Before this year’s Grammys, news broke that Lorde would not be performing at the ceremony, since the producers wouldn’t let her sing one of her own songs — an invitation extended to all four other Album Of The Year nominees, all of whom were men. So in looking at this year’s performances, of which there were many, a question naturally arose: Is the show any better with this performance instead of Lorde? And in virtually every case, the answer was: No. Fuck no. Are you kidding me? No. Jesus. No.
So with that in mind, like we always do at this time, let’s look back at every single one of this year’s Grammys performances, from the patience-testing dregs to the few brief, fleeting moments where this show justified its continued existence.
20. Sting & Shaggy
Me: “This is Sting and Shaggy’s song together. I wrote about it a couple of days ago.” My wife: “And they say social work’s depressing.” (She’s a social worker. You probably already figured that out.).
19. Sam Smith
Did this guy invent mumble-soul last night, or did he forget a bunch of the words to his deeply forgettable song? Does he even remember giving this performance this morning? I liked his white lab coat deal, anyway.
Do you think anyone has told Bono that he shouldn’t do the black power fist?
17. Eric Church, Maren Morris, & The Brothers Osborne
To honor the people massacred at the festival in Las Vegas last year, the Grammys got three of the most interesting country artists out there, all of whom performed that weekend. Good idea! And then they got them all to sing Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven,” a shitty fucking song that isn’t even country. Bad idea! There are so many country songs about being sad that people died! It’s practically a country music subgenre! Let them sing one of those!
16. Elton John & Miley Cyrus
If “Tiny Dancer” isn’t bringing a busload of bickering, road-weary ’70s rockers together for a few blissful moments of camaraderie, then what is it even doing?
15. Ben Platt
Grammys! You’re not allowed to turn into the Tonys in hour three! Nobody needs that! This performance was fine, but I resent its existence.
14. Patti LuPone
This performance represents the deading of a long-simmering beef between LuPone and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I could not possibly care less about that, but “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” is kind of a banger. If you have to shoehorn some Broadway bullshit into a too-long show, this is some pretty OK bullshit.
13. Little Big Town
Taylor Swift’s long shadow: She can affect a show like this without being in the room. “Better Man,” the song she wrote for Little Big Town, sounds like old-school Taylor, which is to say that it’s a very good example of emo pop-country. Little Big Town’s performance was perfectly fine, and their fake-rooftop set was cool, but they didn’t exactly pull out the stops to make this one visually interesting.
12. Jon Batiste & Gary Clark Jr.
The obligatory salute to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry felt a bit like homework, but these two were the right ones to be doing this. In Batiste, CBS already, conveniently enough, had a New Orleans jazz-piano prodigy on the payroll, so he got to play dizzy runs all over “Ain’t That A Shame.” Meanwhile, Clark’s revved-up blooz-guitar thing probably works best in a tribute-to-fallen-greats context.
11. Logic, Alessia Cara, & Khalid
“1-800-273-8255″ is a critic-proof song. There is empirical evidence to suggest that it has helped people who need help. These three artists performed it with conviction, and Logic ended it with a pointed pro-immigrant message. I just didn’t have a lot of fun watching it, is all.
10. Lady Gaga
Playing on an angel-winged piano while Mark Ronson played acoustic-guitar accessory was a much more comfortable role for Gaga than attempting to front Metallica, which she did last year, or attempting to pay tribute to David Bowie, which she did two years ago. And she got a chance to uncork the full smoky marvel of her voice. Still, “A Million Reasons” wasn’t a great song a year and a half ago, and it’s sure as hell not a great song now.
Pink’s voice is legit spectacular, the sort of thing that we persistently underrate. But when you’re famous for twirling around on flying trapezes while singing, it’s a little underwhelming to just stand there and sing while some lady does sign language. It’s not fair, but when you inflate expectations, it’s your own fault. As Pink wrapped up, the camera caught Lorde glaring at the stage, like, “I can’t perform, but she gets to do that?” I like to imagine that she did that at almost every one of last night’s performances.
8. Chris Stapleton & Emmylou Harris
These two can sing! And Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” is a great song. But the whole “here’s a song to introduce the death montage” thing is a strange and morbid annual tradition. Just play the death montage next time. We get it. It’s sad.
SZA is a great, pointed, personal songwriter. So the Grammys got her to dress up like an anime cheerleader and perform inside the Matrix. Of course.
6. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee
This was a tight, intricately choreographed performance of a song that nobody really ever needs to hear again. (Great song, though.) They didn’t really need all those dancers out there, but that’s what televised musical performances are for, I guess. Fonsi’s immobile plasticine pompadour was impeccable. And even in the context of something that planned-out, I still got the sense that Fonsi and Yankee never really expected to get a chance to perform on a Grammy telecast, that they were relishing their moment. That’s worth something. Also props to whoever didn’t invite Justin Bieber to sing his part from the remix, especially since he presumably couldn’t have fumbled his way through it live anyway.
5. DJ Khaled, Rihanna, & Bryson Tiller
Rihanna projected star quality all over the place, and the styling and choreography, two things that are usually shitty and tacky at big awards shows like this, were gorgeous. Just imagine how good it might’ve been without Khaled bellowing all over it.
4. Childish Gambino
I haven’t made a lot of time in my life for Gambino’s Funkadelic-karaoke album. But it definitely has a vibe, and his slow, confident, sensual performance did a lovely job of communicating that vibe. The whole goatee/white suit/finger-snaps situation just worked, and the little kid who came out to sing the big notes left an impression.
3. Bruno Mars & Cardi B
Look, it’s not Bruno Mars’ fault that the Grammys saw fit to drop forklift pallets of statues at his feet. Mars is a perfectly gifted pastiche artist. He knows what he’s doing. Speaking as someone who was 11 in 1990, the simultaneous revivals of new jack swing, Cross Colors, and the running man are enough to make me giddily, euphorically happy. Bruno Mars is too talented at non-dancing things to be that good at dancing, and yet.
The Grammys have a problem with rewarding women, something made all the clearer this morning, after we learned that Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said the dumb shit that he said. In a lot of ways, then, it feels like the Grammys got Kesha on that stage to serve as a Band-Aid on a festering wound, giving the impression that the show cares about sexual abuse without putting in any real effort to change its own culture. Still, what a performance! Most of the time, it feels like the Grammys’ whole purpose is to tamp down the sort of raw, messy passion that Kesha showed last night, so it mattered that she got to get up there, surrounded by stars, and let that motherfucker rip. If you watch her face, you might feel some things.
1. Kendrick Lamar
Everything about Kendrick Lamar’s moment right now is miraculous and life-affirming. Consider: This guy was able to kick off the Grammys and command U2 and Dave Chappelle cameos, while doing cerebral art-rap and a guest verse from a damn Jay Rock song. And he was able to do it while surrounded with krumping ninja S1Ws, red-clad murder mannequins, and the world’s most expressive taiko drummer. Kendrick’s calm in the midst of all that chaos — not to mention the chops to do raps like that as explosions burst around him — was just stunning. That man shot his shot. The show didn’t deserve him.