Brutally honest rankings of every Grammy performance

Adele, Beyonce, Bruno Mars and many more artists performed at the 59th Grammy Awards

The performances at the 2017 Grammy Awards were nearly as stacked as the nominees themselves, with a lineup including Beyoncé, Adele, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, The Weeknd and more, plus tributes to Prince and George Michael.

However, just because an artist is performing during music's biggest night doesn't mean they're up to the task. From Bey's visually stunning stagings to the disastrous Bee Gees tribute, we ranked every performer at tonight's awards, and the top spot may be surprising.

Check out the night's winners here.

1. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST and ANDERSON .PAAK

How they did: Actual fire

Here's why: The night's most inspired, politically stirring performance paired two of the Grammys' most innovative hip-hop artists, the seminal rap group A Tribe Called Quest and Anderson .Paak, the funk-loving upstart nominated for best new artist.

ATCQ was joined by the young rapper singing from his favorite spot, behind the drum kit, for a career-spanning medley of the group's hits, with Busta Rhymes and Consequence emerging to perform the barn-burning We the People. The performance got more topical by the minute, featuring dancers in police uniforms, Busta’s shoutout to “President Agent Orange” and a parade of people in hijabs from the audience, ending with the rappers throwing up black power fists and chanting “Resist.”

ACTQ’s late member Phife Dawg was also remembered, his voice projected across the crowd as his likeness flashed across the stage.

2. BEYONCÉ

How she did: Gloriously

Here's why: Beyoncé must enjoy performing while pregnant. Most of the world learned about her first pregnancy onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2011, when she revealed her growing belly after her performance. And after dropping the pregnancy Instagram heard 'round the world earlier this month, Bey announced she'd be debuting her baby bump live at the Grammys.

The Internet speculated whether Bey would slow down her performance as a safety precaution, and indeed, the very pregnant singer took on two of Lemonade's sleepier, lesser-known songs, Love Drought and Sandcastles. But her visual presentation was anything but tired, in a completely different class from anything else at the Grammys so far this year, or most other years.

Holograms of glowing women, dancing children and her own gesticulating form danced around her goddess-like visage, wearing a rose-adorned crown, bathed in gold light. She strode to a chair, surrounded by dancers quite literally bowing down at her side and hanging on her every word, alternatively singing while sitting down and swaying with her maidens.

If there were any questions whether the singer could still belt while pregnant, her big-voiced take on Sandcastles put any speculation to rest, ending on a contemplative note: “If we’re going to heal, let it be glorious.” Consider us healed.

3. CHANCE THE RAPPER, KIRK FRANKLIN and TAMELA MANN

How they did: Church

Here's why: The 23-year-old rapper was perhaps the only nominee at this year's Grammys whose album helped inspire the Recording Academy to rewrite the rules. With streaming-only albums eligible for consideration, Chance's 2016 breakout album Coloring Book earned him seven nods, taking home honors including best rap album and best new artist. His Grammys performance was a victory lap, featuring famed preacher Franklin and gospel singer Mann for two of Coloring Book’s most spiritually stirring tracks, a medley of How Great and All We Got.

Veins bulging from under his trademark cap, Chance rapped like his life was on the line, his feverish pace necessary for overpowering the gospel choir flanking his sides. Even when surrounded by dynamic performers, he remained the figure onstage we couldn’t stop watching. Kanye West never showed up for his verse on All We Got, but considering Chance’s singular power, his presence wasn’t necessary.

4. ADELE

How she did: Better than last year!

Here's why: Adele and the Grammys have a complicated history. She's one of the most decorated nominees in the major categories, racked up six trophies for 21 in 2012 and returning with five nominations this year for 25. But her performance at last year's awards wasn't quite as golden, with sound issues resulting in an unthinkably rocky outing for the singer, a moment she almost reprised.

This year, Adele returned to the same circular stage for a performance of her beloved single Hello. Standing solo in the darkened Staples Center, she was back to her usual form, delivering an excellently sung (if humorless) opening number, save for a few sassy hand signals she threw out. There's not much levity to be found in Hello, but maybe one of Adele's livelier songs would've better suited her big comeback moment.

5. BRUNO MARS and THE TIME

How they did: Prince wouldn't have been mad

Here's why: Mars stepped into Prince's similarly sized shoes to pay tribute to the pop icon, preceded by a band that can remember the late legend better than nearly anyone else in music, his former band The Time.

Frontman Morris Day led The Time through faithful, gloriously funky renditions of Jungle Love and The Bird (featured in the Purple Rain film) before Mars took the stage, tasked with covering Prince’s classic Let’s Go Crazy, nailing his costume with a sequined purple jacket and flouncy shirt. But looking the part isn’t the same as sounding it, and Mars’ energetic vocals were nearly swallowed by the waves of reverb that once buoyed Prince’s voice. While he mimicked Prince’s guitar skills well enough, Mars’ stiff performance neglected the fact that Prince was also one of pop music’s best dancers. Was Miguel busy?

6. KEITH URBAN and CARRIE UNDERWOOD

How they did: Soft-rock perfection

Here's why: With several other Nashville favorites appearing in medleys with pop singers, Underwood and Urban were supposed to deliver country music's biggest performance of the night, with the duo collaborating on Urban's The Fighter.
Viewers expecting some country twang instead got several minutes of soft-rock glory, the call-and-response chorus perfectly suited for the duet. The Grammys’ Bee Gees tribute isn’t happening until later in the night, but, impossibly, Urban may have just delivered the disco performance of the evening. Urban probably isn’t trying to leave his chosen genre behind to become a smooth pop star in the later phase of his career, but this unexpectedly groovy performance makes a good case.

7. MAREN MORRIS and ALICIA KEYS

How they did: Smoldering

Here's why: Fifteen years after taking home the Grammy for best new artist in 2002, Keys returned to the awards to perform with Morris, another songwriter breaking boundaries in her own genre of country. Morris, nominated for best new artist this year, made a case for her talents as a cross-genre artist with her soulful take on Once, trading belted-out verses with Keys. As powerful as their pairing was, Keys’ and Morris’ voices didn’t always play well together, with their duet sounding more like a singoff at times. Perhaps Morris should’ve handled this one alone.

8. KATY PERRY

How she did: Not-so-subtly political

Here's why: New year, new Katy. After revealing a newly blond look on Instagram last week, Perry announced she'd be performing at the Grammys before releasing her disco-flavored new single Chained to the Rhythm.

The song made its live debut at the Grammys, with Perry ditching her kitschy Left Shark-style props for a performance full of political cues. The singer donned a “Persist” armband, presumably a reference to Sen. Elizabeth Warren's silencing by the U.S. Senate, as she sang about living in a bubble and breaking free in front of a likeness of a suburban house and a picket fence. The packs of dancers that normally accompany Perry’s live sets didn’t emerge until the end, exploding the fence into shards of mirrors, disappearing as the stage darkened and a “We the People” projection appeared. Perry spent much of last year stumping for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and it’s clear she hasn’t left her politics in 2016.

9. ADELE's George Michael tribute

How she did: Drama!

Here's why: Mistakes. Cursing. A surprise do-over. Adele’s George Michael tribute was a roller coaster that the late pop icon hopefully still would have approved of, as Adele insisted on starting over in the middle of the first chorus, vowing "I can't mess this up for him" after last year's pitchy drama. The crowd cheered and the eerie orchestration started over, with Adele, a noted George Michael fan, delivering a more smoothly sung rendition the second time around.

10. JOHN LEGEND and CYNTHIA ERIVO

How they did: Struck the perfect note

Here's why: Fresh off a Grammy win for The Color Purple, Broadway's Erivo teamed up with Legend to soundtrack the awards' In Memoriam portion with a moving cover of the Beach Boys' God Only Knows. It’s hard to mess up the pop classic, and Legend and Enviro’s simple piano rendition never sounded overdone, staying respectful even when the two accomplished singers let loose with their elaborate riffing.

11. KELSEA BALLERINI and LUKAS GRAHAM

How they did: Nicely done

Here's why: The Nashville singer/songwriter and the Danish pop group are coming off the biggest year of their careers, arriving at this year's Grammys to compete in the night's biggest categories (Ballerini for best new artist, Lukas Graham for song and record of the year). For the viewers at home watching without a clue who Lukas Graham or Ballerini are, their mashup of respective hits 7 Years and Peter Pan made the two tracks almost indistinguishable. Emerging on top was Lukas Graham, with 7 Years’ elaborate wordplay swallowing Pan whole. Still, the medley worked better than it should have.

12. WILLIAM BELL and GARY CLARK JR.

How they did: Short but sweet

Here's why: If the night’s shortest performance means more people will spend their night Googling William Bell, it’s for the best. The soul singer finally won his first Grammy Sunday after a 60-year career, taking home the trophy for best Americana album. For a take on the soul classic Born Under A Bad Sign, he was joined by Clark’s guitar riffing, for a few minutes of vintage rock 'n’ roll that deserved to be twice as long.

13. BRUNO MARS

How he did: A cheese factor of 10

Here's why: Following that Beyoncé performance was no easy task, but luckily for Mars, Bey left some stray rose petals on stage behind her. For his solo set before his Prince tribute later in the show, Mars came prepared with his own love song from 2016's 24K Magic, That's What I Like, channeling '90s R&B nostalgia with a tracksuit, classic Nikes and some Boyz II Men-style posturing. Mars can sing, no doubt, but his strung-together come-ons and his trip into the audience to “talk to the ladies for a second” were a little much. Give Bey back her rose petals, please.

14. THE WEEKND and DAFT PUNK

How they did: Props on props on props

Here's why: The R&B singer teamed up with the famed French electronic producers for several tracks on his 2016 album Starboy. And while the record missed the cutoff for consideration at this year's Grammys, perhaps the trio wanted to make a good impression on the Recording Academy for 2017's awards, joining forces for a joint Grammys performance. While Abel Tesfaye's take on Earned It at the 2016 Grammys was a snoozy, forcibly formal waltz, this year’s performance dropped him into an elaborate set straight out of Tron, segueing a little too quickly from Starboy into the album’s second single I Feel It Coming. Tesfaye isn’t the most interesting performer to watch by any means, so sticking him in between the helmeted members of Daft Punk on top of a fake mountain surrounded by lasers was the right call.

15. METALLICA AND LADY GAGA

How they did: Started rough, thankfully recovered

Here's why: When the unlikely Grammys pairing of Gaga and Metallica was announced, fans speculated that the rockers would perhaps play backing band to one of Gaga's new tracks. The opposite was revealed Sunday night, with Gaga joining Metallica to perform Moth Into Flame, one of the band's singles from its 2016 album Hardwired … to Self-Destruct.

Thanks to some technical issues, the only voice you could hear was Gaga’s for the first verse of the song, with Metallica singer James Hetfield eventually grabbing a working mike. Gaga’s wailing vocals, delivered in front of a wall of flames, proved she could hold her own onstage with the metal legends, a more powerful performance than her groupie-chic look — complete with a cut-up Metallica T-shirt — suggested.

16. ED SHEERAN

How he did: Forgettable

Here's why: A day after showing off his new singles from forthcoming album Divide on Saturday Night Live, Sheeran traveled across the country to perform another take on Shape of You at the Grammys. A guy and a guitar isn’t always the most transfixing thing to watch during an awards show, so Sheeran started off the track playing with looper pedals to build the song from scratch, which was engaging to watch before the backing track lamely kicked in. Busted. The Grammys love Sheeran, so expect the tune to show up in next year's crop of record or song of the year nominees. At least that means we won’t have to watch him perform this song again.

17. STURGILL SIMPSON and THE DAP-KINGS

How they did: An almost-fitting tribute to a legend

Here's why: When Grammys collaborative performances go wrong, they pair artists with clunky chemistry for mashups that have zero reason to exist. Other times, they feel like destiny. Simpson, who earned a surprise album of the year nomination for A Sailor's Guide to Earth, performing with the Dap-Kings, whose bandleader Sharon Jones died last year, almost belongs in the latter category, with Simpson falling slightly short.

Backing Simpson to perform his song All Around You was a full choir and powerful horns section, at times overwhelming the singer/songwriter in the front, whose valiant struggle to keep up was nevertheless a reminder of Jones’ uniquely formidable talents.

18. LITTLE BIG TOWN, DEMI LOVATO, ANDRA DAY and TORI KELLY

How they did: Why?

Here's why: For the Grammys' well-intentioned tribute to the Bee Gees, the show inexplicably decided that a collaborative performance featuring a country group, a soul singer and two thoroughly vanilla pop stars would be the best choice. Lovato’s scream-sung take on Stayin’ Alive was totally devoid of funk, before Kelly took the mike for a faint-voiced rendition of Tragedy and some distracted guitar playing. Little Big Town fared slightly better with How Deep Is Your Love, their wimpy harmonizing a reminder of what exactly made the Gibbs’ trademark vocals so enduring, before Day’s shaky grasp on consonants turned the immortal Night Fever into word salad. By the end, when all the performers took the stage for a Stayin’ Alive reprise, they just looked confused. Us, too.

(© 2017 WXIA)


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