Every performance at the 2023 Grammy Awards, ranked from worst to best
Clockwise from left: Mary J. Blige (VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images), Luke Combs (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images), Lizzo (Kevin Winter/The Recording Academy/Getty Images), 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop (JC Olivera/WireImage/Getty Images), Steve Lacy (VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
Sometime in recent memory, the Grammys decided they’d rather have their annual telecast be a musical revue than an awards ceremony. Sure, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science still hands out plenty of trophies but they’re often doled out offstage, usually in the hours before the curtain lifts on the show itself. Host Trevor Noah gave the game away in the first moments of the program when he mentioned the performers before the awards themselves: those live performances are the reasons why viewers tune into the 65th Annual Grammy Awards.
The awards did make some news. Beyonce now is the all-time Grammy winner with 32 trophies, a record she achieved without taking home the coveted Album of the Year award, which unexpectedly went to Harry Styles. Viola Davis became an EGOT when the audiobook of her memoir Finding Me earned her the Grammy for Best Audio Book, Narration, and Storytelling. But these headlines were drowned out by the performances given at Crypto.com Arena, performances that illustrated that the Grammys still have the ability to stage memorable moments. Here’s our ranking of every performance from music’s big night from worst to best.
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12. Luke Combs
Luke Combs performed “Going, Going, Gone” with his trademark lack of fuss and drama: he sings simply and earnestly, letting the song take the spotlight. Such directness has its merits on record, but onstage it winds up being a little sleepy, especially if he’s singing a ballad as straightforward as “Going, Going, Gone.”
11. DJ Khaled
An anti-climatic close to the 65th Grammys, the star-studded rendition of “God Did”—the title track from DJ Khaled’s 2022 album—practically collapsed upon its own portentous weight. Its saving grace on stage is the same as it is on record—an extended verse from Jay Z that’s so riveting it almost excuses the pompous bloat surrounding it.
10. Harry Styles
An hour after winning the prize for Best Pop Album, Harry Styles was resplendent in spangly silver as he sang “As it Was,” a neo-New Wave number that showcases his pop craft. His tinsel tailoring nearly overshadowed his insistent hooks, a situation not helped by Styles seeming strangely subdued throughout his performance; he felt carried along by the production, not the reverse.
9. Sam Smith and Kim Petras
Introduced by surprise guest Madonna, who praised all the troublemakers out there, setting up a performance designed to be controversial: Sam Smith and Kim Petras singing their Grammy-winning “Unholy.” Bathed in the red fire of hell, the pair reveled in all the trappings of dancing with the devil, conjuring enough theatrics to entertain but falling just short of making trouble.
8. Steve Lacy
An easy, assured rendition of Steve Lacy’s chart-topping hit “Bad Habit” benefitted from a cameo from jazz-fusion bassist Thundercat. Lacy laid down a sultry groove that Thundercat upended with his quicksilver solo, giving it an unpredictable and welcome alternate pulse.
7. Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Chris Stapleton
MusiCares naming Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson as their Persons of the Year gave the Grammys an opening to follow a time-honored tradition: an all-star Motown medley. Stevie Wonder anchored the proceedings, bringing out a bunch of kids doing a Temptations tribute for a cheerful version of “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” a rendition that set up Smokey himself strolling out to sing “Tears Of A Clown.” Robinson was in robust form but the closing “Higher Ground,” where Wonder jammed with a shredding Chris Stapleton, wound up stealing the show.
6. Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige’s performance of the title track of her Album of the Year-nominated Good Morning Gorgeous offered a reaffirmation of why she’s so revered. Blige didn’t make a false move: her pitch and control were perfect as she slowly, deliberately brought the song to a commanding crescendo. Coming after several showier performances, her controlled mastery seemed even more impressive.
5. Brandi Carlile
Pulling at the heartstrings through an introduction by her family, Grammy favorite Brandi Carlile kicked up serious dust with a vigorous version of “Broken Horses.” Like its parent album, “Broken Horses” is equal parts grit and hyper-stylized melodrama, a combination that thrives in the cavernous settings of the Crypto.com Arena, especially with Carlile vigorously playing to the rafters.
Lizzo kept her eye on the ball: after dramatically delivering the hook to “About Damn Time,” a hit that defined a good portion of 2022, she moved on to “Special,” the third single pulled from her album of the same name. Arranged as a heightened secular gospel, “Special” felt especially empowering, a testament to Lizzo’s vocal power and sense of theater.
3. Grammy salute to lost legends: Kacey Musgraves; Quavo and Maverick City Music; Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, and Mick Fleetwood
Taken as individual pieces, the three segments soundtracking the Grammy’s lengthy In Memorium section were quite moving, possibly because each performer had an intimate connection to their chosen subject. Kacey Musgraves delivered a spare, effective rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Quavo saluted his late Migos bandmate Offset with support from Maverick City Music, while Mick Fleetwood, Sheryl Crow, and Bonnie Raitt paid tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie. Perhaps the three musical styles don’t necessarily mesh, but the cumulative effect of hearing three heartfelt tributes was emotionally overwhelming.
2. Bad Bunny
Kicking the festivities off, Bad Bunny managed to make the Crypto.com Arena seem like a small club during his opening medley of “El Apagon” and “Despues De La Playa” at the 2023 Grammys. Bad Bunny didn’t quite dress for the occasion: decked out in dad jeans, he looked casual but commanded attention as he led dancers down the aisles and from stage to stage, his crew upstaging all the celebrities in the crowd.
1. 50th Anniversary Of Hip Hop
50th Anniversary Of Hip Hop Medley
On paper, the Grammys celebrating the 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop seems like corny award show fodder. In practice, the Questlove-curated medley blew the roof off the Crypto.com Arena. Sure, entire scenes and eras were either glossed over or skipped, but the relentless medley emphasized the depth and range of hip-hop while also showing that it’s not necessarily music that belongs only to the young. Veterans of the old school and the DAISY Age commanded the stage, reaching a pinnacle with a virtuosic performance from Busta Rhymes—a dizzying display of vocal pyrotechnics that in no way sounded nostalgic.
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