The past year has been emotional for many, to say the least. While that seems like it would lend itself to some powerful Grammy performances last night (and it did), that also made it difficult for any of them to stand out: They were almost all profoundly impactful, and while a number of them would have been easily the best performance any other year, some truly great on-stage moments may have been overshadowed by the crowd of inspiration in which they existed this year.
That said, there were definite standouts, so let’s rank them (and if you’re not caught up, check out the full list of last night’s winners here):
10. Rihanna, DJ Khaled, and Bryson Tiller — “Wild Thoughts“
Credit to DJ Khaled for being so darn likable that we let him recite hollow nuggets of inspiration and shout his name on stage at the Grammys. That said, Rihanna was the star of this Latin-flavored performance, dominating the stage with her signature sensual energy and idiosyncratic vocals that have led to her ubiquity over the past decade.
9. Logic, Khalid, and Alessia Cara — “1-800-273-8255“
For this rendition of Logic’s powerful track about suicide, he (and Khalid and Alessia Cara) were joined on stage by suicide attempt survivors, and he even took a jab at Donald Trump with a comment about “sh-tholes.” That said, this one would have had more bite if it wasn’t essentially a repeat of their VMAs performance from this past summer.
8. Maren Morris, Eric Church, and The Brothers Osborne — “Tears In Heaven“
The In Memoriam portion of the show felt entirely too long this year, and Morris and her country company paid tribute to perhaps the most tragic music event of the year: the Las Vegas mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. They did so with an intimate cover of Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven,” which made for a gentle and moving moment.
7. SZA — “Broken Clocks“
She didn’t come away with any hardware, but SZA’s performance of “Broken Clocks” was still stunning. Aside from the fantastic song itself, the stage design was top rate, with various visual effects (and even a reference to The Matrix) putting us in SZA’s world of R&B bliss.
6. U2 — “Get Out Of Your Own Way“
Although this one wasn’t exactly live, viewers who weren’t aware of the behind-the-scenes surely didn’t know that any trickery was going on. So ultimately, what we were left with was an anthemic performance of “Get Out Of Your Own Way” that included a pointed barb aimed directly at Trump: “Blessed are the sh-thole countries, for they gave us the American dream.”
5. Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson — “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?)” and “Million Reasons” medley
Gaga shared an emotional piano rendition of the Joanne title track a few days ago, and it was just as powerful when she performed it on the Grammy stage with Mark Ronson. The segue into “Million Reasons” was also effective, especially considering that Gaga’s pitch-perfect performance made Madison Square Garden feel like an intimate lounge.
4. Childish Gambino — “Terrified“
Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! came out all the way back in late 2016, so perhaps the fact that it still sounds amazing now is a testament to its timelessness. His performance of “Terrified” was controlled fury, and props to the young man who joined Gambino on stage and vocally went toe-to-toe with him.
3. Bruno Mars and Cardi B — “Finesse“
Mars’ big Grammy wins may have upset some music fans, but there’s no denying that the dude knows how to make everybody from your baby brother to your 89-year-old grandmother want to dance. Add Cardi B to this ’90s throwback track and what results is an unquestionably fun time that’ll make your smile extra wide.
2. Kendrick Lamar, U2, and Dave Chappelle — “XXX“
Unsurprisingly, Kendrick turned in the most ambitious performance — you know that’s true when a guest spot from U2’s Bono and The Edge is almost a forgotten part of it. Kendrick’s rapping was perfectly on beat and on point, and Dave Chappelle’s commentary interjections were a strange but intriguing choice that ultimately worked out. One of the comedian’s most biting lines: “The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America.”
1. Kesha, Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day, and Bebe Rexha — “Praying“
It’s been a long and painful journey for Kesha to get to where she is now (on top of the world in the aftermath of a draining sexual assault trial), which made her performance of the hyper-personal ballad “Praying” all the more powerful. Joined on stage by a prime lineup of woman vocalists, Kesha delivered a hair-raising and raw rendition of the track that produced tears at an amazing rate in performer and audience alike (or at least made observers take deep breaths in order to hold them back, as host James Corden was seen doing during the broadcast).