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Every Performance From the 2018 Grammys, Ranked
It was a typically diverse and dazzling set of performances at the 60th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night (Jan. 27), ranging from Broadway tributes to #MeToo moments to long-awaited team-ups to, uh, Sting solo singles from 1988.
A lot to take in, of course, but in case you missed any of 'em -- or need help sorting out your feelings about all that you witnessed -- here's Billboard's ranking of the 20 performances from music's biggest night, from least to most essential.
20. U2, "Get Out of Your Own Way"
Bad timing to be slotted after Kesha's fire and brimstone, perhaps, but the 40-year-old Irish band's tired megaphoning out by the Statue of Liberty didn't exactly maintain a similar level of urgency. Plus, the dudes looked really cold.
19. Sting & Shaggy, "Englishman in New York"
The best argument against the Grammys really needing to be three and a half hours might have been the somewhat inexplicable surfeit of Sting across the awards show -- not just a song of the year presentation and a faux-Carpool Karaoke redo with Shaggy and James Corden in the New York subway system, but also a Shaggy-featuring rendition of his 30-year-old hit "Englishman in New York." Fun to hear Shaggy declaring "I'm a Jamaican in New York!" of course, but doggedly inessential.
18. Little Big Town, "Better Man"
If it feels like Little Big Town have been performing "Better Man" at awards shows for years already... well, sorta, given that they played it at the CMAs back in 2016. No revelations still left to be had here, but still some splendid harmonies -- and lots of wind and smoke, for some reason.
17. Elton John & Miley Cyrus, "Tiny Dancer"
A fine performance of a classic song, for sure, but not one that's gonna dislodge the Almost Famous sing-along (or hundreds of subsequent karaoke approximations) in anyone's pop-cultural memory banks.
16. Sam Smith, "Pray"
Perhaps making an early push for his 2019 Grammys push -- sophomore album The Thrill of It All was released past the eligibility cut off for this year's awards -- Sam Smith showed up in a generously sized white overcoat for a powerful performance of the album's "Pray." His pitch wasn't always 100 percent on target, but the performance swelled nicely and ended strong, perhaps enough to give the Thrill second single the push it needs to catch on like first single "Too Good at Goodbyes."
15. Jon Batiste & Gary Clark Jr., "Ain't That a Shame" / "Maybellene"
Two of the great pioneers of rock and roll probably deserve a little stronger an homage than half a song each -- but for a truncated tribute, Batiste and Clark performed admirably. Their reverence shone brightest through the instrumental passages that ended each song, Batiste hammering on the piano and Clark shredding on guitar, an increasingly rare display of instrumental virtuosity at music's biggest night.
14. Brothers Osborne, Maren Morris & Eric Church, "Tears in Heaven"
Twenty-five years after Eric Clapton essentially swept the Grammys with his MTV Unplugged album and his smash soundtrack single "Tears in Heaven," an all-star country team-up revived the latter -- originally a tribute to Clapton's late son Conor -- to pay tribute to the victims of the Las Vegas Route 91 Festival massacre in October. The performance was a little rocky, but genuine in its emotion and delivery, and -- with the names of the festival's victims broadcast in candle-like displays behind the performers -- undeniable in its purpose.
13. Lady Gaga, "Joanne" / "Million Reasons"
An undoubtedly powerful performance of Gaga doing what she does best -- well, one of the things, anyway. She began with a verse and chorus of her gorgeous solo piano rendition of the recently stripped-down "Joanne," before offering a relatively context-free "time's up," and pivoting to Super Bowl-blessed power ballad "Million Reasons." It would've probably been a stronger performance if she'd just stuck with the full "Joanne" -- we've heard "Reasons" at enough of these things already, and it's not like it was a particularly major Grammy nominee -- but still hard to argue with Stefani and 88 keys when she goes full torch song.
12. DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller, "Wild Thoughts"
As alluring as you'd expect, with Rihanna obviously taking center stage for the cleverly staged, artfully choreographed performance, and Bryson Tiler happy that they at least remembered he was on the song. "They said I would never perform at the Grammys -- they played themselves," offered a forever-vindicated DJ Khaled. Inarguable, really.
11. Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid, "1-800-273-8255"
This one might be ranked a couple spots higher if the trio didn't already deliver a near-iconic performance of it at the MTV Video Music Awards the previous summer, one which really embedded the song in the pop consciousness and cemented it as an anthem for its time. This time around largely continued a similar path, though Logic did set it apart with his closing preaching, which exhorted victims to "crush all predators" and "be not scared to use your voice," and ended with a pointed response to No. 45: "To all the beautiful countries... you are not shitholes."
10. Chris Stapleton & Emmylou Harris, "Wildflowers"
Kudos to Stapleton and Harris for not going the easy route with their Tom Petty tribute performance by opting for "I Won't Back Down," as the overwhelming majority of posthumous Petty homages seem to have done. Instead, the duo opted for Petty's sighing 1994 ballad "Wildflowers," a delicate cover with lovely harmonies that made for the perfect lead-in to the night's depressingly crowded in-memoriam montage.
9. Ben Platt, "Somewhere"
8. Patti LuPone, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"
8. Patti LuPone, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"
A pair of towering Broadway tributes done by two pros -- one relatively new, one firmly established -- who very, very obviously know what they're doing. LuPone gets the slight edge for her figure-skater's victory pose, if nothing else, but both performances were impressively vital for a couple of decades-old show tunes.
7. P!nk, "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken"
Lacking the dazzling choreography or physical feats of awards-show performances past, P!nk performed at the 2018 Grammys with just a microphone and a stretched-out T-shirt. Luckily, singing remains P!nk's first and primary superpower, and her performance of "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken" was plenty impressive with just her pipes to propel it -- and, with her cries of "There's not enough tape to shut this mouth," one of the more urgent performances of a not overly topical awards show.
6. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Zuleyka Rivera, "Despacito"
Who knows if they even would've been allowed to televise the Grammys this year without a "Despacito" performance? The song was so inextricable to the musical year that following Fonsi and Yankee's performance, host James Corden couldn't help make a quip about how he'd never heard the catchy little number before but thought it had radio potential. In any event, the performance was a triumph, still packing a thriller's worth of suspense with every slowly drawled chorus syllable and proving through the absence of its esteemed guest star that the song didn't really need The Bieb to be a phenomenon.
5. Childish Gambino, "Terrified"
Donald Glover isn't necessarily one for victory laps, so perhaps it's not terribly surprising that he resisted the urge to go crowd-pleaser with a performance of surprise hit "Redbone," instead opting for Awaken, My Love! deep cut "Terrified." The decision was quickly validated, as Glover, striking in a white suit, had the crowd in his hand by the end of the song's first verse, an impeccable vocal performance that kept scaling higher as it went, climaxing in a showdown with guest vocalist (and future big-screen co-star) JD McCrary, which should get everyone real hyped for the upcoming Lion King film adaptation.
4. SZA, "Broken Clocks"
A performance that the Grammys seemed to spend the entire show hyping up, which could've been too much for the Grammy first-timer and best new artist nominee to really rise to. But SZA was up for matching the hype, even doing so with a lesser-known track -- "Broken Clocks," from debut album Ctrl's back end -- but obvious star presence, as she dominated the stage in a frilly, ambiguous "M" shirt, with her vocal only getting stronger as the song progressed. She may have lost best new artist, but her future seems as bright as anyone's who took the stage on Sunday night.
3. Kesha, "Praying"
Criticisms over the Grammys trying to stuff the entire #MeToo movement into one performance were certainly deserving, but at least they chose the right performance: Kesha's soaring rendition of comeback single "Praying," still as harrowing and triumphant as it was when released in 2017's first half. Her performance -- supported by an all-female choir of co-stars, including Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper and Andra Day -- was spellbinding, trembling with fury and righteousness but still remarkably under control, personal and universal and as necessary as you could ask for from a 2018 award show performance.
2. Bruno Mars & Cardi B, "Finesse" (Remix)
Few performances of the evening were as anticipated as Bruno and Cardi's team-up for their first televised rendition of their much-loved new remix, and the duo didn't disappoint. The throwback fun of the song's '90s-inspired visual translated splendidly to the Grammys stage, through the star pair's ultra-casual wardrobes and house-party (or House Party) energy and dance moves, and even a seamless late-song dip into Cardi's recent "Bartier Cardi" single. There were certainly weightier and more impactful performances on the night, but none as sheerly enjoyable.
1. Kendrick Lamar feat. U2 & Dave Chappelle, Medley
He's long been one of our most reliable big-moment performers, but every awards show, Kendrick Lamar seems to step his game up another rung -- better staging, greater energy and more timely messaging. His Grammys-opening medley was perhaps his greatest yet, a mix of deep cuts, unreleased verses and single fragments that could've left viewers in the cold if they weren't hanging on his every blistering word. Bono and Dave Chappelle showed up, essentially just to play apostles. Four years ago, Kendrick was splitting stage time with Imagine Dragons. Now, he might've climbed his way onto Beyoncé's previously solo-occupied plane.