2021 Grammys: The 10 Best Performances

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2021 Grammys: The 10 Best Performances

The 63rd Grammys were held Sunday night in Los Angeles, and as you’ve likely heard by now, Music’s Biggest Night came nearer than ever to living up to that title, with a surprisingly entertaining and fluff-free celebration of 2020 sounds. In past years, we’ve rounded up both the best and worst moments of the Grammys, including everything from ill-advised live collaborations to head-scratching snubs alongside the good stuff. But considering how fraught the past year has been, and how improved a viewing experience the pandemic-adapted Grammys were, we figured it was best to stay positive this time, sharing our 10 favorite performances from last night’s show. Unfortunately, The Recording Academy has only made quick clips from most sets available on YouTube—both BTS’ showstopping performance and the In Memoriam segment were omitted, meaning we can’t laud the Korean boy-band sensation, nor Brandi Carlile’s particularly excellent tribute to the late John Prine—but you’ll find the clips they did make available embedded below, with links out to the Academy’s website so you can catch the full performances if you’re so inclined. You can see the list of all the night’s big winners right here.


Bad Bunny ft. Jhay Cortez: “Dákiti”

Bad Bunny had a Grammys night worth of his international mega-star status, including his first non-Latin Grammy win (Best Latin Pop or Urban Album for YHLQMDLG), and a standout performance of “Dákiti,” the lead single from his YHLQMDLG follow-up El Último Tour Del Mundo, alongside Jhay Cortez. The duo performed the pulsing electro-pop track amid one of the night’s most eye-catching stage designs, roving through rows of futuristic neon lights, only to finally step up onto its center platform as the camera zoomed out to reveal the set’s true shape.

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Billie Eilish: “Everything I Wanted”

After dominating last year’s Grammys, Billie Eilish ended up among 2021’s biggest winners, as well, reluctantly accepting the Record of the Year award for her 2019 one-off “Everything I Wanted.” Her performance of the track alongside her brother and close collaborator FINNEAS was one of the night’s early highlights, with Eilish singing her hit song atop a muscle car set-dressed to appear as if it were sinking into dark waters. It made for a moody and compelling performance unlike anything else we saw last night.

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Black Pumas: “Colors”

Although surprise Record and Album of the Year nominees Black Pumas didn’t end up taking home any of the three awards they were up for, they did deliver one of the best full-band sets of the evening, with frontman Eric Burton’s vocals and Adrian Quesada’s lead guitar work standing out, in particular. Bantering with host Trevor Noah after their performance, Burton revealed he’d been busking on the street just six years earlier—the talent that took him and his band from there to the Grammys stage was plenty apparent.

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DaBaby feat. Roddy Ricch: “Rockstar”

Roddy Ricch’s solo spot, in which he debuted a new song titled “Fearless” and performed his Song of the Year-nominated hit “The Box,” could’ve just as easily ended up on this list somewhere, but we preferred his team-up with DaBaby, in which the duo reimagine 2020’s song of the summer as an operatic epic, complete with backing from vocalist Anthony Hamilton, violinist MAPY and a six-piece choir seemingly dressed as Supreme Court justices. Between DaBaby’s bombastic, mock orchestra-conducting performance and urgent extra verse, Roddy Ricch’s laser-focused tunefulness (his in-ear monitor was clearly bothering him, but he pushed through like a pro), and Hamilton’s rich vocals, a lot of effort went into making one of 2020’s most omnipresent tracks feel new.

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Haim: “The Steps”

The Haim sisters stepped onto the Grammys stage in a big way in 2021, earning their first-ever nomination—for Album of the Year, no less—for their acclaimed Women in Music, Pt. III, and giving their debut performance at the awards show. Playing one of 2020’s most universally beloved tracks in “The Steps,” Danielle, Este and Alana Haim checked all the Haim show boxes: Consummate musicianship, chemistry, confidence, instrument swapping, bass faces—you name it, they brought it. It was a delightful capper on the show’s opening stretch of performances, and a reminder that Haim belonged there in a big way.

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Harry Styles: “Watermelon Sugar”

Former boy-bander Harry Styles made a splash after receiving his first Grammy nomination(s), winning Best Pop Solo Performance for his Fine Line single “Watermelon Sugar.” The boa-clad musician opened last night’s show with the song, contributing a subdued, yet satisfying rendition, complete with some Mick Jagger-esque hip wiggles and a bass solo by Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange). Styles took a comedic jab from Noah for his shirtlessness, but you have to imagine the golden gramophone he collected eased that pain.

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Lil Baby: “The Bigger Picture”

Atlanta rapper Lil Baby’s performance of his Best Rap Song and Performance-nominated track “The Bigger Picture” was perhaps the most elaborate of the night, an extensive remote segment with visuals to match the outspoken urgency of the song’s lyrics. Social justice activist Tamika D. Mallory delivered a passionate call for “justice, equity, policy and everything else that freedom encompasses,” calling on President Joe Biden by name during her mid-track spoken-word segment. Later, a cameo from Killer Mike kicked the performance up another notch, with the Run the Jewels rapper slotting his prophetic “Walking in the Snow” verse into the track before Lil Baby came face to face with riot gear-clad cops in the segment’s climactic scene. Literal fireworks brought the powerhouse performance to a close, putting an exclamation point on a highlight of the night.

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Mickey Guyton: “Black Like Me”

Mickey Guyton made history with her Best Country Solo Performance nod, becoming the first Black female solo artist nominated in a country category, though she would lose the award to Vince Gill’s “When My Amy Prays.” Guyton cut a stunning figure while performing her powerful track, putting on a tough act for Miranda Lambert and Maren Morris (featuring John Mayer, oddly) to follow. Guyton’s rendition of “Black Like Me” was particularly exceptional because of its stripped-down stage design—the singer was backed only by sparse lighting and her band, putting her musicianship squarely in the spotlight.

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Megan Thee Stallion & Cardi B: “Body”/”Savage,” “Up” and “WAP”

We had a feeling “WAP” collaborators Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B were going to put on a performance that would be the talk of last night’s show, and boy, did they. Meg’s opening “Body”/”Savage” medley was glamorous, featuring both twerking and tap-dancing, and though many were bummed Beyoncé didn’t join in, despite being present at the awards (and featured on Meg’s multi-Grammy-winning “Savage” rework), perhaps it was better that this year’s Best New Artist got an extended chance to shine solo. Cardi entered with a visually psychedelic performance of her 2021 hit “Up” before joining Meg under an enormous high heel, then up on a giant bed to perform their scandalous sex jam. There was no topping this one in terms of pure entertainment value.

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Taylor Swift: “cardigan” / “august” / “willow”

Taylor Swift took home Album of the Year for folklore after first performing a medley of its tracks from a set that looked like a cottage-core fever dream. Her solo rendition of Song Of The Year nominee “cardigan” took up the performance’s first half, while the second found her moving from “august” into “willow” alongside Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff. Swift’s performance’s enchanted forest-esque aesthetic wasn’t for everyone, but she and her folklore collaborators more than did justice to these songs from her most acclaimed album yet.

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Scott Russell is Paste’s music editor and he’ll come up with something clever later. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.

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