stole the show by running on stage when Beck won album of the year for “Morning Phase.”

On the other hand, maybe he wasn’t joking at all.

Beck’s big night

Obviously, Kanye didn’t expect Beck to win album of the year – and neither did Beck himself. But “Morning Phase” took home that major prize as well as best rock album.

Obviously flustered, Beck thanked the entire production team, as well as his children for “letting me keep them awake extra longer.”

How did Beck beat out Beyonce?

Pointed statements

The Grammys got in some issue-oriented statements

President Obama dropped by via video to speak against domestic violence, with activist Brooke Axtell giving a moving speech.

Others weren’t even spoken aloud: During his performance of “Happy,” Pharrell and his background performers held up their hands in the now-familiar “Don’t shoot” move.

Grammys 2015: Race takes center stage

And then there was Prince, who came out to present album of the year.

“Like books and black lives, albums still matter,” he said.

Annie Lennox goes to church; AC/DC goes to hell; Sia goes looking for a place to hide

Hozier was doing a fine job with his “Take Me to Church,” but Lennox gave the song a new dimension – and then took the audience to church with her soulful, dramatic version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.”

Then there was AC/DC, which started the show with “Rock or Bust” and “Highway to Hell.” As surprising as it was to see the heavy-metal heroes on the Grammys – not usually known for a fondness for metal – it was equally surprising to see a group of celebrities wearing devil horns in the group’s honor.

And Sia, known for hiding her face, performed her song “Chandelier” while facing a wall. Kristen Wiig and Maddie Ziegler handled the dancing duties. Sia was even reclusive on the red carpet.

Is it over yet?

About 11:10 p.m. ET, the Grammys gave out the final award of the night, record of the year. But the show still had about 35 minutes to go – including an In Memoriam montage, a speech by Recording Academy head Neil Portnow about streaming royalties and performances by Beyonce (“Take My Hand, Precious Lord”) and John Legend and Common (“Glory”).

Johnny Carson once joked that the Oscars were “two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over a four-hour show.” One wonders how many viewers hung around to watch the Grammys after the final award – usually the sign that it’s time to go, folks.

But, of course, there’s always something unexpected about the Grammys.

Grammys: Complete winners list

Grammys, you can do better

Not much of a show, was it? Between trying too hard, being too long and having some awkward timing, this Grammy broadcast just didn’t measure up to those of recent years.

So here are some suggestions for next year:

Pay attention to the pacing. Sunday’s show just seemed off. And with so much show left after the final award for record of the year, viewers need a presentation that stays strong until the end.

Hire camera operators who recognize that you do not get Paul McCartney to have a seat when he’s up dancing like a grandpa. Well, he is a grandfather, but Macca is allowed to do whatever he wants. The former Beatle was really, really digging ELO’s performance of “Evil Woman” when he noticed that he was on camera and blocking the crowd shot behind him. Jam on, Macca, jam on.

Madonna, however, can have several seats. Yes, she reinvents herself all the time, but at this point, performances like Sunday night’s “Living for Love” – which we guess are supposed to be provocative – are starting to feel like when Memaw has had too much to drink at Thanksgiving.

And that’s not because of her age but because it feels dated. We’ve seen it all before.

Finally, could we please just have more Prince next year? Performing, presenting, giving side-eye, we don’t care. Just more Prince, Grammys, if you please.

CNN’s Lisa Respers France contributed to this story.