Like all award shows, the Grammys are needlessly long, bloated, and self-congratulatory. But they have one thing going for them that gives them a leg up on their peers in Oscar and Emmy land: a solid half of the show is made up of live music performances. And every year, there are a few performances at the Grammys that are worth sticking around all night for.
That’s why we rounded up the best performances of the night, so you can happily live your life without seeing any award show banter whatsoever and feel confident that you didn’t miss anything.
Here are the eight best performances of the 2019 Grammy Awards.
Camila Cabello feat. J Balvin, Ricky Martin, and Arturo Sandoval, “Havana”
Camila Cabello kicked off the night with a high-octane and theatrically staged performance of her ubiquitous “Havana,” which felt not unpleasantly reminiscent of an audition for Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming West Side Story movie. Cabello’s Grammys vocals were more extravagant and riff-heavy than they are in the recorded version, which only added to the high-energy joyfulness of the performance, and her celebrity guests more than rose to the occasion. The Grammys can be a long slog, but Cabello & Co. made sure the ceremony opened with a jolt of pure fun.
Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus, “In My Blood”
Shawn Mendes’s transition from teenage dream to soulful crooner continued at the Grammys as Mendes, sleeveless and sporting triceps with their own triceps, played piano and sang his hit song “In My Blood.” Mendes’s past hits like “Stitches” and “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” rely on a catchy beat and infectious pop sound, and in contrast, “In My Blood” is softer, more intimate. It’s the kind of song whose beats Mendes can’t hide behind, and in this performance Mendes took command of the stage and song — showing off how his round voice can stretch and scratch to reach a place that’s a little more vulnerable. Then, Miley Cyrus’s acerbic rasp added a welcome punch, bringing the performance to its climactic, pyrotechnic swell.
Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”
Janelle Monae turned in a performance that made us feel bad for any performer who had to follow her. Channeling the vibes from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” Monae and her backup dancers donned skin-tight latex suit to perform “Make Me Feel,” and bopped to the song’s keyboard plinks and addictive Prince-crafted synth line. The performance built and built, with Monae dancing down to the next level of the stage and moonwalking from one end to the other. It all culminated with a purple-lit queer fantasia — a nod to her album Dirty Computer — which included labia-shaped pants, Monae yelling out “Let the vagina have a monologue!” and everyone dancing their hearts out.
Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, and Katy Perry, “Here You Come Again / Jolene / After the Gold Rush / Red Shoes / 9 to 5”
Dolly Parton is the 2019 Grammys’ Person of the Year, so she got the big mid-ceremony career-spanning revue, giving the ceremony a shot of pure joy. It’s always a good time to see some Dolly, but it was a special treat to see Miley Cyrus reprise her much-beloved cover of “Jolene,” this time with the unimpeachable source.
Cardi B, “Money”
The trappings on this performance were all old-school glamour: Cardi wore her hair in sleek Josephine Baker curls, and she was surrounded by fans and lace that made her look every bit the superstar she is. But the heart of the number was pure hustling, twerking Cardi, extolling the pleasures of working hard and getting her money. She was born to flex.
Lady Gaga, “Shallow”
When Lady Gaga performs “Shallow” in A Star Is Born, she’s doing it stripped down and minimalist: no makeup, no dancing, hair loose and undyed. That’s not what she did at the Grammys, and God bless her for it. Instead, Gaga leaned into her spiky, aggressive pop persona to leave behind the rockist “Shallow” and embrace a poptimistic version: her hair was bleached and streaked with pink, her eyelashes were bedazzled, and she periodically broke into a cramped, Gollum-like dance that only enhanced her signature “HAHAHAHAHAAAAA” vocal riff. She made a strong argument that the movie’s version of “Shallow” is the boring version, and that its true self can only be unleashed through the transformative powers of pop.
Chloe x Halle, “Where Is the Love”
Chloe x Halle had some of the smoothest and loveliest harmonies of the night, but it was their minimalist witch vibes that pushed this performance over the top, into something really special. It’s spine-tingling and a little bit eerie, in the best possible way.
St. Vincent and Dua Lipa, “Masseduction / One Kiss”
Moments before Dua Lipa won the Grammy for Best New Artist, she took the stage with fellow nominee St. Vincent for a slinky, darkly seductive medley that showcased both artists at their sleek and smoky best.