Every Grammys ceremony has its enduring performances that will endure as shining moments in the artists’ careers.
And then, there are the duds — the sets that the Grammys would just rather let fade into memory.
So which 2019 Grammys performers earned their right to perform at music’s biggest night? Read on for reviews of every performance at this year’s show.
Andra Day, Fantasia and Yolanda Edwards, Aretha Franklin tribute
Considering the Grammys’ several missteps when it came to tribute performances earlier in the show, they did Aretha Franklin right by trusting Andra Day, Fantasia and Yolanda Edwards, three artists who could actually do right by Franklin’s gospel legacy, with their take on “Natural Woman.” Whether Franklin should’ve been honored with a lengthier portion of the show than just a single song, though, is a legitimate criticism.
St. Vincent and Dua Lipa, “Masseducation” and “One Kiss”
Dua Lipa and St. Vincent are two artists who know exactly what they’re doing — and, in a rare moment, the Grammys knew exactly what they were doing by pairing them up for this performance. Both women are subjects of intense attraction among their fanbases, and they both wield their sexualities like swords, making their duet exactly as erotic as their fans could have hoped, as they mirrored each other’s movements wearing matching blunt bobs. Their chemistry was matched by the performance with St. Vincent’s “Masseducation” segueing seamlessly into Dua Lipa’s “One Kiss,” in what was actually a transformative pairing of songs.
Chloe x Halle, “Where is the Love”
It’s obvious why Beyonce took the twin sister act Chloe x Halle under her wing — and on her tours — when you’re watching them perform, as they sound more like mini-soundalikes of Queen Bey than most of their other R&B peers. The song they performed Sunday, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s “Where is the Love,” was far from the easiest arrangement to pull off, and they handled it with grace and, more importantly, vocal dexterity.
Brandi Carlile, “The Joke”
Honestly, Carlile is a treasure. While higher-profile stars badmouthed the awards or chose to skip them entirely, realizing that they’re already too famous to need the kind of exposure the Grammys can provide, Carlile took a different route, seizing her status as the awards’ most-nominated female artist, appearing in commercials for the Recording Academy and a bevy of pre-Grammys events, plugging LGBT rights whenever she could. She’s a difficult character not to root for, and watching her perform “The Joke” felt like a triumph, as well as an example of the Grammys’ learning from last year’s mistakes and actually giving their top female nominees airtime during the telecast.
Jennifer Lopez: Motown tribute
Jennifer Lopez received plenty of criticism in the weeks leading up to the Grammys for her rumored Motown tribute, with skeptics asking whether Lopez was really the right singer for the job. Sure enough, Grammys viewers got to see the set in its full glory — if that’s what you’d call it — on Sunday, as Lopez soldiered through enduring hits including “Dancing in the Street,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Do You Love Me.” Even beyond the questionable racial dynamics of the Grammys’ choice of J-Lo for a Motown tribute, her performance was a testament to how powerful the greatest vocalists were of that era, and how not all performers today can match them. Smokey Robinson granted her an assist with “My Girl,” with Alicia Keys stepping in for a second of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” and Ne-Yo playing keys on “Another Star,” but Lopez was tasked with singing “Square Biz” all on her own, another iffy choice of the night.
Travis Scott, “Stop Trying To Be God” and “No Bystanders”
The set badly needed to lose its whole first minute, in which Travis Scott entrusted the vocals of “Stop Trying To Be God” to vocalists James Blake and Philip Bailey, who tried and failed to give Scott the imaginative opening he presumably wanted when he invited them. Things picked up when the set transitioned to “No Bystanders,” a raucous highlight off Scott’s 2018 “Astroworld” album that the Grammys gave an appropriately chaotic live treatment. Invoking Scott’s maybe-brother-in-law Kanye West’s iconic 2015 BRIT Awards’ performance of “All Day,” in which a crowd of flamethrower-wielding dancers stormed the stage, Scott performed “No Bystanders” inside a giant cage with a mob swirling around him, before climbing out and crowdsurfing across the sea of bodies. It could’ve sounded better, but then again, that’s completely missing the point of Scott’s singular live presence.
Lady Gaga, “Shallow”
Let’s start with the positives, which is Gaga’s knack for showmanship and her desire to transform “Shallow” for the Grammys stage and perform it not as her Ally character from “A Star is Born,” but in a style that’s closer to her own live shows. And for Gaga fans hoping for a high-drama set, that’s exactly what she delivered. Gaga starting her performance at maximum intensity, though, meant there was nowhere for her to build, and by the time the song got to its famously wordless climax, all there was left to do for Gaga was to over-sing. Gaga didn’t need to sing “Shallow” stripped-down and Ally-style, but perhaps she could’ve found a happy medium between the “Shallow” recording and the blown-out version she performed on the Grammys stage.
Diana Ross, “The Best Years of My Life,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”
“Thank you for celebrating my birthday!” Diana Ross declared midway through her performance, to cheers — and again, at the end of her final song, as she waved goodbye to the crowd. Does it matter that her birthday is in late March? Of course not. When you’re a diva, every day can be your birthday if you declare it so. Ross got the icon treatment she deserved from the Grammys, looking the part of a prima donna from the moment she walked onto the stage wearing a cloud of pink fabric. As perfectly quippy as she is talented, she alternately praised and goaded the crowd, insisting they put their hands in the air: “Don’t be lazy!” Ross may not have received the same amount of screen time as Parton for her own respective tribute, but she had every bit the presence with half the time.
Dan + Shay, “Tequila”
Not the most memorable moment of the night, Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney didn’t hit a bum note in their moody take on their breakthrough hit “Tequila,” making drinking the aforementioned agave spirit sound absolutely mournful. Still, this may be one of the performances that non-superfans may struggle to remember in a few weeks — or, more realistically, in a few hours.
Alicia Keys, “Songs I’d Wish I’d Written” medley
Alicia Keys gave viewers a valid reminder of the artistry that got her to this level of music fame in the first place — which can be easy to forget, considering she’s almost more famous these days as a TV personality or a talking head than the soulful pianist of her younger years. Keys showed just how many songs sound just as good, or in some cases better, when she’s the one performing there, making a serious case that she should adopt “Lucid Dreams” from Juice WRLD and “Use Somebody” from “Kings of Leon.” She also graced Grammys viewers with maybe the purest moment in the night so far, when she started playing a sweet snippet of Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up,” only for the camera to cut to Mai in the audience, looking absolutely overjoyed.
Cardi B, “Money”
Leave it to Cardi B to deliver a set that was really just a string of instantly memeable moments — which sounds like a criticism but is truly a compliment, considering how amazing she is at playing this game. Her stripping off her purple velvet cape. Her descending the steps in a showgirl fantasy of a set, surrounded by body-suited dancers in splits. Her climbing atop the crystal piano and posing with aplomb. Her flailing around in a peacock tail of giant black feathers. Even her on-again-off-again boo Offset was in on it, with the camera cutting to him dancing in the audience and sticking out his tongue audaciously. Was she actually singing? While her critics may crow about the performance’s questionable lack of live vocals, Cardi knows better — and realizes that her visuals, instantly ready to be memed, GIFed and disseminated on Instagram, are far more indelible.
H.E.R., “Hard Place”
Who is H.E.R.? That’s a question that many viewers likely went into the Grammys still asking, after the R&B singer’s surprise windfall of nominations this year. Wearing her trademark dark circular glasses onstage, the singer delivered a succinct lesson on why she deserves to be performing on the Grammys stage tonight, hitting all the marks with an anthemic performance of “Hard Place,” kicking things up a notch when she started shredding on her clear electric guitar. But did she make an impression? Whether she did enough to stick in Grammys viewers’ memories will probably depend on whether she wins the big categories in which she’s nominated tonight, but her talent is undeniable.
Dolly Parton tribute: Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves, Miley Cyrus, Maren Morris and Little Big Town
Thank goodness for Dolly, teaching the younger girls how it’s done, with a tribute in which every segment was better than the previous one. Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves kicked off the performance, trading vocals on the least-showy song of the set, “Here You Come Again,” before Parton stormed the stage, serving vocals basically as strong as the women half her age around her. To take on her immortal hit “Jolene,” she was joined by her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, doing a perfect imitation of Parton’s twang. Next came a haunting take on “After the Gold Rush,” made famous by Neil Young, with Parton, Cyrus and Maren Morris singing over a bare-bones accompaniment that briefly dropped out for a thrilling moment of three-part a cappella harmonies. Little Big Town emerged next for Parton’s new song for the “Dumplin’” soundtrack, “Red Shoes,” giving her a few minutes to show off just how incredibly strong her voice still is. By the time the set ended with a feel-good group singalong of “9 to 5,” Parton had convinced us to just hand over the whole rest of the evening to her capable hands.
MusiCares 2019 Person of the Year: Dolly Parton is first country singer honored after lifetime of music
More MusiCares: Dolly Parton compares her tribute concert to watching porn
Post Malone and Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Stay”/”Rockstar”/”Dark Necessities”
How many Grammys viewers found out tonight that Post Malone could actually sing? A smart move of Malone to start his set on a stool, with an acoustic guitar, playing his “Stay” track, showing off vocals that anyone who’s seen his Nirvana covers on YouTube knows he’s capable of. The magic ended once he stood up and promptly bungled his cue for his transition into the way-more-insufferable “Rockstar.” The disappointments continued with the set’s abrupt transition into the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ portion of the performance, featuring one of their relatively newer songs, “Dark Necessities,” with Malone indiscernibly singing backup for Anthony Kiedis. This was one of the Grammys’ most-anticipated performances, if only for comedic value, and actually had a ton of potential for the very-obvious crossovers that could’ve been made between Malone and RHCP’s music. Instead, they basically performed separately, another wasted opportunity for the awards.
Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”
Finally, some life. Monae brought one of her Prince-iest songs to the Grammys and did the Purple One proud with her electric guitar and flawless choreography — though she owes the perfect moonwalk she busted out halfway through the performance to Michael Jackson. A break from the relatively bland performances that came before her, Monae transitioned from “Make Me Feel” to a snippet from “PYNK,” complete with the music video’s pussy pants, and ended with a stunning scene, of elevated tiers of dancers that somehow never distracted from Monae performing below. Even if Monae doesn’t win album of the year tonight, she gets credit for restoring a pulse to the ceremony, if just for a few minutes.
Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow”
Too much echo! Too much fog! Less was always going to be more when it came to Musgraves’ performance tonight, considering she’s one of the purest talents scheduled to sing tonight, and the Grammys could literally just arm her with a guitar on an empty stage and let her do her thing. That’s mostly what the Grammys did, with Musgraves performing her stripped-down ballad “Rainbow” with a simple piano accompaniment, though her pitch-perfect singing didn’t need to be Disney princess-fied by the strange echo that near-airbrushed the character out of her voice.
Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus, “In My Blood”
As straightforward as Grammy performances come, this wasn’t a mash-up between the two artists’ songs or a reimagined arrangement, just Cyrus duetting with Mendes over his perfectly inoffensive single. Biceps fully out, Mendes was endearing — or wildly boring, depending on whether you ask his fans or his haters — as he played piano before joining Cyrus onstage, backed by a swelling string section, because what is a dramatic Grammys performance without a string section, truly? As attendees of Dolly Parson’s MusiCares tribute saw when Mendes and Cyrus sang Parton’s classic “Islands in the Stream” together, the two artists are capable of making some lovely musical moments together. It’s a shame the Grammys didn’t give them a little more to do.
Camila Cabello, “Havana”
The Grammys certainly gave Camila Cabello quite the set for her show-opening performance, placing her in a giant dollhouse surrounded by faux-neon storefronts and an army of colorfully-costumed dancers. And yet, at this point in February 2019, it’s been over a year since the release of “Havana,” and it’s worth asking whether the Grammys should’ve picked something a little fresher to lead the show. Bonus points go to Young Thug’s appearance, one of the most prolific rappers in recent years not to earn a single Grammys nomination, though to be honest, he didn’t do much but recite his verse while striking various poses. Things livened up once Ricky Martin took the stage in his all-white suit, joined by J. Balvin who did a few bars — too few, honestly — of “Mi Gente.” Just as the stage started melting down into chaos, it was over.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2019/02/10/grammys-2019-brutally-honest-reviews-every-performance-ranked/2833572002/