Oh, Grammys: You are so needlessly long; you are so needlessly filled with Sting. But the thing that always keeps us sticking through the whole show every year, grudgingly waiting to be electrified on our couches, are the live performances. Every year, the punishingly long telecast contains at least a few numbers that make the whole night worth sitting through.
But if you’re not ready for that kind of commitment, you could always wait until the next morning and hope that someone else rounds up the Grammys performances worth talking about. That’s where Vox comes in: We watched all four hours of the 2018 Grammys so you don’t have to (seriously, there was quite a lot of Sting and no one knows why; no offense to Mr. Sting), and we’ve pulled out the ones that are worth your time.
(Note that Best Album nominee Lorde did not perform; she was reportedly offered a slot, but unlike her fellow — all male — nominees, she was asked to sing with a partner, and producers apparently wanted her to sing “American Girl” despite the fact that she is from New Zealand. She declined. Had she accepted — or had she been offered something better in the first place — surely she would have made our list.)
Here are the nine best performances from the 2018 Grammy Awards.
Kendrick Lamar feat. U2 and Dave Chappelle, “XXX/DNA/King’s Dead”
Kendrick Lamar started the show on a high note, explosively rapping his way through a medley from DAMN., which would win the Grammy for Best Rap Album later that night. After seeing Lamar dance his way around a single drummer as hooded dancers collapsed to gunshot sounds, it felt like we could make it through six hours of the Grammys if we had to — but it also felt like anything that followed would be a letdown.
Luckily, the show had stacked its first two performances, as Lamar was followed by ...
Lady Gaga, “Joanne/Million Reasons”
Sometimes people forget how talented of a musician Lady Gaga is. But all it takes is a performance like the one Gaga (who wore a white rose on the red carpet and gave a quick nod to the Time’s Up movement during her performance) offered at the Grammys, of “Joanne” and “Million Reasons,” to remember that she’s got a fantastic voice and a keen sense of musicality. These two songs aren’t her best, but in Gaga’s talented hands they were stunning and made for a beautiful number.
Pink, “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”
Superstar @Pink left it all on the stage last night in a simply stunning performance that brought the crowd to their feet. Watch her sing live at The 60th Annual #GRAMMYs: https://t.co/Y12X1tpUHB pic.twitter.com/myDmhleu4F— CBS (@CBS) January 29, 2018
Pink took this opportunity to remind us all that she doesn’t need to dangle from a trapeze — as she did during the 2010 Grammys — to steal the show. She took the stage in jeans and a T-shirt, accompanied only by an ASL interpreter, and performed “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” proving that all she needs to turn in a stunning performance are her killer vocal chords.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, “Despacito”
“Despacito” was one of the biggest songs of 2017, and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s Grammys performance of the original song (and not the Justin Bieber remix) made it easy to see why so many people instantly fell in love with it. Fonsi’s crooning and Yankee’s enthusiasm brought the audience to its feet and had people dancing along to the unstoppable pop-love-ballad-reggaeton amalgam that is “Despacito.” It’s rare to see a Spanish-language song get prime billing at the Grammys, but Yankee and Fonsi proved that it’s shortsighted to not give Latin music its proper due.
Childish Gambino, “Terrified”
Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, kept things simple and sultry, with his smooth falsetto bringing an otherworldly tone to the stripped-down staging of his performance of “Terrified.” The young singer accompanying Glover and hitting the glory notes at the end is 10-year-old J.D. McCrary, who will also play Young Simba in Disney’s upcoming remake of The Lion King; Glover will play Adult Simba.
Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B, “Finesse”
Effortless is one of the best ways to describe Bruno Mars, who had an extremely successful evening, taking home the Grammys’ three top awards: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. He makes dancing, hitting the right notes, and exuding just the right amount of charm — while never straying into obnoxiousness — look so easy. Pair him with the impossibly likable and indomitable pop culture force that is Cardi B, a genius remix, and you’ve got yourself the most entertaining performance of the night.
The Grammys hyped the hell out of Kesha’s “emotional” performance and how it would “speak to our time,” a framing that felt weirdly distasteful and on the edge of tragedy porn. (“Here’s a woman dealing with heavily publicized trauma! The industry didn’t care when it was happening, but now we can make money off it.”) But Kesha’s soulful, deeply felt, and personal performance was enough to overwhelm CBS’s mawkishness: She feels “Praying” so hard that nothing else matters.
Patti LuPone, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”
Late in the broadcast, Broadway legend Patti LuPone revived a flagging evening with this old-school diva number. Dripping with diamonds and looking regal as a goddamn queen, Our Lady Patti showed that she still has the chops — and the perfect-down-to-the-second timing — to stun an audience with her signature song from Evita. Chills and tears, chills and tears.
SZA, “Broken Clocks”
The snubbing of SZA in the race for Best New Artist was one of the biggest shockers of the evening (the trophy went to Alessia Cara), but SZA reminded the audience exactly what the Grammy voters failed to recognize with this smooth, stylish performance. She may not have a golden gramophone, but she’s got charisma and vocal control for days.