The songbird hoped to crown her yearlong comeback by winning a record-setting six trophies at Wednesday night's 48th Annual Grammy Awards, but the Irish rockers topped her three wins with their five, including song of the year for "Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own" and album of the year for "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb."
After winning the night's big award, album of the year, U2 frontman Bono told Carey, "You sing like an angel."
However, it was still a great night for Carey. One of the best-selling artists of all time, Carey hadn't won a Grammy since her first two as a fresh-faced ingenue in 1990. This year, she was nominated for a leading eight and won three in the pre-telecast ceremony. No woman had ever won more than five in one night.
But Carey was shut out through the entire televised portion, losing twice to U2, once to Green Day for record of the year and once to former American Idol Kelly Clarkson for best female pop vocal performance.
Clarkson won two, including best pop album.
"I'm sorry I'm crying again on national television," said Clarkson, tearful and shaking as she held her first Grammy. "Thank you so much, you have no idea what this means to me."
The highlight of the show was the appearance of Sly Stone, the mercurial, psychedelic pioneer who disappeared from the music scene decades ago and hadn't performed in public since 1993.
Toward the end of a sizzling all-star tribute, Stone emerged sporting a pale Mohawk against his 61-year-old brown scalp and made his way through one of his biggest smashes, "I Want To Take You Higher." Though the tribute was planned, many didn't expect Stone -- who hasn't performed in public in years -- to show up.
Keith Urban was answering questions backstage when Stone's performance began playing on a nearby monitor, and he had to stop talking.
"I think we just got upstaged," Urban said in amazement. "Everything pales in comparison."
Aside from winning the most awards, U2 provided one of the more rousing performances in the jam-packed show as they sung their hit Vertigo, then collaborated with R&B queen Mary J. Blige's gospel-inflected fervor for their classic "One."
West's three Grammys matched his total for last year. The brash rapper/producer played up (or lived up to) his egotistical reputation as he won best rap album for "Late Registration.
"I had no idea, I had no idea," West said in mock shock as he pulled a huge sheet of paper that read "Thank You List."
Alison Krauss & Union Station also had three awards, including for best country album, while Stevie Wonder, who released his first album in ten years last year, had two.
The show started off on a two-dimensional note as the cartoon-fronted rock group Gorillaz performed their record of the year contender, "Feel Good Inc." with the help of animation, a blue screen and guest rappers De La Soul. The performance then segued into a Madonna moment, as the pop queen -- who was not nominated for any awards -- shimmied through the Gorillaz' virtual space while singing her latest hit, "Hung Up."
A brief, impromptu performance by Alicia Keys and Wonder was the first to energize the crowd. Wonder pulled out his harmonica and the two soulfully sang his classic "Higher Ground" as a tribute to the late Coretta Scott King, who was buried Tuesday.
"Let's keep trying to reach that higher ground," Keys said. "I forever want to reach that higher ground."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.