From tributes to musical icons who are no longer with us to performances from artists destined to go down in history as iconic in their own right, the 2016 Grammys boasted some of the best live Grammy performances in years.
While a few songs were marred by sound issues (and unfortunately, doctor’s orders prevented Rihanna from performing at all), even more of them ranked among the best Grammy performances in recent history. Here are the performances at the 2016 Grammys ranked worst to best.
19. The Hollywood Vampires – “As Bad As I Am” & “Ace of Spades”
Guns N’ Roses alums Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan joined rock supergroup Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp) to perform a tribute to late Motorhead legend Lemmy Kilmister with “Ace of Spades.” Well, not until they’d played a new song called “As Bad As I Am” first. It was an okay rock original, but to be honest, for an event this big, their performance of a new song went on far too long. It would have been more rewarding to hear them tackle 1-2 more Motorhead songs or even deliver a Cooper classic. The Grammys tribute to the peerless Lemmy should have been a lot harder, louder, and longer.
18. Adele – “All I Ask”
There’s no denying Adele is one of the finest vocalists of this era. But thanks to technical issues, Adele’s performance of “All I Ask” wasn’t her finest. There was an odd clanking sound at the start with the piano, and her voice didn’t seem entirely comfortable throughout the performance. CBS confirmed there was a 5-8 second sound issue that was out of their control. Later, Adele explained what made the weird instrumental sound: “The piano mics fell on to the piano strings, that’s what the guitar sound was,” she tweeted.
17. Tori Kelly & James Bay – “Hollow” & “Let It Go”
Two best new artist nominees, both slinging guitars, traded soft-but-heartfelt vocals on her “Hollow” and his “Let It Go” (no, not that one). Although Bay’s vocals sounded strained at first, he found his footing before long, and awards show champ Kelly was spot-on as usual.
16. Sam Hunt & Carrie Underwood – “Take Your Time” and “Heartbeat”
While Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood’s voices melded together gorgeously for some parts, Hunt’s vocals sounded strained at other moments. Also, their performance clocked in at nearly five minutes, which was a bit long for a segment lacking any choreography.
15. Glenn Frey Tribute by Don Henley, Jackson Browne & Joe Walsh – “Take It Easy”
While all the participants were certainly in tune paying homage to the late Glenn Frey, their performance could have used a boost of energy. Perhaps the addition of a younger performer (or choosing a less obvious song) would have shaken things up.
14. Little Big Town – “Girl Crush”
Little Big Town’s gentle, heartbreaking ballad has been performed at numerous awards shows in the last year, but they added a new level of class to the proceedings with the addition of a full string section. As always, it was moving and beautiful.
13. The Weeknd – “In the Night” & “Can’t Feel My Face”
The Weeknd is a fantastic live performer and his voice was incredible on the Grammy stage, but the choice to devote most of his segment to the low-energy “In the Night” was inadvisable. It might’ve worked better to start with the slow song and work up to the high-energy “Can’t Feel My Face.”
12. Miguel – “She’s Out of My Life
Miguel’s lovely, brief tribute to Michael Jackson seemed a bit random (it was seemingly included to promote an upcoming Off the Wall reissue and Spike Lee documentary), but it was a nice diversion nonetheless.
11. Pitbull, Travis Barker, Joe Perry & Robin Thicke – “El Taxi” & “Bad Man”
Pitbull closed out the Grammys with an energetic version of his “El Taxi,” complete with a surprise appearance from Sofia Vergara in a glam taxi costume. After that, Mr. Worldwide performed his new single, “Bad Man,” along with featured artists Robin Thicke, Joe Perry and Travis Barker.
10. Stevie Wonder & Pentatonix – “That’s the Way of the World” (Maurice White Tribute)
Stevie Wonder was joined by a cappella champs Pentatonix for a tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire co-founder Maurice White, who passed away not quite two weeks ago. Their vocals layered together gorgeously for an all-too-brief version of “That’s the Way of the World,” which sounded remarkable but should have lasted longer.
9. Andra Day & Ellie Goulding – “Rise Up” & “Love Me Like You Do”
After Andra Day performed a bit of her breakthrough song “Rise Up,” Ellie Goulding joined her on stage and the two traded vocals on Ellie’s “Love Me Like You Do,” which then segued back into Day’s “Rise Up,” and then back again. This was one of those rare Grammy mash-ups that almost makes the originals sound better: the instrumentation was expertly melded together, and they seemed to push each other to greater vocal heights.
8. Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”
Brittany Howard is pretty much one of the greatest voices in modern music, so whenever Alabama Shakes take the stage, you know you’re in for a peerless performance. Their Grammys run-through of “Don’t Wanna Fight” — with her gritty, controlled vocals and the band’s rock-blues-funk fusion — was no different.
7. Lionel Richie Tribute by John Legend, Demi Lovato, Meghan Trainor, Luke Bryan, Tyrese & Richie (“Easy,” “Hello,” “You Are,” “Penny Lover,” “Brick House,” All Night Long”)
One of the most stacked performances on Grammys night was also one of the best. An assortment of R&B, pop and country stars — along with the man himself — performed a tribute to the inimitable Lionel Richie, singing classic solo songs and Commodores hits. Legend’s vocals were the finest, but Tyrese won for sheer enthusiasm.
6. Taylor Swift – “Out of the Woods”
Swift set the bar high at the start of the 2016 Grammys, opening the show with “Out of the Woods” joined by co-writer Jack Antonoff. Her singing and set-up were flawless, and when she started doing vocal runs at the end, it was clear this was one of her best awards show vocal performances to date.
5. Justin Bieber, Skrillex & Diplo – “Love Yourself” & “Where Are U Now”
Riding high off his first Grammy win, Bieber delivered an impassioned acoustic run-through of “Love Yourself” before joining DJs Diplo and Skrillex — both performing live instruments — for a hard-rocking, kick-ass version of “Where Are U Now.” Diplo pounded the skins, Skrillex made his guitar scream, and Bieber danced like it was the best night of his life.
4. Hamilton Cast – “Alexander Hamilton”
Broadcasting live from the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City (with an introduction by Stephen Colbert), this Hamilton segment marked the first time the Grammys featured a live performance from Broadway, giving most of the nation its first taste of the groundbreaking hip-hop musical. The emotional, enervating retelling of American history was one of the night’s standout moments.
3. Lady Gaga’s David Bowie Tribute (“Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Fame,” “Fashion,” “Let’s Dance,” “Under Pressure,” “Heroes”)
Running the gamut of David Bowie’s fashion and musical evolution, Lady Gaga covered a breathtaking 10 Bowie songs in six minutes. Some of the theatrical affectations of the performance might have verged on kitschy, but in terms of vocal prowess and energy, Gaga was a fireball. Backed by Bowie collaborator Nile Rodgers and Raphael Saadiq, Gaga was in her element with a performance that was equal parts Bowie, Bette Midler and Gaga herself. It was almost as alien and astounding as Bowie himself.
2. Chris Stapleton, Bonnie Raitt & Gary Clark Jr.’s B.B. King Tribute – “The Thrill Is Gone”
After his career-changing CMAs performance, expectations were high for Chris Stapleton at the 2016 Grammys. He did not disappoint. The soulful, pained growl in his voice almost matched the late King’s, and Clark — a guitar god among us — nailed the blues master’s iconic solo. Bonnie Raitt then took the stage to lend her world-wizened voice to the classic song, making this a perfect musical trifecta.
1. Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker the Berry” & “Alright” & Freestyle
Handcuffed, chained and in a prisoner’s shirt, Kendrick Lamar (flanked by incarcerated jazz musicians) shuffled onto the Grammy stage, making his political intentions immediately clear. After “Blacker the Berry” — complete with black lights and a scorching sax solo — Lamar did “Alright” in front of a blazing bonfire while tribal dancers moved with as much energy as his pushed-to-the-edge flow. The whole performance culminated with a schizophrenic series of jump cuts focused on Lamar’s face as he spit (literally and figuratively) his final freestyle. When he wrapped, a glowing image of Africa with the word “Compton” emblazoned across it appeared behind him. It was easily one of the best live TV performances in history.