It was an emotionally loaded night at the 2020 Grammys this Sunday (Jan. 26), with a week-plus of Recording Academy controversy and the shocking recent death of a locally beloved legend weighing heavily over the ceremonies.
But despite the uneasy vibes that surrounded the whole operation, there were still plenty of standout moments to be had: Stunning performances, cross-generational comedic bits, and arguably the most efficient acceptance speech in major award show history. Here were Billboard‘s 10 favorites.
Alicia Keys brings out Boyz II Men to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant
It was an extremely unenviable task to transition from a Sunday of mourning in Los Angeles for one of the greatest athletes in the city’s history to an award show held in the building he called home for 20 years. But host Alicia Keys did it delicately and tastefully — with the help of Kobe’s fellow Philly-area natives Boyz II Men, who joined Keys for a quick performance of the now-trio’s early-’90s classic eulogy “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” It was a tough moment to start the night on, but necessary catharsis on a very strange award show Sunday.
Tyler, the Creator sets the stage on fire
In a Grammy first hour that was almost entirely downbeat and bummed-out, Tyler the Creator was on hand to give the show a much-needed spark. Beginning with R&B legend Charlie Wilson and Boyz II Men back again, coming together to perform the chorus to Tyler’s hit “EARFQUAKE,” the rap star then took over the stage with an incendiary performance of IGOR highlight “NEW MAGIC WAND” that knocked the show (and its camera operator in particular) off its axis and left the stage in actual flames. Then Tyler fell backwards off the stage, his work there being done.
FKA Twigs slides into Usher’s Prince tribute
Yes, it was a bummer that she wasn’t asked to sing with Usher on his three-song homage to the Purple One — would a little “Take Me With U” back-and-forth have been so much to ask for? — but acclaimed R&B singer-songwriter FKA Twigs still stole the show with her pole-dancing routine and brief tango with Mr. Raymond during “Kiss.” Hopefully when the show does its next Prince tribute (can’t be more than another couple years, can it?) she’ll be invited and actually given a microphone.
Flavor Flav dancing to “Walk This Way”
The rap greats of the ’80s don’t usually get a ton of big Grammy moments, so it’s no surprise to see one of ’em get excited at another gracing the Staples Center stage. Run-D.M.C. joined Aerosmith for another run through their game-changing 1986 redo of the latter’s classic rock anthem, and Public Enemy hypeman Flavor Flav could not have been more pumped, at least based on the cutaway to his full-bodied dancing in the audience. Next year, let’s see Reverend Run going nuts in the crowd to a Grammy performance of “Night of the Living Baseheads.”
Tyler, the Creator’s mom
In Tyler’s second breakout moment of the evening, he accepted the best rap album Grammy for his Billboard 200-topping IGOR set — with his mother in tow. “That’s my mom, if y’all were wondering,” Tyler said of the lady in the Prince-style white frilly shirt who wouldn’t stop embracing him. “All right, I gotta give my speech dawg,” he said in an attempt to interrupt her affection, a classic “Moooooooom” moment on music’s biggest night.
Everyone partying in Lil Nas X’s room
Part of the charm of the “Old Town Road” takeover was always the song’s humble origins, just the sound of a college kid trying to viral his way out of getting kicked out of his sister’s place. Lil Nas X brought the world into a version of that room for the beginning of his “Old Town Road” medley — now adorned with a Kobe jersey and his own Billboard and Paper magazine covers — and ultimately brought all his new friends (including OTR remix guests Billy Ray Cyrus, Diplo, Mason Ramsey and BTS) back to it to party over the song’s triumph. It felt like the appropriate place for such a victory lap to occur.
Demi Lovato runs it back
At the outset of the debut performance of her extremely personal new song “Anyone,” Demi Lovato had a bit of a hurdle to clear with the song’s opening, getting hung up on the first few lyrics. But her piano player started over, and the second time she got through a towering performance of the ballad, receiving a standing ovation at performance’s end — a triumphant and hard-earned comeback that should set up the next chapter of her impressive pop career.
Meek Mill starts off the Nipsey tribute with a new verse
The Grammys’ All-Star tribute to slain West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle was kicked off by a suited Meek Mill alone at center stage, rapping an emotional “Letter to Nipsey.” “Every time I see something fire, I see blue/ And every time I close my eyes, I see Snupe, and I see you,” he rapped, also paying tribute to his former protégé Lil Snupe. It was a powerful moment that transcended the usual Grammy tribute, thanks to Meek’s previously unheard verse and his obvious personal connection with the fallen great.
Sharon and Ozzy introduce rap nominees (and H.E.R.)
You’d have thought obviously-not-hip-hop-figures-read-hip-hop-names would be as tired as tired gets as a comedic trope, but turns out you actually might not have even lived until you’ve heard Sharon Osbourne mispronouncing DJ Khaled’s name and theatrically proclaiming “THE LONDON!” And hubby Ozzy still had the best line reading of the night, when after Sharon’s similarly melismatic intro of the evening’s next performer, the Prince of Darkness finished her “It is…” tease with one perfectly timed “H.E.R.!”
The shortest acceptance speech in Grammy history
Turns out, when you’ve already just accepted two awards in the previous ten minutes, you might not have a ton to say in your third consecutive visit to the podium — especially when it’s already 11:45 and everyone in the building is already getting increasingly impatient with their watch-glancing. So Billie and Finneas kept it too-short-to-even-be-sweet: “Thank you… bye!” Well put.