I might be the curse of the Grammys. After Kendrick Lamar’s snub and sexist comments from the former president in 2018, I decided to end my years-long tradition of always watching the awards show, only to find out that the 2019 ceremony actually got it right, honoring many worthy, talented people, including Childish Gambino and—*gasp*—women in some of the top categories. I guess women decided to make better music that year!
My apologies to the world for deciding to resume my tradition this year. Although I’m happy Billie Eilish and Finneas were honored (though maybe a bit too much), plenty of drama had been taking place behind the stage before the awards even took place. Rampant allegations of vote rigging and sexual misconduct along with the new president going on leave signaled loud and clear that the Recording Academy and the Grammys are cesspools that make Korean music awards and reality shows seem totally legit.
But the cesspool can put on an entertaining (though bloated) show. In fact, it’s more of a showcase of the best living artists than an awards show, as less than 10 awards were handed out during this year’s ceremony. However, that doesn’t mean that every performance is good, or even necessary. From the totally cheesy to the totally bizarre, here are all the performances of the 2020 Grammys ranked from worst to best.
“I Sing the Body Electric” from Fame
Joshua Bell, Camila Cabello, Gary Clark Jr., Misty Copeland, Lang Lang, Cyndi Lauper, Ben Platt and way too many other people
A whole bunch of talented people got together to celebrate music education and pay tribute to. . . long-time Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich. Ugh. Ken Ehrlich had been dreaming up this cornball Fame celebration for decades, and unfortunately, his dream came true. And at the worst time, since he’d been accused of rigging the top award categories just days before. This stage came off as a gross PR scam to try and make this guy seem like a sweetheart who champions the performing arts. When the person you’re paying tribute to has recently gotten in a lot of hot water, you might want to call off the performance. Just saying.
“Nobody But You”
Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton
I have a confession. Normally when I watch the Grammys I mute any performances I don’t care about, and this was one of them. I mean, it was one of the first ones, and I wasn’t planning on ranking them at that time. I’ve never cared about Blake Shelton at all, and I haven’t really cared about Gwen Stefani since “Wind It Up.” I did love her head-to-toe Dolce and Gabbana, and after watching a clip of it on YouTube, I can say that they sounded fine.
But is this really a performance anyone needed? Okay, actually their duet was highly anticipated by country fans, although it seems that even people who cared about this thought it was lame. Save it for the wedding guys. Wait, are they already married? I’m clearly very invested in these two.
Usher and FKA twigs
With Usher’s sexy crooning and FKA twigs’ artistry, this should’ve been a steamy reimagination of Prince’s work. Instead, it was just Usher giving straightforward renditions of a few songs while FKA twigs danced around in a Vegas showgirl costume. Sure, her dancing was spellbinding. Who can focus on Usher when FKA twigs is working the pole? But this is arguably the most exciting musician working today paying tribute to one of the most exciting pop stars of all time. She didn’t sing one note, people! This performance was insulting to both FKA twigs and Prince.
“Walk This Way”/“Livin’ On the Edge”
Aerosmith and Run-DMC
Though I like Run-DMC, I’ve never been a fan of Aerosmith or “Walk This Way.” So going into this performance, I already wasn’t feeling it. But both groups were feeling it a lot. Though I admire their energy, it was maybe a little too much energy. For a moment, I thought Steven Tyler stumbled off the stage, but he was just grabbing two young girls from the audience to join him on stage, which wasn’t icky at all. Yeah, I think I would’ve walked the other way if I were them.
Camila Cabello sang a sweet song to her father. Her father, being a father, cried. I imagine sentimental fathers around the world choked up at least a little when they saw this—if my dad saw this, I guarantee he would have. But I am not a dad; I am a very cynical daughter who thought this performance should’ve been saved for her wedding ceremony with Shawn Mendes. Stop giving me cheesy wedding moments on the Grammys! On the plus side, I did appreciate her fashion-forward approach to the innocent, dad-approved pink dress.
“What a Man Gotta Do”
This was fine. The brothers Jonas seemed to be enjoying themselves. Their gold-emblazoned outfits were poppin’. I mean, they pretty much always perform well. Except for that time they performed with Stevie Wonder on their first Grammys stage. Yikes. They certainly redeemed themselves for that moment, not that they needed that. There was certainly nothing wrong with this, but there certainly wasn’t anything memorable either. (I almost forgot to include it.) Except for Billy Porter’s fringe and platforms when he introduced them. He looked more ready to party with Lizzo than these guys.
“Bring My Flowers Now”
Tanya Tyler and Brandi Carlisle
To be very clear, this was not a bad performance at all. These artists are icons in the country/Americana scene. But it just so happens that I’m not a big listener of either of these genres. This was one of those classic Grammys moments where a younger singer partners with a living legend, and my hat’s off to them both. . . while I go take a snack break. Also, why did these two present the award for best comedy album?
Nipsey Hussle Tribute
Kirk Franklin, DJ Khaled, John Legend, Meek Mill, Roddy Ricch and YG
Like Tanya and Brandie’s performance, this one kinda falls under the category of just not for me. Well, maybe. Having DJ Khaled pay tribute to you is a little awkward, no matter the circumstances. It’s hard to feel moved when someone is yelling and being a hype man. I get that one of his last songs was with him, so it did make sense, but it was still weird. However, for those who are more familiar with Nipsey Hussle’s work than I am, this might’ve been a fitting tribute.
“imagine”/“Favorite Things”/“7 Rings”/“thank u, next”
Ariana caused a bit of a stir last year when she opted out of performing at the Grammys because she didn’t have control over her set, so the Grammys hyped this one up a lot over the night. “Still to come, Ariana Grande’s triumphant return to the Grammys stage!” It was mostly worth the hype. She showed off what makes her one of today’s top divas, hitting the stage in a giant gown and jewels that weigh more than she does and backed by strings. Then, she made her cheeky transition from The Sound of Music’s “Favorite Things” to “7 Rings,” where she showed off her sass in a pink lingerie party.
Unfortunately, the transition was a little bit clumsy. It took a few seconds too long to change out of her dress and make her way to her pink bedroom set. Also, in “thank u, next,” it sounded like she forgot a few lyrics. Now, Ariana Grande isn’t exactly known for her clear pronunciation, so there’s a strong possibility that I just misheard her. But it’s more fun to think she had a funny little slip-up. Ariana has been one of my favorite things about these past couple of years, but on a night of strong performances, she fell just a bit short for me.
Gary Clark Jr. with The Roots
A legendary guitarist and performer, Gary Clark Jr. doesn’t need elaborate sets or costumes to create a compelling stage. His song’s biting lyrics about the subjugation of African Americans might’ve been heavily censored, but the message came through loud and clear.
“when the party’s over”
Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
Given her bizarre music videos and aesthetic, I expected an over-the-top stage from Billie Eilish. Instead, she sang a stripped-down version of “when the party’s over” accompanied by her brother/producer at the piano. As the top performances on this list show, I am definitely a fan of flamboyance, but it was nice to see a quieter side to the artist and celebrate the music of both her and her brother in its purest form. They might’ve owned the night, but the brother-sister duo stayed humble, performing as if they were back at home, making music in their bedroom.
“Old Town Road” and Remixes/“Rodeo”
Lil Nas X ft. Billie Ray Cyrus, Nas, the yodeling Walmart kid, Diplo and a banjo, BTS (i.e., RM and his 6 homies)
When the hosts of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” gave their recap of the night, they described this performance as something that could only happen at the Grammys. Despite the Recording Academy’s flaws, the show’s ability to bring artists together for impressive performances has long been its redeeming quality. Lil Nas X gleefully danced through a revolving set of rooms, going through different versions of “Old Town Road” and concluding with “Rodeo.” Quite frankly, I’ll be happy if I never hear this damn song again, but his charisma and the quirky set design still made it a highlight of the night.
Unfortunately, FKA twigs wasn’t the only artist insulted that evening. Though BTS at least got to sing, they were mostly just back-ups to Lil Nas X and RM. And unlike FKA twigs, they didn’t dance at all, even though that’s like half of what they do. From coming in with zero nominations to serving as backup for only a minute, BTS didn’t get the star treatment they deserve as literally the biggest musical act on the planet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Grammy scandal was a producer getting attacked by a BTS ARMY Bomb lightstick.
Though Billie Eilish and Finneas gave us an emotional rendition of one of their songs, Demi Lovato ended up delivering the rawest performance of the night. She couldn’t hold back tears when she started singing the ballad she wrote shortly after her overdose. With her white dress and soaring vocals, she looked and sounded like a star while still baring her soul. I might be a cynical daughter, but I’m not heartless. For a moment, I felt a bit of her pain and just wanted to root for her. In “Anyone,” she pleads for people to listen to her, and I think we finally did.
Honestly, there isn’t much to say about this performance because it was sublime in its simplicity. Her soulful singing and guitar shredding spoke for themselves. Is there anyone cooler than H.E.R.?
“Cuz I Love You”/“Truth Hurts”
Unfortunately for Ariana Grande, the night began with today’s other major pop diva with a reputation for sass and power vocals. Lizzo did what Lizzo did best: show off her voice, show off her fabulous back-up dancers and show off her dance moves. Sasha Flute also got a chance to shine as she flew across the stage into Lizzo’s hands for a triumphant solo. My only tiny complaint is that her grey/neon catsuit looked a little cheap. Who better to kick off a show than Lizzo?
Throughout 2019, I was a little nervous that Rosalia might lose a bit of her edge. Don’t get me wrong, I loved everything she put out this year, but some of it seemed to stray away from her revolutionary flamenco/pop hybrid and more towards reggaeton. The Grammys proved that my worries, as usual, were totally unnecessary. She began with her latest song “Juro Que,” full of guitar strumming and hand claps. Wearing a simple but mesmerizing white, fringed catsuit, she danced around the notes with both her body and her voice, giving us a taste of Spain that left us hungry for more.
“Earfquake”/“New Magic Wand”
Tyler, the Creator with Charlie Wilson and Boyz II Men
The Grammys taught me that I had been experiencing Tyler, the Creator’s music all wrong. Other than a few of his early music videos back when the Odd Future collective was starting to make a name for itself, I mostly encountered his music the way I encounter most music, which is listening to albums on Spotify. Though I appreciated his experimentalism, few of his songs really stuck with me.
Turns out, the best way to listen to Tyler, the Creator is through his music videos and performances, something that I imagine pretty much everyone else already knew. His oddball humor and surrealism fully came to life on the stage, as his doppelgangers walked down the aisles in matching blonde wigs and pink suits. Beginning with a lovely acapella version of “Earfquake” from Boyz II Men, the performance increasingly descended into chaos, with Tyler dancing, yelling and lurching dangerously towards the edge of an elevated platform and eventually seeming to fall into the depths of hell, the set ablaze. It was weird, it was funny, it was dark, and it was the moment that stuck with me from the ceremony.