If you were looking for a breakout performance at the 60th annual Grammy Awards along the lines of Ricky Martin, or even a Soy Bomb moment, you were out of luck. This was a professional, if highly politicized, affair, that began with tackling racism and police brutality and ended up touching on hot-button topics like immigration and sexual harassment. Kendrick Lamar kicked off the night with his incendiary opening performance, but politics reared its head when he split the hip-hop constituency and allowed good old-fashioned R&B in the form of high-stepping Bruno Mars to steal the show.
Here are the top performances of Sunday night’s show:
1. Kendrick Lamar: Riffing non-stop through “XXX,” “DNA,” “The Heart Part 4,” and god knows what else – then sampling U2 live in exactly the right dose – K-Dot seized the moment and seemed ready to dominate the rest of the night until simple numbers got in the way. We’re not sure what Dave Chappelle was doing out there, though. “Rumble, my man.”
2. Bruno Mars f/Cardi B, “Finesse”: Perhaps the closest thing to a “who’s dat girl?” moment was when Cardi B sauntered onto the primary color set and stole the show. And Bruno Mars proved all he wants to do is dance, and for you to, too.
3. Pink, “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”: No, she didn’t hang from the ceiling. Plainly dressed in a low slung T-shirt and jeans, she used only her voice to raise the stakes. “There’s not enough rope to tie me down,” she sang, and then proceeded to soar anyway.
4. U2, “Get Out of Your Own Way”: Yeah, I know it wasn’t live, but the symbolism of Bono and the Edge silhouetted against the Statue of Liberty was one of the most effective shots of the night. And it was the only rock performance of the ceremony.
5. Kesha, “Praying”: Despite the ragged vocals and too-cluttered staging, she sang her heart out in this unapologetic rebuke to Dr. Lukes everywhere. Extra points to Janelle Monae’s furious introduction, a plea to “undo the culture that does not serve us well.”
6. Patti LuPone, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”: The attenuated Broadway tribute still produced a pair of standing ovations for this memorable rendition of her 1981 Grammy winner, and “Dear Evan Hansen” star Ben Platt’s soaring “Somewhere.”
7. SZA, “Broken Clocks”: She and Cardi B vie for the title of most impactful newcomer, and this low-key but high-impact performance will make Grammy rue the day she lost best new artist.
8. Logic w/Alessia Cara and Khalid, “1-800-273-8255”: He’s done this at previous award shows, but the song never fails to move, combining three of the most promising young talents out there.
9. Childish Gambino, “Terrified”: Donald Glover is a true renaissance man, but his moment was stolen by his “The Lion King” co-star JD McCrary’s slicing soprano.
10. Rihanna and DJ Khaled w/Bryson Tiller, “Wild Thoughts”: I’m still trying to figure out what exactly master hypeman and cheerleader (“raise your hands in the air”) DJ Khaled was doing, but this erotic pas de deux between Rihanna and Bryson Tiller lit up my screen.
Best Bits of the Night: Hillary Clinton reading a selection from Fire & Fury; James Corden’s Subway Carpool Karaoke with Sting and Shaggy
Best One-Liner: Jim Gaffigan, “I never heard of me, either.”
Worst Performances of the Night
1. Gary Clark, Jr. and Jon Batiste: This Fats Domino/Chuck Berry tribute fell disastrously flat. Weren’t Keith Richards or Dr. John available?
2. Sting/Shaggy, “Englishman in New York” and “Don’t Make Me Wait”: Another in the Recording Academy’s ongoing attempt to show the Police’s reggae roots. We get it.
3. Sam Smith, “Pray”: Not that he didn’t sound great, but it was an especially unmemorable moment.
4. Eric Church, Maren Morris and Brothers Osborne, “Tears in Heaven”: A little too on the money, too maudlin-by-half tribute to those killed at the country music festival in Las Vegas.
5. Elton John and Miley Cyrus, “Tiny Dancer”: I loved Miley in maroon floor-length gown gushing as a latter-day Kiki Dee, but Elton’s range makes this a sad display of what was.