Miley's Sparkly Hoedown
The only artist to appear on both the pop and country tribute albums to Elton, Miley Cyrus busted out her rhinestone cowgirl duds for the Grammy Salute. In a sparkling Dolly Parton-esque outfit and high boots, Miley strutted around the stage like a boss while belting "The Bitch Is Back." She emphasized the twang in her voice to bring out the country in the glam rock classic, and a banjo solo midway through helped the honky-tonk take center stage.
Ed Sheeran Gets Cozy
Flanked by stage prop street lamps and sporting his trusty sweater-and-glasses combo, Ed Sheeran took the stage for an acoustic version of "Candle In the Wind." Before singing the Marilyn Monroe-referencing original version, he spoke to Elton's impact on his life, from general to specific: "I grew up with three CDs, and Elton John's Greatest Hits was one of them," he told the crowd (which included Sir EJ). "One day I found myself meeting Elton, and he became a mentor to me." The British troubadour admitted that it's "surreal" being close to one of his idols, but that didn't seem to faze him during his strummy, easy-going and confident cover of the song.
Little Big Town Takes Off
Opening with muffled vocals, as if they were being fed in through an audio feed from outer space, Little Big Town lent their heavenly vocals to the expansive, existential '70s ballad. The arrangement was fantastic, showcasing their seamless blend of harmonies and emphasizing how malleable Elton and Taupin's material can be. After it was over, Elton did the "we're not worthy" bow to them.
How Wonderful Life Is
It almost certainly won't make the broadcast, but there was a sweet moment in between performances. To keep the crowd engaged, the event producers played Elton John classics as the stage was changed for one performed to the next. When they played the original recording of "Your Song" (well before Lady Gaga delivered a stunning version of it), the crowd -- without direction -- sang along to the final verse of the song in unison. It was an impromptu delight, so much that everyone collectively laughed afterward.
Sam Smith's Speaks to Elton As an LGBTQ Icon
Prior to singing "Daniel" on a set done up to look like a park at twilight, Smith explained how important it was for him to grow up with Elton: "As a male singer-songwriter who is gay, you are a shining example." Smith easily hit the falsetto parts on the song (something EJ himself can't quite do these days) and acquitted himself well enough on the lower, soulful parts.
Kesha Dresses the Part
Introduced by Anna Kendrick, Kesha brought depth and grit to her performance of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." She also brought out an outfit to fit the man of the hour, wearing a fluffy feathery dress while sporting Catwoman-esque eye makeup during the tune. Other than Gaga, Kesha was the only performer to do real justice by Elton's inimitable fashion sense during the evening.
When Shawn Met SZA
Demi Lovato and Q-Tip performed the Elton/Kiki De duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" on the Revamp collection, but the pairing for the Grammy Salute was arguably stranger. Guitar-strumming heartthrob Shawn Mendes and alt R&B favorite SZA teamed up for the Hot 100 No. 1 hit, which worked surprisingly well. SZA proved she can go light and frothy when need be, and Mendes even busted out his growly side, demonstrating their versatility and surprising strange magic together.
Miranda Lambert was an unexpected showstopper. Obviously, she's a live dynamo, but she tapped a comparatively obscure John/Taupin song for the evening – and still managed to bring the house down. Tumbleweed Connection was John's foray into country & western mythos in 1970, and although it's one of his strongest start-to-finish LPs, it's hardly one of his most popular. So the choice to sing "My Father's Gun" was a risky one, but Lambert made the tale of Southern revenge her own, fully inhabiting the narrator, drawing the notes out like a pro and giving the song an emotional heft that exceeded nearly anything else that night.
Chris Martin Gets Quippy
One thing about a live concert that's being pre-taped for a later date means if the artist screws up, they can start again – and again, if need be. Playing his gorgeous, jazzy, Chet Baker-styled take on "We All Fall In Love Sometimes," Martin made use of that option a few times. "I fucked that up, can I start again?" he asked after missing his first vocal entry point. "I can't even play our songs, let alone Elton's" he said with a laugh. After another false start, he quipped, "If this was American Idol, I'd be long gone." When he finally did get it though, it was well worth the wait.
Maren's Mona Lisa Feast
The Killers sang "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" on Revamp and Maren Morris on Restoration, and the latter had the honor at Grammy Salute. Seated at a table set up with a massive feast (and no Mona Lisa smile in sight), the rising Nashville star kept country out of her interpretation for the most part, demonstrating her affinity for Southern soul and ability to execute deep vocal runs on the lovely tune.