“Can I just say that I think Ariana deserves this?” said Eilish, visibly shaken, when she got onstage to accept album of the year. (Ariana Grande, sitting in the crowd, modestly waved off the praise.) Eilish co-wrote the entire record with her brother and producer, Finneas O’Connell, who also looked shocked.
“We wrote an album about depression and suicidal thoughts and climate change and being a bad guy, whatever that means, and we stand up here confused and grateful,” O’Connell said.
Only a few other awards were presented on the more than 3½-hour telecast, including pop solo performance, which went to Lizzo for “Truth Hurts,” and rap/sung performance, which was awarded to “Higher,” a song by DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend. Khaled and Legend dedicated the award to Hussle, who died in March.
The show started off on a somber note, as celebrities on the red carpet paid tribute to the legendary Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash that morning. Both stars and co-host Ryan Seacrest repeatedly emphasized that the Staples Center, where the Grammys took place and Bryant spent his career, was the “house of Kobe.”
The show was already thrown into chaos last week with the sudden exit of Recording Academy chief Deborah Dugan — the first woman to run the organization — followed by her explosive lawsuit that alleged gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
Below, we ranked every performance of the night from best to worst.
1. Tyler, the Creator, Boyz II Men and Charlie Wilson
Hello, children, please sit down and take some notes from Charlie Wilson, who after this performance should be considered the frontman of Boyz II Men, and all singing boys and men. In fact, every Grammys telecast should consider a requisite Charlie Wilson cameo so the baseline for singing can be clearly established.
But even without Uncle Charlie, Tyler, the Creator did something magical on that stage. Australia is on fire, legends are suddenly dying, and chaos abounds outside the Staples Center, and Tyler reflected that with a performance that included his single “Earfquake,” approximately 27 Tyler clones, lights going berserk, a camera shaking uncontrollably and the houses behind him catching on fire. In a moment of respite, Boyz II Men and Uncle Charlie appeared on the house roofs and soothed our souls. And then chaos came back. Doesn’t it always?
2. Lil Nas X et al.
Look, this was fever dream of a performance we all deserved and needed. Let’s see: Lil Nas X strumming a string instrument in a fake living room (with a Kobe jersey draped across an armchair); joining BTS for the “Seoul Town Road” version; dancing in a fake barn with the Walmart yodeling kid (Mason Ramsey), who happens to be chilling with Diplo; then singing with the big guy himself, Billy Ray Cyrus, who could have used a moment to clear his throat but was making the most of this unexpected Billy Raynaissance. Add in lots of shots of a slime green skull (why?!) and Lil Nas X trying to get rid of his trumpet. Finally, we see … Nas. Get it?! Nas! Lil Nas X! This will be the last time all of these people are all together on a Grammys stage.
3. Nipsey Hussle tribute
We’re worried about judging a tribute performance too harshly, but this hit the right notes and everyone was in sync. The performers showed up with their A-game (well, we could have done with less of DJ Khaled’s yelling, but we can always do with less of that). Meek Mill and YG rapped, John Legend ably played piano and sang his heart out for “Higher,” a choir danced in white clothes that were a nod to Nipsey’s Habesha roots, and Kirk Franklin came out and took us all to church by the end. Videos of Nipsey rapping played at one point on the screens onstage, which sometimes feels weird in a tribute performance, but it actually worked tastefully in this. The performance ended with those same screens projecting images of Nipsey and Kobe Bryant. “Rest in Peace, Kobe Bryant, Gianna, long live Nip,” DJ Khaled yelled. “The marathon continues.”
Here's what celebrities wore on the Grammy Awards red carpet
“Tonight is for Kobe!” Lizzo shouted as she kicked off the telecast by belting out “Cuz I Love You,” with very fitting lyrics: “I’m crying, cuz I love you.” In a ballgown surrounded by backup dancers, it was a low-key opening compared with the song she transitioned to next, “Truth Hurts,” in which her dancers were dressed in a very “laser tag meets opera house and/or a ballet” vibe. It was a classic Lizzo number, as she also dazzled the crowd by breaking out her flute for a solo. “PERIOD!” she yelled. She ended by yelling, “Welcome to the Grammys, b----!”
Once again, we were reminded that H.E.R. can really bring the heat in a way that feels effortless. She performed “Sometimes” by starting at the piano and backed by musicians cleverly lined up on a slope behind her. Eventually H.E.R. stood up, and wailed into the mic before she picked up the guitar and let that wail, too. It all led us to wonder: Why didn’t she perform the Prince tribute? H.E.R. closed it out by sitting back down at the piano and gently leading us out. Solid performance, solid notes, solid playing — thanks for coming back to the Grammys, H.E.R.
6. Gary Clark Jr. and the Roots
Fire made its second appearance onstage as part of the set for Gary Clark Jr.'s performance. Backed by the Roots, he played his incendiary takedown of Trump country, “This Land.” Clark Jr. belted out the hyperpolitical lyrics, many of which can’t be printed in a family newspaper or aired on CBS, with the anger of punk rock. He attacked his guitar solo the same way, injecting a fierce dash of anger into the awards show.
7. Demi Lovato
It’s been about a year and a half since Demi Lovato survived a drug overdose. In the intervening time, she’s focused on her sobriety, occasionally offering small updates about struggling to stay strong. At the Grammys, she performed “Anyone,” a song she recorded four days before nearly losing her life. It was her first live performance since her OD, and it was clearly an emotional experience. She had to restart the song, as she began crying during the first few lines. She seemed on the edge of breaking into tears again as she belted out the lyrics, “I feel stupid when I sing / Nobody’s listening to me,” to what appeared to be a completely silent room. But when she stopped, everyone leaped to their feet to welcome the singer back to the stage with a warm standing ovation.
8. Ariana Grande
The pop star started out in a classy ballgown singing “Imagine” and “My Favorite Things” while backed by an orchestra. Then, one quick costume change later, she was donning a teddy and doing splits, dancing and prancing around at a sexy slumber party while she crooned “7 Rings” and “Thank U, Next.” She skipped the singing during some of the choruses — she was dancing more intensely than usual — but belted it out perfectly when need be. Her brief shout-out to her dad (she changed the lyrics to “I’ll be thanking my dad, ‘cause he’s kinda awesome”), one Post staffer noted, was more likable than Camila Cabello’s entire tribute to her dad.
9. Billie Eilish
Though Billie Eilish is best known for the frenetically paced “Bad Guy” (nominated for song and record of the year), she decided to throw in a TWIST and sang the piano-driven ballad “When the Party’s Over.” Interestingly, her brother/producer/fellow songwriter Finneas O’Connell almost got equal billing (he did write the song, after all) as he sat at the piano. It wound up a solid choice for the pop phenom — although it was sleepier than her usually more fiery performances, it showed she had more vocal range than many viewers may have thought.
10. Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile
The lyrics of Tanya Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now,” which won best country song earlier in the evening, were a little too on the nose for such a sad day: “We all think we got the time until we don’t,” she sang. “Bring my flowers now, while I’m livin’.” (Tucker, 61, also won best country album for “While I’m Livin’ ” — these were her first Grammy wins ever.) Brandi Carlile, who co-wrote the song and produced the album, joined in the low-key ballad on piano, as Tucker’s somber tone fit the mood of the more-solemn-than-usual show.
As usual, Spanish pop-flamenco star Rosalía had a mesmerizing song-and-dance routine, dressed all in white amid red backup dancers as she crooned her hit “Malamente.” Rosalía, who is also the first best new artist nominee whose music is recorded all in Spanish, didn’t have much time onstage compared with the others in her category, but her flamenco dancing (in sneakers!) definitely left an impression.
12. Alicia Keys (twice!)
In what is becoming an annual tradition, host Alicia Keys sat down at the piano and began serenading the crowd with a soft melody and some positive thoughts, such as: “We refuse the negative energy. We refuse the old systems.” She then solemnly mentioned Kobe Bryant’s untimely death for the second time in the young evening. “I know how much Kobe loved music,” she said. “We gotta make this a celebration in his honor. He would want us to keep the vibrations high.”
From there, Keys launched into a cover of Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Love,” replacing the lyrics with quips about the artists in attendance and the world at large. Among references to how we “obsessed over BTS” and giving thanks to Beyoncé, Keys mentioned the news out of Washington, D.C., singing “Tonight we must unite despite all the news we’re seeing / commander in chief impeached / let’s bring in Cardi B.” As always, the bit was sweet, funny and touching. If Keys continues hosting the Grammys, it’s sure to be a yearly highlight.
The musician performed again toward the end of the broadcast and, with help from Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes, performed her new song “Underdog.” It began simply enough with just the pair onstage, but eventually Keys walked to a piano on a circular stage in the center of the venue. Dancers surrounded her as the stage began rising about 20 feet into the air. There was nothing wrong with the performance, per se, but nothing much stood out about it either.
13. Camila Cabello
Camila Cabello offered a touching — if slightly cheesy — tribute to her father with a sincere performance of her song “First Man.” As home videos of a baby Camila and her father, Alejandro, played in the background, the singer kept her eyes locked on one particular person in the crowd: the very subject of the tune, whom she took as her date to the ceremony. While the song dragged a bit and began feeling slightly stilted, seeing Alejandro wipe tears from his eyes injected the awards show with a bit of pure, earnest emotion. And isn’t that what music is all about?
14. Usher, Sheila E. and FKA Twigs
Every awards show needs an emotional tribute to a late great, and this year we’ve got at least two on the docket. The first attempted to honor Prince. Unfortunately. Usher, joined by FKA Twigs and Sheila E., launched into a medley of the Purple One’s songs. But what was supposed to be tribute felt more like a karaoke session in the midst of a surreal dream. Usher did a fine enough job singing such hits as “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss.” But no one is Prince but Prince. Most interesting were the acrobatics courtesy of FKA Twigs, who started off twirling and sliding around on a pole before ditching it and using Usher as the pole.
Perhaps the tribute was best summed up by a Washington Post editor, who asked, “Why is this happening?”
15. Jonas Brothers
The Jonas Brothers suited up in gold and launched their Grammys moment with a new song that must be called “Five More Minutes,” because they repeated that phrase … a lot. Then they ran to the big stage for a very Broadway-esque version of “What a Man Gotta Do,” complete with lots of peppy backup dancers — and, of course, a lingering shot of the JoBros’ wives, Priyanka Chopra, Sophie Turner and Danielle Jonas. As usual, Nick and Joe switched off on lead vocals, and it was very solidly average.
16. Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani
Somehow CBS finagled Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani for a duet even though this is not the network of “The Voice,” where they first met and are both judges. Shelton started out as the only one onstage with a guitar, then Stefani joined, and then the two grasped hands during the performance of their ballad “Nobody But You,” which one Post staffer described as “an off-brand ‘Shallow.’ ” Overall? It was fine and completely forgettable the moment it ended.
17. Ken Ehrlich tribute
The Grammys producers decided to dedicate several minutes (that could have been used by Bonnie Raitt, but that’s neither here nor there) to a tribute to Ken Ehrlich; Sunday marked his last producing the ceremony. And the way to do this was with a song from … “Fame.” Yes, “Fame,” a film from 1980. Here is everyone who showed up to perform “I Sing the Body Electric”: Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Gary Clark Jr., Ben Platt, Joshua Bell, Lee Curreri, Common, Lang Lang, Misty Copeland and dancers from the Debbie Allen Dance Company. Ehrlich had earlier told USA Today that the song is “the standard of maybe one of the best pieces of film music that I’ve ever seen.” After the performance, LL Cool J came onstage and boldly proclaimed, “That was amazing, WAS IT NOT?!” Was that a question, or a command?
18. Aerosmith and Run-DMC
Steven Tyler, sporting a dead caterpillar on his upper lip (and, eventually a sideways baseball cap — really), sounded flat and almost hoarse as he launched into “Livin’ on the Edge” for no apparent reason, given that a performance of “Walk This Way” had been touted the entire evening. Soon enough, though, Aerosmith transitioned into the rock-rap hybrid that took the world by storm in 1986.
After singing the first verse, Tyler stopped to say something was missing. Cue Run-DMC bursting through a small brick wall, just like in the famous music video. Let’s cut to the chase. It sounded awful. It sounded so bad, it was hard to tell whether there were technical malfunctions or not. All the sounds — the voices, the record scratches, the guitars, the drums — blended together into one droning monotone, like listening to a dial tone at top volume. It sounded like they were individually performing the song in different rooms at different times. We’d offer a more in-depth review, but we couldn’t actually differentiate any of the noises. The best moment of the performance was when Tyler yelled, “Let’s get out of here,” because we knew this particular embarrassment was finally ending.