For the artists, the Grammys may be about the awards, but for the viewers, it’s all about the performances. In a show filled to the brim with star-studded performances, many were forgettable, others were memorable for the wrong reasons, while some proved exactly why the nominated artists deserve to be on the Grammys stage. Here are my picks for the 5 best performances at the 59th annual Grammy awards (along with a few honorable mentions).
5. Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley “Chained to the Rhythm”
Although she’s been out of the spotlight for a little while, Katy Perry showed she’s back and better than ever with a fresh blonde bob and a powerful political statement. She opened up her performance standing behind a white picket fence before moving out onto the platform to casually strut and dance around while singing her new radio-ready tune “Chained to the Rhythm.” Even though the staging and costuming might have been a little too literal (they looked cool, but did she really need to wear rose-colored glasses?), the little details saved the performance from being too over-the-top. Her “Persist” armband and white pantsuit, nods to Senator Elizabeth Warren, reinforced her message, cementing her performance as the catchiest political statement of the night. Skip Marley, grandson of Bob, joined in on the fun, injecting the performance with some reggae flavor and upbeat energy before it culminated with the two standing in front of a Constitution backdrop and a declaration of “No Hate” by Perry.
4. Chance the Rapper feat. Kirk Franklin (& Friends) “How Great” & “All We Got”
Chance the Rapper couldn’t have had a better introduction to a mainstream audience than with his energetic Grammys performance. It was a big night for Chance, who was nominated for five awards and took home three, including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album for Coloring Book, making him the first artist to win (or even be nominated for) a Grammy for a streaming-only album. His mash-up of “How Great” and “All We Got” further established him as the next big thing in rap. Joined by gospel singers Kirk Franklin and Tamela Mann, Chance bridged the narrowing gap between modern hip-hop and gospel, taking us all to church in the process. He poured out his heart and soul, passionately rapping behind the mic like a preacher behind the pulpit. His varied vocal effects and gestures brought a frenetic energy to the performance, which ramped up even more when he got out from behind the mic to work the stage joined by a full gospel choir.
3. Bruno Mars “That’s What I Like”
Bruno brings the funky fun to every performance, and the Grammys was no exception. Performing his soon-to-be hit “That’s What I Like” from the album 24K Magic, he showed off his smooth voice and dance moves with his squad of background singers and dancers behind him. He donned a suave leather tracksuit to match his demeanor, and although the mid-tempo r&b track stretched him to the top of his vocal range, he seemed to never miss a note. Toward the end of the performance, Bruno switched gears, repeatedly asking “can I break it down?” The audience, including Jennifer Lopez, who had a particularly memorable reaction shot, answered with a resounding “yes.” He then waltzed down to a lower stage (followed by his squad, of course) and talked to the audience directly, maintaining a cool confidence. He finished out the performance with a stunning harmony between him and his two background singers, leaving the audience in awe.
2. Beyoncé “Love Drought” & “Sandcastles”
Beyoncé was without a doubt one of the biggest stars at the show (along with Adele), and she had the most visually stunning and artistic performance of the night. Adorned in gold from head to toe, Queen B, who is expecting twins, evoked images of a goddess of African fertility. Posing amid hologram-like images that caught the eye and tricked it like an optical illusion, Bey looked gorgeous while a spoken word track and sounds of children laughing played. Her simple movements translated powerfully, and her voice sounded just as gorgeous as she looked when she began to sing, even when she was tipped over in a chair in a remarkable stunt. Her performance of “Love Drought” took the audience on a journey of broken love to renewed love and what it can bring, seemingly parallel to her relationship with Jay Z and her current pregnancy. “Sandcastles” allowed her to show off her vocal chops as the staging faded away and a single spotlight shone on her. A group of women wearing flowy gowns then rose up, arms raised as Beyoncé gave a knowing smile.
1. A Tribe Called Quest feat. Anderson .Paak (& Friends) Medley
No matter what side of the political spectrum you belong to, you have to admire A Tribe Called Quest for making such a bold statement on such a big platform. Their performance was packed with energy and masterfully weaved together their classics with new politically-charged tracks from their 2016 album “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” their first in 18 years. Q-Tip and Jarobi White played off each other’s energy before special guest Anderson .Paak slowed it down a bit to fall into a jazzier groove. The energy then shifted back with Tribe’s new song “We the People,” which served as a protest for the Muslim travel ban. Busta Rhymes introduced the track, boldly calling Trump “President Agent Orange.” The performance took on another level of poignancy as women dressed in hijabs took to the stage to stand in solidarity with the performers. As a posthumous verse from fallen founding member Phife Dawg played, the performers solemnly raised their fists, which simultaneously served as an act of respect for Phife and protest for Trump.
Maren Morris & Alicia Keys “Once”
It’s a shame this performance was overshadowed because Maren and Alicia were unexpectedly a perfect match-up. They both had powerful vocals that sounded amazing together and apart, and Maren finally got her well-deserved turn in the spotlight.
Ed Sheeran “Shape of You”
We already knew Ed was born to sing, but he just made sure we didn’t forget. Somehow his new hit, which is produced to pop perfection, sounded even better acoustic with just Ed on the guitar and loop pedal.
Adele “Hello” & George Michael Tribute (“Fastlove”)
Although Beyoncé’s performance topped Adele’s, Adele won so many awards that I just couldn’t leave her out. Her vocals were flawless as always, and her George Michael tribute will be memorable because she started over to make it perfect for George, which made us all love her just a little bit more.