Some of us dared to dream that maybe the Grammys would have a good year this year. They’d nominated a diverse and often worthy group of records, and they’d announced a strange and fascinating roster of performers. But the Grammys will be the Grammys, and the show will always find some way to slowly drag the life out of you. Our own Chris DeVille was entirely right: The Grammys, once again, sucked. And when the show finally awarded Album Of The Year to Adele over Beyoncé, giving the English singer a clean sweep of the major categories, it was only the latest and greatest indignity in a long, long series of them.
But as ever, the Grammys hosted a few great performances, including one or two that might’ve even justified the continued existence of our most tangled and confused awards show. Below, as we did last year, we have ranked this year’s many Grammy performances, from the irredeemably shitty to the genuinely great.
22. Rapping James Corden
Get the fuck out of here with that shit immediately.
21. The Carpool Karaoke “Sweet Caroline” Thing
This doesn’t count as a performance, right? It can’t, can it?
There will never, for the rest of our lives, be a music awards show without a Pentatonix performance. This is the world we live in now. We did this.
19. Kelsea Ballerini & Lukas Graham
Kelsea Ballerini is a gifted country singer who should be allowed to sing some fucking country music. I honestly do not understand the Grammys’ unending drive to turn country into sleepy crossover slop, and forcing Ballerini to share the stage with these chirping Danish goons and mash her song up with theirs is some deep, feverish injustice.
18. Keith Urban & Carrie Underwood
These two had a crazy headfuck CGI background that honestly would’ve been more appropriate for Daft Punk, who were onstage immediately before them. Too bad the Grammys people used it for the sort of bland and anonymous ‘80s adult-contempo synth-rock that gets people pissed off at Nashville these days. Speaking as someone who likes cheesed-out Nashville country, I really do not need Carrie Underwood, a legitimately awesome singer, to be out here sounding like the last Coldplay album.
17. John Legend & Cynthia Erivo
Legend singing solo-piano “God Only Knows” just before the death montage — at 11:30, when every sane person watching this show is fighting for consciousness — is about the Grammiest Grammy shit I ever heard of.
16. William Bell & Gary Clark Jr.
Look at the Grammys, just throwing blues out there to die, year after year.
15. Katy Perry
The moment where it turned out that the big, fake house Katy Perry had been walking through turned out to be a whole bunch of dancers? That was a fun reveal. Also, I like Katy Perry’s blonde hair. But this song is bullshit, and this performance was doing altogether too much.
She can sing. We knew this. “Hello” is a very effective song. We also knew this. But what’s the value in having Adele start off the show with a song that’s a year and a half old, one that everyone on this planet has heard a million times? She hammered almost every big note home, but the best moment of Adele’s performance was when the camera was pulling away, when she did the universal “phew” gesture. Adele is a powerhouse who is also a human; that’s her charm. This performance was too much powerhouse and too little human. Adele’s George Michael tribute, from later in the show, corrected that balance.
13. The Weeknd & Daft Punk
The moment where Daft Punk walked out, Darth Vader robes billowing, into what looked like the Rebel Alliance’s Hoth battle station, was easily the best and most evocative moment of this performance. Abel Tesfaye continues to strive for larger-than-life status, and that’s just not something you can do when those robots are standing next to you. The new synth-squiggles on “I Feel It Coming” were cool, but my experience at the Alive Tour in 2008 has conditioned me to expect a head-exploding spectacle every time Daft Punk walk onstage, and this was not a head-exploding spectacle.
12. Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly, Little Big Town, & Andra Day
If you’re going to do a really, really long Bee Gees tribute and shoehorn a shit-ton of B-listers into it, you might as well make it a cheesed-out Broadway revue. Day sold the living shit out of “Night Fever,” but I do not understand why Lovato sang “Stayin’ Alive” three different times. We all know what “Stayin’ Alive” is. Once is fine.
11. Ed Sheeran
“Shape Of You” is a perfectly silly piece of fake-Rihanna club-pop, a transparent sellout move, and I sort of like it for that. The Grammys should’ve put Sheeran out there to do his one-man band looping-pedals act years ago; it’s an impressive parlor trick to witness. And it’s somehow even more impressive that he managed to make himself sound overproduced all by himself, in real time. Also, memorably bad lyrics are better than anonymously bad lyrics, and “I’m in love with your body” is a memorably bad lyric.
10. Maren Morris & Alicia Keys
It has to be tough being an anointed country-music savior when Alicia Keys sings you right the fuck off the stage the instant she shows up. That aside, I liked this. Everyone wore sparkly clothes, and they sang in a fake mansion for some reason. Absurd and needless theatrical touches like that are exactly what a show like this needs.
9. Adele (George Michael Tribute)
She’s not the most surprising artist in the world, but Adele cussing and forcing her massive fucking orchestra to restart their dirged-out version of George Michael’s “Fast Love” was the realest shit. The performance itself was a mess, for reasons that weren’t Adele’s fault, and the world probably didn’t need a straight-up disco song transformed into moody-trailer-soundtrack music. (Hans Zimmer did the arrangement, so there’s your problem right there.) I would’ve rather heard Adele sing “Praying For Time” or even “Careless Whisper.” But it got intense, and it should get intense. I’ll take it.
8. Metallica & Lady Gaga
Look, this wasn’t a good performance by any stretch. It was a bad performance. But it was bad in entertaining ways, ways that I will remember. Like: This whole rebellious-statement thing was so stage-managed, with its fake onstage moshers and its planned-in-advance stage dive and Gaga’s ripped-up Metallica shirt, but someone still forgot to turn on James Hetfield’s mic. Also, the only way Gaga could think to present “metal star” to the world was by doing frantic redneck-strip-club metal-grinding while howling about destruction going viral.
7. Bruno Mars (Prince Tribute)
This was pure karaoke, but it was fun karaoke, deftly executed. It’s not like they were going to find anyone to get up there and conjure Prince’s spirit (though Sampha, in the phone commercial that aired immediately afterward, came close), and I’d rather have a crack impersonator than the equivalent of whatever Lady Gaga did for David Bowie last year.
6. Sturgill Simpson
For this of us who consider Simpson to be a cold motherfucker, there was enormous satisfaction in watching him get to take over the Grammy stage without goofy attention-grabbing stage gimmicks but with a massive orchestra behind him. Somehow, an apostate country outsider gave the most convincingly country performance of the entire night, while every other country star onstage last night had to sing some ‘80s cheese or duet with a maybe-more-palatable-to-somebody pop star.
5. The Time
Morris Day and Jerome doing the same synchronized dances that they were doing in Purple Rain, with Day primping in a gigantic mirror onstage, will never not be magic.
— Etchant Man (@Shecky14) February 13, 2017
4. Bruno Mars
This beautifully cheesy old-school entertainment machine is the only person who could’ve possibly followed Beyoncé, so it’s good that he did. He seems to actively enjoy his own choreography, which goes a really long way. The level of professionalism and self-confidence it must take to flex like that right after what Beyonce did is honestly pretty amazing.
3. Chance The Rapper
Chance attempting to hold in tears while rapping will always be amazing television. Chance attempting to hold in tears while rapping and also going full gospel is something even more powerful. The moment the beat kicked in and Chance and gospel king Kirk Franklin went careening across the stage together, Franklin acting like God’s own Flavor Flav, was one I will not soon forget.
— Wolé II (@Kingwole) February 13, 2017
2. A Tribe Called Quest, Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes, & Consequence
What a glorious mess: Q-Tip burning through a few seconds of classics, Anderson .Paak drumming and rapping at the same damn time, Busta huffing and puffing about “President Agent Orange,” everyone bursting through an onstage wall and then striking rap poses. The sound was atrocious, of course, but can you imagine the Grammys knowing how to mic all this? And I can’t decide which was the more moving gesture: the empty mic stand sitting there for Phife Dawg, like the table setting being left for a dead family member at Thanksgiving dinner, or the parade of people suddenly facing deportation storming the stage.
— Wolé II (@Kingwole) February 13, 2017
I mean. Honestly. Come on. The billowing silks? The hologram Blue Ivys? The Young Pope-worthy golden headdress? The incredible faith that she must’ve put into that hydraulic tilting-back chair? The incredible, unreal beauty of the staging? The ability to take the two most boring songs from Lemonade, with bonus spoken-word excursions, and make them the basis for something absolutely astonishing? The Grammys are a shitshow every year, but this year at least served as a delivery system for this performance.
— Wolé II (@Kingwole) February 13, 2017