Every Performance at the 2015 Grammy Awards, Ranked
Grammy moment. The two-word phrase was spoken so many times I stopped counting. The idea was to let you know that the upcoming performance was Something Important. I guess the idea was, if everyone kept repeating “Grammy moment” incessantly, every single performance would be a Grammy moment — even if it were lousy.
The Grammys are more of a three-hour concert than an awards show nowadays. At one point last night they went about an hour without giving out a prize. It makes sense: Musical performances are more interesting than celebrities handing out trophies, and the Grammys can showcase their nominees in a way the Oscars or Emmys can’t. Some artists do their songs solo, while others team up. Past collaborations have included everything from Moby, Jill Scott and Blue Man Group to Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar. The idea is that you get a performance, possibly once-off, that’s cool and unique: A Grammy moment™, if you must.
Last night, there were 23 live performances during the Grammys telecast. I ranked them. If you read my Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime performance, you’ll know that I tend to rate things on a mix of music and spectacle. Also, the rankings don’t mean anything and this is an excuse to make jokes. Have fun!
23. Pharrell, “Happy”
Pharrell rules, but no matter how much he dresses it up as “(Epic, Dramatic) Happy” — and even giving him bonus points for a well-executed “Hands up, don’t shoot” moment — this is still “Happy,” a song that got very old and never made the “Hey Ya!” flip back to likable again. Now it’s going to be stuck in my head all week. Ugh. Thanks a lot, Pharrell.
22. Ariana Grande, “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart”
The Grammys were full of overly-dramatic performances this year, and for some reason Grande — relatively new, 21 years old — did a dreary piano ballad. I don’t care if it’s her new single, do something bouncy. It’s ok if you can’t dance, Katy Perry deals with it. Donald Glover was there, why not do that song with Childish Gambino?
21. Eric Church, “Give Me Back My Hometown”
Eric Church did a song in front of dystopian war footage, and it included a line about Pizza Hut.
20. Miranda Lambert, “Little Red Wagon”
I’m not really into this song, but Lambert looked like she was having fun and she’s likeable. The song is innocuous, and it could be worse: She could have done a song about Pizza Hut in front of dystopian war footage. Or covered “Happy.”
19. Katy Perry, “By the Grace of God”
This was Perry’s chance to be serious after her silly Super Bowl spot, and she was indeed that. Since her performance was preceded by an exhortation to end violence against women, it would have been weird to dance around with chess pieces or sharks or ride a giant lion. But this fell flat.
18. AC/DC, “Rock or Bust” and “Highway to Hell”
AC/DC’s new album, Rock of Bust contains the title track as well as “Rock the Blues Away,” “Got Some Rock and Roll Thunder” and “Rock the House.” This would have been much more fun 25 years ago.
17. Juanes, “Juntos”
Juanes has won a ton of Latin Grammys and also used to be in a Metallica-esque metal band. I enjoyed his “Sexy Colombian Bob Vila” vibe.
16. Dwight Yoakam and Brandy Clark, “Hold My Hand”
Unfortunately, this was not a Hootie and the Blowfish cover.
15. Tom Jones and Jessie J, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”
This should have been interesting only because of the “Weird, it’s those two people together!” factor. It didn’t go over well on social media — they sounded good, but Jessie J and Tom Jones is a weird pairing for this song — which made it even more entertaining.
14. ELO with Ed Sheeran, “Evil Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky”
This was OK. But why was the background for the “Evil Woman” part of the performance a ’90s-style CGI? The Grammys clearly spent all their budget on coming up with the term “Grammy moment.”
13. Usher with Stevie Wonder, “If It’s Magic”
I was going to be disappointed unless Usher did “Climax,” which he obviously wasn’t going to do in a Stevie Wonder tribute. But what was with Stevie Wonder’s cameo? All he did was come in and play the harmonica at the end. Why not more? (Because the Grammys want you to tune in next Monday for the Stevie Wonder all-star tribute.) One of my favorite moments of the night was the smile on Usher’s face as Wonder played with him.
12. Beyonce, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”
The Grammys were just kind of a downer this year. Beyonce is great. But if she’s going to do one song on a dragging telecast, a gospel standard isn’t the best choice when everything else is so dour. She needs to do something upbeat. Not that this wasn’t enjoyable, but somebody needed to have more fun.
11. Sam Smith with Mary J. Blige, “Stay With Me”
This had to go somewhere on the list.
10. Kanye West, “Only One”
Kanye did his performance on top of a sewer grate with a spotlight over it, I guess.
9. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, “Cheek to Cheek”
Gaga and Bennett worked together on an entire Grammy-winning album, Cheek to Cheek, and they put on a good snow. But the problem with Tony Bennett is that every time I see him perform I just want to listen to Frank Sinatra instead.
8. Beck and Chris Martin, “Heart is a Drum”
I like Beck, I tolerate Coldplay, but this was innocuous dad rock. And learning that Beck is now innocuous dad rock makes me feel old.
7. Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani, “My Heart Is Open”
I guess this was just an ad for The Voice? Pretty good duet, though I wish I liked this song more.
6. Sia, “Chandelier”
This performance, which featured Kristen Wiig and Maddie Ziegler doing an interpretative dance, toed the line between really cool and too weird. It was introduced by Shia LaBeouf reading a poem, which prevented it from ranking higher.
5. Madonna, “Living for Love”
Madonna is known for her ability to reinvent herself, and here she’s become a bullfighter surrounded by a parade of dancing bulls. Success!
4. Hozier with Annie Lennox, “Take Me to Church” and “I Put a Spell on You”
I’m at the point where I never want to hear “Take Me to Church” ever again — and it’s probably too weird to flip back to catchy — but Annie Lennox getting to sing on primetime television in 2015 is a nice treat.
3. Ed Sheeran with John Mayer, Herbie Hancock and ?uestlove, “Thinking Out Loud”
These are the best kinds of Grammy collaborations: A currently-hot artist gets a talented backing band and they come up with something better than you’d expect.
2. John Legend and Common
Say what you will about the 2015 Grammys, but it closed with Common rapping. That’s pretty great.
1. Rihanna with Paul McCartney and Kanye West
Of course this is number one. This song sounds like you inserted Kanye West and Rihanna into The Beatles. (Rihanna is George and Kanye is John, obviously.) It rules. But was McCartney’s mic even on? This could have been even better.