On Friday, assistant music editor Ellen Johnson wrote about the best Grammy performances of all time, a wide-ranging look at the few times when the Grammys actually got it right, nailing the cultural moment by booking the biggest and most important artist of that year (Kendrick Lamar in 2016 and 2018) or pairing a legendary artist with one in the making (Prince and Beyonce in 2004).
But more often than not, the Grammys find a way to make a mess of everything, whether that’s denying Lorde the stage in 2018 despite being nominated for Album of the Year or allowing Nicki Minaj to do whatever she wanted in 2012. Nothing, however, comes close to the musical clusterfuck of the opening medley of the 2005 broadcast, which saw the awards show attempt to combine as many of its nominees into a single performance, only to essentially ruin all them, one Black Eyed Peas “WOOHOO” at a time.
In honor of the 14th anniversary of that horrendous performance, we’re going to break the entire performance down minute-by minute, second-by-second, to show what happens when the Grammys try their hardest to include every genre at once, only to devolve into a notoriously bad cacophony of noise that stretches for almost 12 full minutes.
It’s February 2005. The Black Eyed Peas have been dominating the Billboard charts for over a year, riding incessant radio play for their Justin Timberlake collaboration, “Where Is the Love?,” and their “Hey Mama” iPod commercial to superstardom. Two of the four members (if you’re arguing for Taboo or apl.de.ap… really?!) of the group became household names, eventually reaching ubiquity for 2005’s “My Humps” en route to a #12 ranking on Billboard’s Artist of the Decade list for best performance on the Billboard 200 albums chart (#7 for singles too).
Say what you will about their inclusion here, but when you reach that level of omnipresence AND you have a song that literally starts with “Leeeeeet’s get it started in heeeeeeeeereeeeee,” you know every music awards show—especially the Grammys—are going to come calling. So of course, the show opens with Fergie over-singing that song’s first line to kick things off.
What follows is a spirited performance of “Let’s Get It Started’s” first verse and chorus, complete with an ever-so-slightly off-key “and the bass keeps running running…” and will.i.am half-screaming his way through his verse, rarely if ever rapping discernable words at points. The band is dressed up in multi-colored vests, ties, untucked shirts, and loose-fitting capris (a cross between suit slacks and baseball pants), which while it might have been par for the course in 2005, it’s laughable now. They do try their hardest to hype up the crowd and the millions watching from their couches across America and it’s honestly not as bad as it could be, as awkward as will.i.am’s “Ladies and gentlemen: Gwen Stefani and Eve” transition truly was.
Performance ranking: #5
Before we get into anything else, let’s all marvel at Eve’s dance moves as Gwen Stefani sings her “nah nah nah nah nah nah” intro (1:20-1:38). SHE CLEARLY DOES NOT WANT TO BE HERE. Barely moving around like a teacher chaperone at a middle school dance, Eve clearly didn’t get the Pirates of the Caribbean theme memo, wearing a normal awards show dress while her counterpart Gwen Stefani rocks a bizarre combination of ’80s Cyndi Lauper and Queen Elizabeth-inspired fashion.
The performance begins with the duo singing and “dancing” in the crow’s nest of a pirate ship that looks as if it could fall apart at any second, its railings shaking with every move. Attached to the ship is a platform where performers would breakdance throughout the song because well, what’s more mid-2000s than a combination of breakdancers and pirates? This predated America’s obsession with vampires by a few years anyways.
Outside of the bizarre set design and the inexplicable pirate theme, there’s nothing really wrong with this performance. It’s classic Grammys—trying desperately hard to make a typical routine much more theatrical than it ever had to be – but Eve kills her verse, and there’s nothing really to complain about from a musical perspective. Not sure why they unfurled a big pirate flag as they shimmied their way from the pirate ship, but the longest performance of the medley doesn’t disappoint.
Performance ranking: #3
With a weird synth and string-filled transition, The Black Eyed Peas return for another verse—when you thought they were done, they come back once again!
This time Taboo takes center stage, eventually pseudo-breakdancing his way to a small stage in the middle of the crowd. But in a blink-and-you-might-miss-it moment (note: I watched this about 10 times before noticing), Taboo at 4:44 attempts to stand up on a armrest of a seat about 15 or so rows from the stage, but can’t seem to get his balance, awkwardly stumbling for a couple seconds before giving up on his mission entirely. If there was ever a heavy-handed metaphor for this performance as a whole, this may be it.
Performance ranking: #6
Going from the frenzied Black Eyed Peas verse into the laid back guitar grooves of Los Lonely Boys’ “Heaven” was always going to be a difficult transition, but despite their best efforts to end on (almost?) the same note, the energy level goes into a free fall within seconds.
Los Lonely Boys, made up of three brothers, do a valiant job in their performance, hitting classic rock poses throughout the guitar solo, but it’s hard not to notice how extremely out of place they are here. While “Heaven” is an under-appreciated one hit wonder of the 2000s, it just doesn’t really work in the grand scheme of this medley—not at all the fault of the band itself. It’s perfectly solid, but the least memorable (mainly due to the lack of peculiar things happening onstage throughout the song).
Performance ranking: #2
They actually nailed the transition! The “lord can you tell me” line into the opening drum beat of “This Love” is actually quite impressive! That being said, any momentum the medley had was somewhat dulled by A Ryan Seacrest Type butting in to announce, “Let’s get some love for Maroon 5!”
The beginning of this part of the set isn’t bad either, though it’s tough to look at Adam Levine’s suit and tie and not think it’s the same thing he wore to his friends’ bar mitzvahs a decade or so prior. Charismatic and sans the cringeworthy tattoos on display at this year’s Super Bowl, Levine controls the stage quite admirably, even if he looked a bit stiff for most of the song. With lots of screams, the crowd seems to be into it, though there’s a good chance that they were paid to do so.
But everything changes at 8:39 when will.i.am literally throws Levine a guitar—and it almost looks like he was caught off guard by the toss. He catches the instrument, but you can definitely see him freeze for a split second while it’s in the air. Will.i.am announces his return by screaming, “LET’S GET IT STARTED” seemingly out of nowhere while Levine solos. The reemergence of will.i.am is stunning—it’s just so unexpected and dissonant. At one point, it looks like he rests his head on Levine’s shoulder before doing a goofy jig to end the song.
Performance ranking: #4
By this point, the audience at the Staples Center is pretty over it—and it’s hard not to blame them. Alex Kapranos & co. do their absolute best, starting their biggest hit midway through and absolutely killing it, despite the band’s overindulgence of guyliner.
Bouncing to the beat with popped collars and new wave haircuts, Franz Ferdinand dance through “Take Me Out,” giving representation to the growing indie rock revival coming from across the pond. While I’m sure they’d look back at their outfits in horror today, they look the best of anyone, doing justice towards their increasingly big fanbase of anglophiles in the US. Bonus points for the Domino logo on the drumkit; this maybe the biggest stage a Domino Records act has ever been on and it’s great to see the label’s logo shown in a very prominent way.
Performance ranking: #1
This might be the most agonizing 53 seconds in music history. Whoever thought it was a good idea to mix ALL OF THE SONGS together was surely fired immediately after the end of this performance.
Under the guise of “Let’s Get It Started” (again), every song performed was represented with Los Lonely Boys, Franz Ferdinand, Gwen Stefani and Eve, Maroon 5 and, of course, The Black Peas all desperately trying to sing their respective hits on top of each other. It works even worse than you ever thought it could, creating a more jarring and strikingly bad noise than we ever thought possible.
Some musicians are fake playing their instruments (the guitarist from Los Lonely Boys tries to hide it, but there’s no way those are the right chords) while others—like the bassist of Franz Ferdinand—are literally laughing in the background (11:05), trying their hardest to keep it together through one of the biggest messes in Grammy history. All the while, a couple Black Eyed Peas are breakdancing.
It all culminates with a few “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeahs” from the end of “Let’s Get It Started,” though it’s pretty notable and hilarious when only Fergie—out of tune, no less—is the only person to sing it at first, a fitting way to end one of the worst performances in recent memory.
All in all, for as terrible as these 11 minutes and 43 seconds are, it’s a pretty good representation of the state of pop music in 2004-2005. There were few mainstream acts that a large subset of the American population could truly get behind, resulting in a bizarre mishmash of genres on top 40 radio where you could hear Justin Timberlake and Green Day back to back. The fact that both Los Lonely Boys and Gwen Stefani shared the stage on February 13, 2005 makes perfect sense—America couldn’t quite figure out exactly what it really liked, so fuck it, why not put them all together?
Performance ranking: #7