Obviously several Grammy Awards were given out at the 2015 Grammys Awards, but the focus of the night — other than Beck’s surprise victory — was on live music. From Madonna to Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett to Beyonce, here are all this year’s Grammy performers ranked from worst to best.
The two rock frontpersons joined forces for “My Heart Is Open,” a track on Maroon 5’s V. Vocally it sounded fine, but the song is a bit of a snoozer, so it kinda just drifted by without making much of an impression. This song is the audio equivalent of fetch.
22. Eric Church
The often hard-rocking Eric Church delivered a fairly middle-of-the-road performance of his otherwise great “Give Me Back My Hometown.” Not bad, but not killer.
Two British vocal powerhouses joined forces to perform “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” in tribute to Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, the iconic songwriting couple that has been married since 1961. Both received the Trustees Award at this year’s Grammys. Their voices blended together well enough, but the whole thing felt a little karaoke-ish after the first verse.
Pharrell’s “Happy” redux was a mix of The Grand Budapest Hotel, beatnik performance art and a classical orchestra having a collective heart attack. Lang Lang (or “Long Long,” according to the Weeknd) played piano and Hans Zimmer was on electric guitar, which is a major achievement in itself. But seriously, did anyone actually enjoy this? On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly boring. But it was the biggest WTF moment at the Grammys.
Australian hard rock legends AC/DC were one of the handful of artists repping the AA/RP at this year’s Grammys. The schoolboy uniform enthusiasts performed the title track to their latest studio album, “Rock or Bust,” and the classic “Highway to Hell.” Pyrotechnics abounded, Katy Perry wore devil horns in the audience, and returning drummer Chris Slade managed a seamless performance.
18. Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande was one of the few performers to score a solo spot at the Grammys. Backed by string section and a set that looked like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, she delivered a vocal showcase performance of “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart.” When it was over, she clasped her face with shaking fingers, seeming genuinely nervous and ecstatic.
See more performances on the next page:17. Kanye West
Turning the Grammys into a very intimate affair, Kanye performed his tribute to his late mother within the space of a slender column of light. It was surprisingly quiet and reflective for ‘Ye and the Grammys, but a nice reprieve from an otherwise in-your-face evening.
After Jeff Lynne’s ELO delivered “Evil Woman,” Ed Sheeran joined ELO for the immortal “Mr. Blue Sky. With Lynne and Sheeran trading vocals on the transcendent epic, it was a throwback Grammy moment that truly worked.
The Irving Berlin-penned “Cheek to Cheek” is the title track to their duets album, which won the Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album this year. It’s been a while since a straight-up jazz performance hit the Grammys, and it was a welcome change of pace.
The Golden Globe-winning duo performed their affecting Selma song “Glory” as the closing number. While Beyonce is a hard act to follow, their passionate delivery of a 21st century anthem was nevertheless marvelous.
13. Miranda Lambert
The country queen turned in a kick-ass version of “Little Red Wagon” that mixed twang and rock riffs in equal measure. This was just a straight-up knockout performance. Lambert gets bonus points for delivering the first bleeped-out moment of the Grammys.
Even if you’re not a Sheerio, you gotta give props to Ed Sheeran at this year’s Grammys. His bluesy “Thinking Out Loud” got an incredible legit live performance thanks to an all-star backing band: John Mayer, Herbie Hancock and Questlove.
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Good on the Grammys for nodding to the growing segment of the American public that loves Latin music (which isn’t exclusively made up of Latinos, either) with a Spanish-language performance. Also, good on Juanes for bringing a legit live band to the Grammys for his performance of “Juntos” — and letting them share his spotlight instead of relegating them to the background like most other Grammy performers.
Bringing her Givenchy-masked minotaurs to the Grammy stage for her ’90s house-imbued single “Living for Love,” Madonna was a major highlight. She looked killer in her Wild West burlesque outfit and sounded fantastic — and any performance that ends with Madonna ascending into the heavens get an A grade.
Usher paid homage to Stevie Wonder with a gorgeous run-through of his Songs in the Key of Life classic “If It’s Magic.” Wonder himself popped in to play harmonica, and while the star power was appreciated, Usher had the whole thing on lockdown. All around classy performance of a classic.
Fresh off his shocker win for album of the year, Beck took the stage with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin to play the Morning Phase highlight “Heart Is a Drum.” For those wondering how Beck beat Beyonce, this elegant, introspective acoustic song was a nice reminder that regardless who you were rooting for, Beck is more than worthy of a little limelight.
7. Katy Perry
When she brought “By the Grace of God” to the Grammys, she turned the focus from personal heartbreak to survivors of domestic violence nationwide. She took the stage after an introduction from President Obama (urging people to go to ItsOnUs.org) and a domestic violence survivor, who delivered an empowering speech that was easily the Grammys’ most heartbreaking moment. Musically, Perry’s vocals were 100 percent on point — it’s nice to remember there’s an incredible vocal talent behind her candy-coated image.
Annie Lennox gifted newcomer Hozier by lending her incredible bluesy contralto to his breakthrough hit “Take Me to Church.” Her air harmonica moment was as little lol-worthy, but when she started scatting toward the end, it was sublime. Standing o.
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The promising country newcomer and the legendary country singer joined forces for her 12 Stories composition “Hold My Hand,” a gentle, affecting number that quietly captured everyone’s heart in the midst of much bigger performances.
Watching Paul McCartney sing feet away from Rihanna — and then watching Kanye sing-rap while Macca jovially strummed his guitar — was every bit as crazy and beautiful as we’d hoped for. “FourFiveSeconds” ironically takes time to grow on you, but the presence of three disparate pop stars on stage with each other was one of the most deliriously awesome Grammy highlights.
Saturday Night Live and Bridesmaids vet (and forthcoming Ghostbusters star) Kristen Wiig was the celebrity on hand to act out Sia’s “Chandelier.” Sia’s video vets Maddie Ziegler and Shia LaBeouf were also there, the former to dance and the latter to read some poetry (or whatever). Their set was astounding, and Wiig’s dancing was surprisingly on point. You gotta give it up for Sia — she comes up with a unique twist on the “Chandelier” live performance every time. Sorry, Gaga, this is the real Pop Art.
When Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” dropped, it was hard to imagine how to improve upon the instant classic. Enter Mary J. Blige. Her strong, emotionally scarred voice pairs perfectly with his wounded, naïve voice. If these two weren’t already in the heavens, it would have been a star-making moment.
Beyonce didn’t win album of the year for her self-titled triumph, but she easily won the 2015 Grammys for her performance of the Thomas A. Dorsey gospel classic “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Her voice was restrained but strong at the beginning, adding a little bit of soul to the track of loss and hope. At the end, her voice was raised to the heavens, but selectively. While other singers might show off their range and ability to nail high notes, Beyonce only projected her voice to the roof when it was absolutely necessary. A true pro.