The Grammys have a long history of bringing together artists that wouldn’t normally share a cab, let alone a stage. Over the years, plenty of odd couples have delivered performances on Music’s Biggest Night that were greater than the sums of their seemingly ill-fitting parts. What follows are 10 of our favorites from the last 15 years. We never saw these collaborations coming, but we’ll watch ‘em again and again.
Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar (2014)
The unifying theme of this explosive union was destruction. As Kendrick Lamar rapped about Compton street violence and Imagine Dragons sang about the apocalypse, their mash-up of “m.A.A.d city” and “Radioactive” obliterated all expectations. The idea for this killer collabo came from Kendrick, who wisely saw in the Vegas rockers an energy and charisma that critics tend to miss.
Metallica and Lang Lang (2011)
Metallica’s “One” is a terrifying anti-war song that switches between pretty and pummeling throughout its seven minutes. Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang helped out on both counts, adding twinkling runs and discordant bashing wherever appropriate and elevating the piece to a level not even Metallica’s biggest fans realized was attainable.
Cee-Lo Green, Gwyneth Paltrow, and The Muppets (2011)
It would’ve been enough for Cee Lo Green to sing with Gwyneth Paltrow, who’d recently performed “Forget You” — the sanitized version of his smash “F— You” — on the Fox series Glee. But in true Cee Lo fashion, he decided to kick it up a notch and duet with the actress while also paying homage to Elton John’s zany 1978 appearance on The Muppet Show. Hence the feathers, sequins, and giant sunglasses that made this performance so wickedly fun.
Radiohead and the USC Marching Band (2009)
College marching bands don’t usually wind up on the Grammy’s stage, but all rules fly out the window when Radiohead comes calling. For their first-ever Grammy appearance, the acclaimed British rockers tapped USC Marching Band to help punctuate their performance of “15 Step.” The inspiring collaboration — highlighted by thunderous drum cadences, vibrant brass blasts and Thom Yorke’s twitchy footwork — stole the show and scored major points for band geeks everywhere.
Jay Z, Linkin Park and Paul McCartney (2005)
The world has the mash-up to thank (or maybe blame) for this bizarro collabo between a Brooklyn rapper, a California alt-rock band, and a Beatle. Jay Z had worked with Linkin Park on “Numb/Encore,” the track that begins this performance, and he’d seen his Black Album mixed with the Fab Four’s White Album on Danger Mouse’s groundbreaking Grey Album. The whole thing must’ve intrigued Paul McCartney, because he agreed to throw “Yesterday” into the mix. Did it work? Jay said it best: “Uh-huh, Uh-huh.”
Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks (2010)
Taylor Swift called it “a fairytale and an honor” to duet with Stevie Nicks on the Fleetwood Mac classic “Rhiannon.” Unfortunately, critics were less than spellbound by Taylor’s off-key harmonies, which may have been due to technical difficulties. Regardless, Swizzy and Stevie escaped with their reputations and careers very much intact. When haters hate-hate-hate, real superstars shake it off.
Jamie Foxx, T-Pain, Slash, and Doug E. Fresh (2010)
It made sense for Doug E. Fresh to join Jamie Foxx and T-Pain for their performance of “Blame It.” Fresh is a hip-hop legend, and somehow, he’d never appeared on the Grammys. As for why Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash wound up playing his “November Rain” solo over the ending… well, that’s a bit of a head-scratcher. No matter — it’s a rad piece of shredding that makes just about any song better.
The Jonas Brothers and Stevie Wonder (2009)
The JoBros didn’t hold anything back as they rocked with Stevie Wonder on their hit “Burnin’ Up” and his classic “Superstition.” By rights, the soul legend could’ve phoned it in, but he fed off the young trio’s excitement and helped bring the house down. Your move, Hanson and Smokey Robinson.
Madonna, Gorillaz, and De La Soul (2006)
Damon Albarn’s genre-blurring cartoon rockers Gorillaz won’t collaborate with just any human beings. The group digs eccentrics, and there were four of ‘em onstage this particular evening. First up, hip-hop trio De La Soul dropped in for “Feel Good Inc.,” which morphed into Madonna’s “Hung Up.” Sporting a purple leotard, the then-48-year-old pop goddess reaffirmed her super-hero status by dancing circles around everyone in sight.
Eminem and Elton John (2001)
Facing accusations of homophobia from gay-rights groups, Eminem made the brilliant move of enlisting Elton John to sub for Dido on the performance of his hit single “Stan.” Even if Em wasn’t initially aware that Elton is gay, as he claimed in interviews, the rapper certainly knew the score by the time they took the stage. Following the headline-grabbing, soul-gripping performance, Eminem simultaneously clasped hands with the rock legend and flipped the audience the bird. Postscript: They remain close friends to this day.