Frankly, I wish I didn’t have to care about the Grammys. It’s an archaic institution run by powerful, mostly white men who allegedly are doing everything they can to keep it that way. But performances still make us feel something—even if they’re presented by an organization that recently-ousted CEO Deborah Dugan called “corrupt” and an “old boys club.” In short, we can hate the Recording Academy and what it represents while still getting chills from Lizzo’s jaw-dropping performance that opened this year’s ceremony. Whether you skipped out on this year’s gathering (lucky you!) or sat there for three-and-a-half hours of largely mediocre or predictable moments, we wanted to recap the performances that actually made us feel something—whether it was disgust or complete wonder and awe.
WORST: Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani
Can someone explain this couple to me? Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani both served as judges on The Voice together, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea of a mainstream country singer and zany ska-punk-turned-pop-star falling in love. Call me unromantic or easily prone to cringing, but these two holding hands and staring into each others’ eyes while performing a cheesy country tune makes me want to dissolve.
WORST: Aerosmith and Run DMC
I don’t have a problem with Aerosmith and Run DMC performing at the Grammys…if it’s the ’70s or ’80s. But throwing these two on stage together in 2020 when Album of the Year nominees like Lana Del Rey, Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver or Best New Artist nominees like Yola, Black Pumas and Maggie Rogers didn’t get a chance to perform was straight-up disrespectful. Plus, Steven Tyler’s high notes were so painful that we would’ve preferred he spent the night in a scarf-shaped spaceship instead.
“This one’s for Kobe,” Lizzo proclaimed before diving into the title track from her Album of the Year-nominated Cuz I Love You followed by her 2017 single “Truth Hurts.” Perched on a mountain-like set and donned in a black sparkling gown, Lizzo tore into the powerful title track while surrounded by horns and strings. Then came light-up ballerinas, a troupe of dancers of all sizes, a flute solo and a scream of “Welcome to the Grammys, bitch!” Yes, just yes. More of this.
Watch the full performance here
BEST: Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile
We were fully on board with Brandi Carlile’s performance at last year’s ceremony. Paste named her performance of “The Joke” from her 2017 album of the same name as that ceremony’s best moment and called it “simply unforgettable.” So when Carlile joined country legend Tanya Tucker for their Song of The Year-nominated “Bring My Flowers Now,” we were pretty certain it was going to be special. It turned out to be one of the few moments that felt like the warm hug we needed.
Watch the full performance here
BEST: Lil Nas X
The chart-topping, record-smashing Lil Nas X hit “Old Town Road” got the mini Super Bowl halftime treatment that it deserved. With a rotating set of rooms filled with collaborators and friends BTS, Diplo, Billy Ray Cyrus, Mason Ramsey, Young Thug, and the original Nas, there wasn’t a single 10-second period when something batshit crazy wasn’t happening. Regardless of my mixed feelings on the song, I was thoroughly entertained.
While some artists opted for literal fireworks and over-the-top theatrics, Spanish singer Rosalía needed nothing more than some flamenco guitarists and dancers to elevate her luscious flamenco-pop. The aesthetics were simple and graceful, and her bridging of traditional and modern music elements is wildly interesting. Her performance of “Juro Que” and “MALAMENTE (Cap.1: Augurio)” exuded plentiful talent.
BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT: Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR was one of our favorite albums of 2019, and his accompanying arena tour show was minimal, masterful and groundbreaking. We would’ve expected brilliance from his Grammys performance, but we didn’t expect this level of energy and pure excellence. His blond wig and head-turning suit was a strong look, but when multiplied by two or three dozen crazed lookalikes, it was the best kind of chaos. Add shaking cameras, vigorously delivered lyrics, a flaming city and unhinged dance moves you likely won’t ever see on TV again, and you have an all-time great Grammy performance.