Concrete jungle where dream are made of, indeed. When the Grammy Awards hit New York City’s Madison Square Garden for their 60th annual edition on Sunday (Jan. 28), it’ll mark the first Big Apple-based Grammy spectacular since 2003. As a result, the big show will join a long line of music award ceremonies that set up shop in the city that never sleeps and, subsequently, became a part of NYC’s storied music history.
In honor of the Grammy’s east coast return, feast your eyes and ears on the most quintessential New York awards show moments in music history. From Aretha Franklin at the ‘98 Grammys stepping in for Pavarotti to Michael Jackson in his prime belting out “The Way You Make Me Feel” at Radio City for the ‘88 Grammys (not to mention a bloody, star-making set courtesy of Lady Gaga at the ‘09 Video Music Awards), these are the performers who managed to capture the spirit of the city so nice they named it twice.
1998 Grammy Awards: Aretha Franklin’s “Nessun Dorma”
It was a performance that will not only go down in history as one of the best Grammy Awards moments of all time, but one of the most show-stopping moments in music history. When the legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti bailed on singing his standard “Nessun Dorma” at the last minute under doctor’s orders, producers rang Franklin who coincidentally sang the same song the night before at a MusiCares event. Sans a single rehearsal, the Queen of Soul hit the Radio City Stage and effortlessly dominated. Said Jeff Scheftel, the Recording Academy’s Media Productions Director: “It was amazing, amazing what she did. Personally, I thought, ‘Y’know, there’s still time — if you’re gonna ask Aretha Franklin, let her do ‘Natural Woman.’ Everybody would love that, she can do it in her sleep!’ But [her ‘Nessun Dorma’] was amazing, and she’s an extraordinary performer, and she rose to the occasion on gameday like no one else.”
2009 Video Music Awards: JAY-Z ft. Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”
When it comes to the very best Big Apple music moments, it’s hard to top the star power of hometown heroes JAY-Z and Alicia Keys closing out the raucous 2009 VMAs with their instant classic “Empire State of Mind” on Radio City Music Hall’s storied stage. From JAY name-checking fellow NYC legend Frank Sinatra to Keys coining the phrase “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” it resulted in pure metropolitan perfection — all despite the fact the performance was nearly derailed by a stage crash courtesy rapper Lil Mama.
1997 Video Music Awards: Puff Daddy ft. Faith Evans, 112, Mase and Sting’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” & “I’ll Be Missing You”
It was September 1997 and the music world was still reeling from the murder of Brooklyn icon the Notorious B.I.G. For MTV’s Radio City Music Hall-based show, VMAs opened with a touching tribute to the slain rapper from his collaborator and friend Puffy. A classic moment in New York City music history, it also served as a moment of musical levity in the face of senseless violence.
1988 Grammy Awards: Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” & “The Man in the Mirror”
You can’t get much better than the King of Pop performing two of his biggest hits at one of America’s most historic venues. When the 1988 Grammys headed to Radio City Music Hall, the country watched as Jackson strutted his stuff to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the big show by belting out his Bad classics “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “The Man in the Mirror,” both only a couple months old by then. It was a performance that would have far-reaching effects, with the latter track snagging a nomination for Record of the Year at the next Grammys.
2002 Video Music Awards: Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”
Bruuuuuuce! For the first iteration of the Video Music Awards since the tragic events of 9/11, MTV employed Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band to open the show with rousing outdoor rendition of his inspirational rock jam “The Rising,” his comment on the terror attacks that occurred a year earlier. Making the performance all the more New York-centric is the fact Tony Soprano himself, the late James Gandolfini, introduced the set.
2016 Tony Awards: The Broadway Cast of Hamilton‘s “History Has Its Eyes On You” & “(Yorktown) The World Turned Upside Down”
Live from the Beacon Theater, it was a bona fide Big Apple performance concerning a historic New York figure. Introduced by President Obama himself, the original Broadway cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash musical Hamilton, then at the height of its power, hit the Tony stage for two signature songs, “History Has Its Eyes on You” and the rollicking “(Yorktown) The World Turned Upside Down.” Giving the rest of the country a glimpse of a production they could only dream of getting tickets for, the entire Tony ceremony in 2016 was focused on the musical’s immense fandom and success, with Miranda and company later winning 11 awards, including Best Musical.
2009 Video Music Awards: Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”
When Manhattan native Stefani Germanotta hit the VMA stage at Radio City Music Hall in September 2009, she was riding high on the success of her debut album The Fame, which yielded two Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s in “Just Dance” and “Poker Face.” However, it was this performance of the album’s fifth single, the celebrity-culture comment that is “Paparazzi,” that cemented her as not just another dance-pop princess but…Gaga. Dripping blood in the midst of an extravagant set, the singer ascended from one realm of stardom to another and subsequently became a household name.
2002 Video Music Awards: Eminem’s “White America” & “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”
If there’s one artist who knows how to make an awards show splash, it’s Slim Shady. During Eminem’s early ’00s heyday, he delivered the kind of epic performance you’d expect from the Detroit-born superstar: quirky, inventive and controversial. Using a courthouse-set, Eminem busted out his biting hits “Cleanin’ Out my Closet” and “White America.” The rapper’s night became more notable after taking home the VMA for Video of the Year, Best Male Video and Best Rap Vide — all for “Without Me,” which remains one of his most successful critical and commercial singles to this day.
2009 Video Music Awards: Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”
Put a ring on it! On a night when the biggest thing that happened at Radio City Music Hall was Kanye West interrupting future frenemy Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video, Queen B still commanded attention. Performing her 2008 track “Single Ladies,” which by September 2009 was almost a year old, the megastar took the VMAs by storm with an epic routine that involved slick dance moves and pure pop talent, making it one of Beyonce’s most memorable performances in a career full of them.
2003 Grammys: Norah Jones and John Mayer’s “Don’t Know Why” & “Your Body Is a Wonderland”
For the 45th iteration of the Grammy Awards, which aired live from Madison Square Garden in February ‘03 (the last time the big show made its home in NYC), the memorable ceremony gave new meaning to the old New York adage “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Then new faces, Norah Jones and John Mayer arguably cemented their rising star status with a duet on star-making tracks “Wonderland” and “Don’t Know Why.” Jones took the gold though, with the then-24-year-old snagging the awards for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.