2019 might be some kind of cosmic turning point in the history of the Grammys: The first show where the conversation was more about who didn’t perform than who did. Ariana Grande’s fuck-this-shit refusal to play ball with the notorious Grammy-production dumbfucks revealed just how completely this was a show in crisis. And she wasn’t the only one conspicuous in her absence. Childish Gambino didn’t perform, and he also didn’t bother to pick up his big awards. Kendrick Lamar, the Grammys’ one dependable home run, skipped this year despite being up for every major award. Bradley Cooper, who built an entire A Star Is Born setpiece around the Grammys, went to a second-string movie awards show instead. It was a legitimate surprise when Drake even just deigned to accept an award on-air — and, of course, the show cut him off mid-sentence.
The few high-wattage stars on this year’s show made questionable decisions: Lady Gaga attempting Freddie Mercury moves on “Shallow,” Katy Perry oversinging the living hell out of her few seconds of Dolly Parton tribute, Jennifer Lopez popping it to “ABC.” And so we were in a weird position where the critical faves were left to save the show. A few of them, ahem, stepped up.
And speaking of that: As the blindingly tone-deaf late-in-show tribute video reminded us, this was the last year where the Grammys will give Recording Academy head-goblin Neil Portnow time to indulgently prattle on, even as they cut all the winners’ speeches short. He will not be missed. Hopefully, he will drag longtime Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich into oblivion with him. These fuckers are to blame for dragging a fundamentally silly awards show into the soul-sucking boredom-vortex for the past few decades. (Ehrlich has been producing this show since 1980! 39 years of this!) Maybe next year, the show can get some new people and become something else. Because this? This can’t go on. Here are this year’s Grammy performances, from joy-annihilating worst to mildly diverting best.
18. Post Malone & Red Hot Chili Peppers
The performance that gave me a brief existential crisis. As in: Oh no, I have devoted a whole career to writing about music, and music fucking sucks. We didn’t even get the tiny catharsis of a “free 21 Savage” during “Rockstar,” and 21 Savage was on that song.
17. Dan & Shay
An extremely boring three minutes that I spent thinking about beard grooming and wondering what it must be like to go through public life known only as “Dan” or “Shay.”
16. Alicia Keys
This was really just Keys’ whole “music, wow, man” hosting routine, but with props. She definitely only accepted the hosting job so she’d get a chance to do this. I actively resent having “Use Somebody” dropped on me without warning in 2019.
15. Shawn Mendes & Miley Cyrus
I liked the sparks falling from the ceiling. I liked the smoke machine inside the piano. I liked both of them doing the black-vest/no-shirt thing, like Stone Cold Steve Austin. But we have seen enough Grammy piano-ballads to last all of our entire combined lifetimes.
14. Jennifer Lopez, Smokey Robinson, Alicia Keys, & Ne-Yo
I had fun watching this travesty, this thing that should not exist. Someone had the idea to get Jennifer Lopez to do a Vegas-style Motown-tribute revue, and not one single person stepped in to stop it from happening. Miracles exist.
13. Chloe X Halle
This seemed fine, I guess? But you can’t put the reverent covers of old soul songs on after 11PM. We, the audience, will zone the fuck out.
12. Yolanda Adams, Fantasia, & Andra Day
Again, this was nice, but it was 11:30, and I wanted to go to bed.
11. Camila Cabello, Young Thug, Ricky Martin, Arturo Sandoval, & J Balvin
“Havana” is a fun and frisky pop song, and it does not deserve to be transformed into a Broadway jukebox musical about Latin pop. The best thing was Young Thug’s entrance, with the close-up on the sparkly cowboy boots. The second-best thing was Young Thug’s palpable and obvious disinterest in everything happening around him. The third-best thing was Ricky Martin’s mustache.
10. Lady Gaga
A depressing reminder that Lady Gaga is not actually Ally Maine in real life, and also a depressing reminder that you should never, ever try to sing both parts of a duet by yourself. That one note still goes hard.
9. Diana Ross
Diana Ross has an extremely good bask-in-adoration face. She thanked all of us for celebrating her birthday with her, and her birthday is a month and a half away. That rules.
8. Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Maren Morris, & Little Big Town
The 73-year-old honoree is not supposed to sing better than all the younger stars honoring her. And yet.
7. Kacey Musgraves
Look: Nobody needs another voice-and-piano ballad. But Kacey Musgraves isn’t a generic power-singer. The conversational quality in her voice, and the slight holy-shit-it’s-the-Grammys quaver, elevated something that would’ve been overwhelmingly boring from almost anyone else.
Gabi Wilson was born in 1997, and yet she gave us what might’ve been the most ‘90s performance of the entire night. Which is to say: She managed to be Lenny Kravitz and Paula Cole at the same time. Can’t be easy!
5. Travis Scott, James Blake, & Earth, Wind & Fire
There are few things in this world more contrived than a moshpit onstage at the Grammys. And yet it still made for a cool visual: Travis Scott restaging Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish” video, then falling off the cage like Mankind, all set to a Three 6 Mafia sample. And this was after a couple of minutes of pure falsetto loveliness that had absolutely nothing to do with the bedlam that followed.
4. Cardi B
Cardi yelling, “Welcome to the Grammys!” 90 minutes into the show seems like an acknowledgement that her blatantly lip-synced burlesque routine really should’ve opened the show. That piano player should already be famous.
3. St. Vincent & Dua Lipa
You have to feel bad for St. Vincent, doing “robot guitar hero in bathing suit” three hours after Janelle Monáe did the same thing. But this was a slick combination of two very different songs from two very similar-looking women, and the moment where Dua Lipa and Annie Clark looked into each other’s eyes was a rare Grammy-night reminder of the fact that sometimes people have sex.
2. Janelle Monáe
I didn’t even know Monáe played guitar, and I definitely didn’t know she played guitar while executing futuristic robotic choreography and pulling off James Brown glide-steps and projecting world-swallowing charisma through the TV set. Monáe’s still not a huge star, but she carries herself like one, and that made her arguably the biggest star of the night. She went hard.
MISS JANELLE MONAE SNAPPED pic.twitter.com/oxvIszlCGC
— ً (@bettybrants) February 11, 2019
1. Brandi Carlile
All these pop stars show up at the Grammys, trying to come off like acoustic singer-songwriters, and then a real-deal acoustic singer-songwriter stomps through and wrecks everybody’s shit. That’s the real joke.
— Marie Gendron (@mariegendron) February 11, 2019