It's hard to remember a time when music award shows were more about the nominees than the performers. Over the years, so many ceremonies have popped up — with an increasing number of performances to keep viewers engaged over an hours-long telecast — that memories of winners and losers easily fade, leaving only recollections of who owned stage on the night in question. Do you remember Kendrick Lamar winning best male hip-hop artist at the 2015 BET Awards? Doubtful, but you probably haven't forgotten him bellowing "Alright" from the top of a cop car while the stage seemingly exploded beneath him. Can you name the video of the year winner at last year's MTV Video Music Awards? Probably not — Beyonce's blockbuster Lemonade medley performance clearly won the night. (For the record, she won that VMA, too.)
Performances have become increasingly crucial at the Grammys, one of the few shows where the awards themselves still do inspire water-cooler debates. Not every year will have a shocking album of the year winner and/or a Kanye rant to carry the next morning's headlines, so the ceremony especially needs built-in, dazzling moments like Pink's 2010 aerial display for "Glitter in the Air," or Lady Gaga's 2016 marathon David Bowie tribute, to spark conversation — for better and sometimes for worse.
Before this year's Grammys, Billboard presents you with the best of the better: our picks for the 100 greatest award-show performances, encompassing nearly a half-century of honors handed out on television. Performances from both sides of the Atlantic were considered, but only from shows with both winners and losers (sorry, no honors-only ceremonies like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions). Higher production values, superior television coverage (and YouTube re-circulation) and a bigger number of award shows in general mean that the last 25 years are better represented than the prior 25. And while we didn't automatically disqualify for obvious lip syncing, pop stars: you'd better have had a damn good reason for doing so to make it on this list. (Looking at you, Chris Brown.)