While Beyonce’s loss to Adele for album of the year will undoubtedly dominate the post-2017 Grammys conversation, let’s not forget there were some absolute knockout performances at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards — several of which certainly belong among the all-time Grammy performance greats.
Listen, Pentatonix are great, and their Jackson 5 “ABC” cover sounded fine, but three hours into an awards show — and after Bruno Mars’ astonishing Prince tribute — it felt like an unnecessary add-on.
18. Keith Urban & Carrie Underwood
They may not have been, as John Travolta promised in his intro, “The most dynamic duo since Sandy and Danny,” but Keith and Carrie still did a fine job during the performance of their ’80s synth-laden duet “The Fighter.” But in a night full of absolute stunners, the performance of a song this lightweight just didn’t make a lasting impact.
17. Kelsea Ballerini & Lukas Graham
Our hats are off to whoever pulled off the difficult task of weaving Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan” with Lukas Graham’s “7 Years.” While the arrangement was effective, the question remains: Did the world need this mashup just because they’re both wistful songs about childhood slipping away as life inevitably marches on? Answer: Not really.
16. Sturgill Simpson & Dap-Kings
Pairing soul-influenced country singer Sturgill Simpson with the late Sharon Jones’ backing band the Dap-Kings was an elegant touch and nice tribute to Jones, and their performance of Simpson’s “All Around You” was lovely. But again, in a night of truly standout live performances, this wholly competent collab falls toward the bottom half of our list.
15. Gary Clark Jr. & William Bell
Fifty years after William Bell co-wrote “Born Under a Bad Sign” (made famous by blues legend Albert King), he took the stage at the 2017 Grammys to perform the timeless tune alongside Texas axeman Gary Clark Jr. The latter is a wonder onstage, and it was touching to see the under-recognized soul great get his due on air, but it ultimately felt like unnecessary bloating on an already long telecast.
What a strange night for Adele. She won an album of the year trophy she knew should have gone to Beyonce, and she made the nearly unprecedented choice to stop mid-song during her George Michael tribute and start over. Even with the “Fastlove” redo, her tribute to the late British pop star still outshone her performance of “Hello.” It wasn’t bad by any stretch, but she wasn’t entirely in key and the minimalist staging was a bit curious. After all, we’re so familiar with “Hello” by this point in 2017 — why not bring something new to it for the Grammys?
13. John Legend & Cynthia Erivo
The Oscar & Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and the Tony & Grammy-winning Color Purple Broadway star performed a lovely cover of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” during the In Memoriam segment at the 2017 Grammys. No complaints there.
12. The Weeknd & Daft Punk
Opening with “Starboy” before seguing into “I Feel It Coming,” the Weeknd and Daft Punk had a nice, light groove going at the Grammys. While it wasn’t exactly a standout moment you’ll remember years down the road, it was still nice performance that occupies that grey space between “good” and “impressive.”
11. Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars is one of pop’s finest showmen. He’s so good, in fact, that he can make what’s otherwise an unextraordinary song such as “That’s What I Like” sound like a bona fide hit. While the tune itself is just okay, he sang the hell out of it, and the reaction shots from J.Lo when he asked “can I break it down?” were priceless. Bonus treat: the doo-wop harmonizing at the end was more proof that no man in pop paints with a bigger palette than Bruno.
10. George Michael Tribute
You can never predict what Adele is going to do. Case in point: Her George Michael tribute performance at the 2017 Grammys featured her stopping a minute into “Fastlove,” dropping the f-bomb, apologizing and asking for a do-over because she felt she wasn’t doing the song justice. “I f–ked up, I can’t do it like last year,” she explained — referring to her troubled 2016 Grammy performance — before restarting her contemplative, minimalist rendition of the dance-pop hit. It was worth the second go: Adele captured the beautiful aching at the core of the 1996 Older song.
9. Katy Perry
Apart from A Tribe Called Quest, Katy Perry had the night’s most political moment. Performing irresistible new single “Chained to the Rhythm” with Skip Marley, Perry performed in front of mirror-covered fences, implying that putting up something like, say, a border fence is actually more a reflection on the person erecting it than those on the other side. Toward the end of the performance, the fences broke apart and spun around in a dizzying kaleidoscope before reforming in time for words from the U.S. Constitution to be projected on them. Politics aside, it was fun to see Perry in her One of the Boys-era rock mode, jumping up and down while singing like she was back in her Warped Tour days.
8. Bee Gees Tribute
What could have easily been a disaster (contemporary artists covering Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever material) was actually an unqualified success, with Demi Lovato demonstrating she’s vocally one of the most versatile in the biz with a funky, superb run-through of “Stayin’ Alive,” Tori Kelly turning “Tragedy” into a victory, Andra Day owning the slinky sexiness of “Night Fever” and Little Big Town doing a lovely “How Deep Is Your Love.” Who knew Bee Gees were just what 2017 needed?
7. Ed Sheeran
Honestly, Sheeran might have actually improved upon his new single “Shape of You” at the Grammys. Strumming his guitar like it was a percussion instrument, Sheeran doubled down on the syncopated rhythms at the heart of his xx-y new single, and probably converted a few non-fans into Sheerios in the process.
6. Lady Gaga & Metallica
Despite microphone issues plaguing James Hetfield’s first few verses, Gagatallica was spectacular for a few reasons. 1) Gaga proved she can belt metal nearly as impressively as she can croon jazz standards with Tony Bennett or sing The Sound of Music at the Oscars. 2) Metal is almost never part of the Grammy telecast, and it was nice to see it spotlighted. 3) Who would have thought a contemporary Metallica song (“Moth Into Flame”) could be played at an awards show and sound relevant? While last year’s hard rock Grammy performance (remember Hollywood Vampires?) seemed hopelessly out of place, Gagatallica’s pummeling riffage was an exhilarating rush — technical issues notwithstanding.
5. Chance the Rapper
After winning a deserved best new artist Grammy, Chance proved to the uninitiated why an artist who hasn’t sold an album (his releases thus far are free mixtapes) is one of the most exciting acts on the planet. Bringing Kirk Franklin, Tamela Mann and a gospel choir out, Chance distilled disparate decades of soul, gospel and hip-hop into a tight performance of “How Great” and “All We Got” that turned anyone watching into a believer.
4. A Tribe Called Quest & Anderson .Paak
Quite possibly the most political moment in Grammy history occurred when hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest teamed up with rising star Anderson .Paak (and Busta Rhymes and Consequence) to deliver several of their stone-cold classics (a bit of “Can I Kick It?” and “Award Tour”) and new songs (“Movin Backwards” and “We the People”). The performance alone was the most energized of the night, and their attack on the Muslim ban from “President Agent Orange” was especially poignant, with the group bringing people of various ethnicities through the Grammy aisles and onto the stage. Closing with Q-Tip shouting “resist!” several times, it was proof that politics actually do suit the Grammys, despite the decades-old conventional logic to the contrary.
She may not have beat Adele for album of the year, but she certainly bested Adele when it came to Grammy performances (which is no small feat). Nodding to her recently revealed pregnancy, Beyonce opened her “Love Drought”/”Sandcastles” performance in profile, shifting her pose to make it seem as if a sunrise was emerging from between her legs. The rest of the performance was similarly symbolic (flowers, flowing veils and symbols of fertility were plentiful) and had more in common with contemporary dance staging than pop or R&B dance moves. Considering Beyonce will be several-more-months pregnant at Coachella, expect her festival performance to have more in common with her Grammy night than her Formation Tour. And based on how mesmerizing she was every second she was onscreen Sunday night, that’s good news for anyone headed to Coachella.
2. Maren Morris & Alicia Keys
The nicest surprise at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards was how remarkable country newcomer Maren Morris and Grammy fave Alicia Keys sounded together. On a stage set-up that looked ripped from The Beauty and the Beast, Keys — decked out in a sick disco diva catsuit — and Morris traded powerhouse vocals on a stunning duet version of Morris’ Hero song “Once.” Please, someone out there, make a studio version of this happen.
1. Prince Tribute
While most people under 30 were probably extremely confused who The Time were, Prince’s Purple Rain foes (but real-life friends and collaborators) nevertheless won over the crowd through the infectious energy of their endearingly absurd dance moves during “Jungle Love.” But after that, holy hell, Bruno Mars — wearing Prince’s Purple Rain poofy shirt and suit — absolutely destroyed the stage with “Let’s Go Crazy.” While it’s nearly impossible to cover Prince and one-up him (Sinead is the only one to do so thus far in human history), Bruno’s showmanship and versatile vocals delivered what has been the finest awards-show tribute to Prince so far. And when he capped it off with some unhinged shredding at the song’s close, any jaws that hadn’t dropped already undoubtedly hit the floor.