Over three hours and 45 minutes of this Sunday’s (Feb. 10) broadcast, the Grammys hit on an impressive variety of live performances — looking backwards to the history of soul, country and rock, and pushing forward into the future of all those genres as well.
Not every artist proved a knockout, but even with a number of big 2019 names conspicuously absent from the stage, the talent and star power on display was formidable. Here’s how we rank the 18 performances on the evening, from worst to first.
18. Post Malone & Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Stay” / “Rockstar” / “Dark Necessities”
Fun for a minute, with Post Malone performing his better-than-you’d-think Beerbongs & Bentleys solo acoustic ballad “Stay” — a side he’s never brought to an award show stage before. But then, it was basically a lesser redux of his performance from last year’s VMAs, doing a halfhearted “Rockstar” (sans 21 Savage, of course) and then joining up with a legacy rock band — in this case Red Hot Chili Peppers — for a mildly compelling run through “Dark Necessities.” (Why “Dark Necessities,” a now-three-year-old RHCP single whose existence you’ve probably already forgotten about? Fair question.)
17. Shawn Mendes & Miley Cyrus, “In My Blood”
Considering how many award shows Mendes had already trotted “In My Blood” out at in the past year, it was refreshing to see him giving it a different sound this time out — starting solo at the piano, then being joined on stage by Miley Cyrus once it was time for the full band to kick in. Still not the most resounding performance or natural duet vocal, though: “Lost in Japan” (or Cyrus’ “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”) would’ve been much more fun choices for the collab.
16. Chloe X Halle, “Where Is the Love?”
A fine tribute to the late great Donnie Hathaway from best new artist nominees Chloe X Halle, but the duo’s strong rendering of Hathaway’s signature duet with Roberta Flack was sadly undone by a bizarre arrangement, giving the song a booming, almost dubstep feel that was entirely inappropriate for the delicate soul classic. Good vocal showcase, but no reason it shouldn’t have been a better performance.
15. Jennifer Lopez & Co., Motown Medley
J-Lo + Motown: uh, sure? She wouldn’t have been anyone’s first choice of performer to lead a tribute to the legendary pop and soul label, but no one could ever question either Lopez’s passion for popular music or her irrepressible vibrancy as a live performer. Better showcased via her Video Vanguard performance at last year’s VMAs, but this one still had some fun surprises, like Lopez dipping into Teena Marie’s ’80s Motown hit “Square Biz” or Ne-Yo showing up for a quick detour into Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life classic “Another Star.”
14. Diana Ross, “The Best Years of My Life” / “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”
Never a bad time to celebrate the great Diana Ross, and it’s understandable if the Grammys saw the ceremonies near enough to her 75th birthday as an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. But while Ross’ performance was strong, it didn’t feel like it really captured her greatness or introduced any new side of it, and her lifetime achievement medley at the 2017 American Music Awards — a short 15 months ago — towers over this two-song medley a little.
13. Dan + Shay, “Tequila”
Dan Smyers + Shay Mooney played it smart for their performance of Grammy-winning country smash “Tequila,” stripping it down to mostly just the two of them splitting vocal duties and providing their own guitar and piano accompaniment, respectively. The arrangement highlighted the strength of the core song, and made it all the more memorable when Shay stepped out from behind the ivories to belt out the song’s closing power notes.
12. Alicia Keys, Medley
Straddling two pianos, host Alicia Keys showed some of the talents that originally brought her 15 Grammys, performing a variety of mini-covers from the past (Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”) right up to modern day (Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” and Drake’s “In My Feelings”). It felt a little scattershot and rambilng at times, but that was part of its charm, and the through lines Keys found through pop history — hitting on both Juice WRLD and Kings of Leon — were highly enjoyable.
11. Lady Gaga, “Shallow”
We’re far from the Ally days now, with Lady Gaga displaying no interest in replicating her overwhelmed pop proxy from A Star Is Born on the Grammys stage, and instead performing that movie’s signature power ballad very much as Lady Gaga. Wearing a silver bodysuit, Gaga spent the entire performance — which included her performing both her and Bradley Cooper’s parts — gesticulating and thrashing and vamping with the mic stand like she’d just watched Bohemian Rhapsody again backstage before performing. Didn’t quite fit, but “Shallow” is still “Shallow.”
10. St. Vincent & Dua Lipa, “Masseduction” / “One Kiss”
Though many of the Grammys performances on Sunday night succeeded by scaling back, it was slightly disappointing to see St. Vincent’s slithering title track to her industrial pop masterpiece Masseduction stripped down to a solo ballad, though the song’s unmistakable grit still shone through. Things got more awkward from there, though, with Dua Lipa’s emergence giving way to a bizarre “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” interlude, and a “One Kiss” duet that feigned chemistry between the two performers and attempted to shoehorn Annie Clark’s riffing into a throwback dance jam that really had no room for it. Good songs, though.
9. Travis Scott, James Blake and Earth, Wind & Fire, “Stop Trying to Be God”
Beginning with James Blake and Verdine White earnestly crooning the Astroworld track “Stop Trying to Be God” was sort of a strange choice for a performer as electric as Travis Scott. Luckily, that was followed with dozens of bodies rushing the steel cage in which Scott was suddenly performing for a riotous run through “No Bystanders,” which actually did a fairly impressive job of translating the unique mania of the rapper’s live show to music’s biggest stage.
8. Yolanda Adams, Fantasia & Andra Day, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
Three powerhouse singers taking on one of the signature numbers from the powerhouse singer to end them all, and acquitting themselves admirably. Nothing majorly revelatory, but nothing less than what you’d expect or hope for.
7. Camila Cabello, Arturo Sandoval, Young Thug, Ricky Martin & J Balvin, “Havana”/”Mi Gente”
Camila Cabello started the show with a typically lively, elaborately staged and color-coded rendition of her Hot 100-topping smash “Havana.” But it’d be hard for Camila alone get the appropriate excitement for a Grammys-opening performance with a song so old they had to find a live version just for it to be eligible for nomination this year. Good thing she brought along an all-star supporting cast, including a white-suited and fleet-footed Ricky Martin, and a permachill J Balvin, who combined to make the performance one of the biggest parties of the evening.
6. Cardi B, “Money”
Only Cardi could make a proclamation like “Welcome to the Grammys!” nearly 90 minutes into the telecast and have it not sound ridiculous. Even on an evening of impressive performers from ascendant pop stars, her energy remains singular, writhing and kicking on top of a grand piano while spitting about morning sex and getting checks. As legitimate and mainstream as her stardom gets, Cardi B still never feels like anything but Cardi B.
5. Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow”
Just a microphone, a piano and some ROYGBIV lighting was all Kacey Musgraves needed for one of the evening’s more affecting performances, a lovely rendition of the Golden Hour ballad highlighted by an impressively pristine Musgraves vocal. “That was gorgeous!” remarked Alicia Keys afterwards, and that’s really that needs be said.
4. H.E.R., “Hard Place”
H.E.R. might’ve been nominated in the R&B categories for this year’s Grammys, but her performance showed her to be one of the evening’s biggest rock stars as well. Armed with her signature sunglasses and a translucent six-string, the singer-songwriter exuded natural cool and charisma for a performance of her anthemic “Hard Place,” even before she stepped out in her silver onepiece suit to do some casual shredding and lead the audience in a call-and-response. Her dramatic pause before the song’s closing lyric was undoubtedly well-earned.
3. Brandi Carlile, “The Joke”
If anyone was unfamiliar with Brandi Carlile’s not-quite-yet-household name before the Grammys and wondering why it was all over the ceremonies this year, they’ll remember it after her fiery performance of song and record of the year nominee “The Joke.” Her performance was both masterful and casual, exciting both in every verse lyric she spit out like an observation she was making for the first time, and in every soaring note she held twice as long and strong as you expected her to be able to. In the audience, even Post Malone was enthralled.
2. Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”
Center stage in a plastic outfit with a guitar draped around her neck, it’s fair to wonder why Janelle Monae wasn’t tabbed for the evening’s St. Vincent collaboration, rather than Dua Lipa. Not like Janelle needed an assist from anyone, though: Her “Make Me Feel” was perhaps the evening’s most explosive performance, a ripping rendition in which Monae was flanked by dozens of fellow dirty computers. She rolled on the floor, she toggled between gender pronouns, she even briefly mimed masturbation — but it never felt more like shock value than self-expression. As always, Prince would’ve been proud.
1. Kacey Musgraves, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Maren Morris, Little Big Town & Dolly Parton, “Here You Come Again” / “Jolene” / “After the Gold Rush” / “Red Shoes” / “9 to 5”
A worthy tribute to the Queen of Country, from Kacey Musgraves’ line-perfect rendition of the opening verse to “Here You Come Again” to Miley, Maren and Dolly playing Trio for a gorgeous run through Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” to Dolly herself proving her new Dumplin’ track “Red Shoes” to be a deserving entry in her personal canon. The only flaw was Katy Perry doing entirely too much as Kacey’s duet partner on “Here You Come Again,” but everyone was having so much fun it’s hard to really blame her for getting a little over-excited.