With Sunday’s (March 14) telecast of the 63rd annual Grammy Awards looking much different this year due to the pandemic, the Grammys performances still pulled off a celebration of the unifying power of music.
From BTS transforming Seoul, South Korea into downtown Los Angeles for their “Dynamite” performance to Taylor Swift bringing a Folklore-inspired fairytale from a cabin in an enchanted forest, these socially distant performances did not disappoint. Here’s how we rank the 23 performances from the evening, from worst to best.
23. Lionel Richie, “Lady”
Although Richie wrote the song “Lady” for Kenny Rogers, whom he honored during the 12-minute in memoriam tribute, his somber performance did not deliver as much emotion one would expect for his dear friend.
22. Miranda Lambert, “Bluebird”
Lambert’s sequined blue dress dazzled underneath the colorful floral arrangement hanging from the ceiling, but the country singer simply breezed through her performance when she could’ve soared.
21. Maren Morris & John Mayer, “The Bones”
Maren Morris’ unwavering vocals and John Mayer’s guitar skills cannot be questioned, but their chemistry might be. While maintaining social distancing, the two snuck a few side glances at each other during their rather disjointed duet.
20. Haim, “The Steps”
Following Billie Eilish and Finneas’ performance of “Everything I Wanted,” Haim did not come to play in the sibling battle of the bands. Este, Danielle and Alana Haim owned center stage (which wasn’t even a stage at all, but rather in the middle of the floor where many performances took place inside the Los Angeles Convention Center), and all three sisters jammed out on their own guitars at one point, further nailing the point that women dominated rock this year at the Grammys.
19. Brandi Carlile, “I Remember Everything”
Brandi Carlile remembered John Prine, who won two posthumous Grammy Awards for “I Remember Everything,” for “everything” he contributed to music with a simple yet supple acoustic performance. With nothing more than her guitar and crisp all-black suit, the late singer-songwriter’s staple outfit, she needed nothing more to get the job done.
18. Black Pumas, “Colors”
The red- and yellow-colored lights showering down on the Black Pumas, along with the duo’s lifelike black puma statues and larger-than-life insignia, spelled out their performance loud and clear — but not as loud as Eric Burton’s fierce growls. Burton reminisced on manifesting this Grammys performance while busking at the Santa Monica Pier during the Gibson Hazard-directed clip prior to the performance, and it certainly paid off.
17. Post Malone, “Hollywood’s Bleeding”
Considering “Circles” was nominated for both record and song of the year, Post Malone made an interesting song choice picking the titular track of Hollywood’s Bleeding, which was up for album of the year, for his performance. But he stayed true to the gothic nature of the track in a smoky Blade-meets-The Da Vinci Code performance, where his Maleficent-looking choir is definitely worth noting as the spookiest addition of a choir to any singer’s performance from the night.
16. Brittany Howard & Chris Martin, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Coldplay’s Chris Martin humbly sat at the piano and made way for Howard’s vocals to soar on its own for their in memoriam performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” But the former Alabama Shakes singer’s solo performance during the Johnnie Walker advertisement shortly after the tribute certainly gave us more gusto.
15. Roddy Ricch, “Heartless” & “The Box”
Roddy Ricch tried breaking out of “The Box” he’s always in with yet another performance of his Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 smash, but he opened the floor with something new. By previewing his new song “Heartless,” which he made available on streaming services following the performance, last year’s Grammy winner gave fans a look at a gentler side that his auto-tuned melodic rapping has continually poked at. “This life left me heartless/ And I came from apartments/ The money turned me into a target/ Got a hellcat dodge it,” he sang in the hook.
14. Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak), “Leave the Door Open”
It’s only fitting for Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars to shower Music’s Biggest Night with their star-studded television debut performance of “Leave The Door Open.” No, they didn’t bring any guest artists with them, nor did they need to. These two on their own have 15 Grammys, two burnt orange suits and one retro ‘70s stage.
13. Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar”
Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” might be known as the sleeper hit of summer 2020, following its slow-burning ascent on the Hot 100, but his opening performance at the Grammys was nothing to sleep on. He never falls short of his own last name, especially with that green feather boa draped over his black leather suit that he eventually threw off. His groovy dance moves also stole the show, and his vocals felt like the (watermelon) sugar on top of this chef’s kiss of a performance.
12. Billie Eilish, “Everything I Wanted”
Before taking home her second record of the year award with “Everything I Wanted,” Eilish and her brother Finneas gave us everything we needed for the live rendition of the tender ballad: a car submerged under water like in her self-directed music video and a daunting green mist to match her hair.
11. Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez, “Dákiti”
If you had your eyes set on returning to the club in the near future, it’s because Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez caught your attention. The two reggaeton stars turned up the white-hot lights of the stage while shining brighter than any hardware given out throughout the evening.
10. Doja Cat, “Say So”
Doja Cat has been serving different flavors of “Say So” at every award show she’s performed at. She dressed up her Hot 100 chart-topping smash in a sci-fi show that was out of this world for the 2020 MTV VMAs, tore up the 2020 MTV EMAs with a rocking version of the song and later transformed into Renee Zellweger’s Roxie Hart from Chicago for a theatrical medley at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards. But at the 2021 Grammy Awards, Doja looked further into the future and formally welcomed viewers to Planet Her, the name of her upcoming album, with her and her backup dancers’ matching black latex robotic catsuits.
9. Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me”
Although Mickey Guyton’s loss in the best country solo performance was a missed opportunity for her to make history as the first Black female solo artist to win in a country category, her stirring “Black Like Me” performance replete with an awe-inspiring choir served as a crucial reminder of the song’s importance. Without needing to directly mention it, she took the Recording Academy to task by reminding it of the struggles amidst the success Black artists continue to face in the music industry.
8. DaBaby & Roddy Ricch, “Rockstar”
Of all the “Rockstar” performances DaBaby and Ricch have delivered, the rappers took viewers to church with their opera-tinged performance, featuring the most-unconventional-yet-still-worked use of a backing choir, a heavenly violinist and R&B great Anthony Hamilton. DaBaby dazzled with an immaculate white get-up, while Ricch wasn’t missing out on any drip when he came in for his verse.
7. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, “Long Tall Sally” & “Good Golly, Miss Molly”
These two made their Silk Sonic debut earlier during the telecast, but Mars and .Paak’s in memoriam tribute to Little Richard was a masterclass on how to channel a fallen star. Mars’ wild shrieking with .Paak’s ever-cheeky drumming started the tribute with a bang that was unmatched and hard to follow.
6. Lil Baby, “The Bigger Picture”
A picture says a thousand words, and Lil Baby delivered “The Bigger Picture” with a full-fledged narrative that looked not only back to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests but also forward. Actor/activist Kendrick Sampson’s gut-wrenching scene, activist Tamika Mallory’s speech with her demands for President Joe Biden, and rapper/activist Killer Mike’s snippet of Run The Jewels’ “Walking in the Snow” felt as cinematic as if you had sat down to watch The Hate U Give, with Lil Baby’s powerful stance atop a cop car mirroring the film’s lead star Amandla Stenberg. Like Guyton’s performance of “Black Like Me” earlier on, Lil Baby’s ability to recenter the Grammy Awards on the BLM movement that struck a chord with the music industry and the nation as a whole is an accomplishment worthy of extra recognition — especially in the midst of the show’s recent criticism for shutting out BIPOC artists from The Weeknd and Zayn.
5. BTS, “Dynamite”
Despite not winning the one Grammy they were up for, BTS gets extra props for having the best Zoom background of all time during this pandemic. Just kidding — host Trevor Noah even had to reassure those at home that the real Staples Center was actually behind him at the start of the ceremony instead of a digital backdrop. But the K-pop boy band went above and beyond to recreate the LA setup nearly 6,000 miles away in Seoul for their Hot 100-topping smash “Dynamite,” and they looked like they were on top of the world with the spotlight-drenched rooftop for the finale.
4. Taylor Swift, “Cardigan” / “August” / “Willow”
Taylor Swift, who made history with her third album of the year award for Folklore, grounded herself in the enchanted forest that served as the backdrop for her entire album cycle. In a Lord of the Rings-meets-Twilight fantasy, the pop star’s first Grammys performance in five years proved she hadn’t lost her magic touch. Not to mention, her Folklore collaborators Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff helped her strum up a storm of pixie dust outside the quaint cabin that inhabited part of the performance.
3. Dua Lipa & DaBaby, “Levitating” & “Don’t Start Now”
Three different shimmering pink outfits later, Dua Lipa took the evening to new heights with her DaBaby-assisted “Levitating” remix. Not to rain on Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s parade after “Rain On Me” won best pop duo/group performance, but Lipa’s backup dancers’ hot pink face masks beat out their PPE from their 2020 VMAs performance.
2. Megan Thee Stallion, “Body” & “Savage”
Three-time Grammy winner Megan Thee Stallion made her grand entrance at the Grammy Awards as not the hood Mona Lisa, but hip-hop’s Marilyn Monroe. “Tonight is my first time at the Grammys, but it’s not my first time entertaining you,” she said before sweeping the floor with her body-ody-ody. Her equally shimmering flapper dancers and tap dancers felt straight out of the roaring ‘20s, a century before the “hell of a year” we all suffered in 2020 that the rapper noted in her acceptance speech for best new artist. But the classiness of her display definitely met the bougie and ratchet side of Meg that we’ve come to know and love, with knees that know no pain.
1. Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion, “Up” & “WAP”
Cardi B kicked this year’s performances “Up” a notch. But let’s just get into it. From her twirling pole dance on a 10-feet-tall stiletto of a giant platform heel where one of the dancers resided to Meg’s acrobatic twerking atop her hit collaborator on a queen-sized bed that had plenty of room for these two queens, all while it was raining money, this had to be one of the most insane television debut performances of all time. And Posty would have to agree, since the fellow performer raised a red solo cup midway to salute them.