Every Grammys ceremony has its enduring performances that will endure as shining moments in the artists’ careers.
And then, there are the duds — the sets that the Grammys would just rather let fade into memory.
So which 2019 Grammys performers earned their right to perform at music’s biggest night? Read on for reviews of every performance at this year’s show.
Dan + Shay, “Tequila”
Not the most memorable moment of the night, Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney didn’t hit a bum note in their moody take on their breakthrough hit “Tequila,” making drinking the aforementioned agave spirit sound absolutely mournful. Still, this may be one of the performances that non-superfans may struggle to remember in a few weeks — or, more realistically, in a few hours.
Alicia Keys, “Songs I’d Wish I’d Written” medley
Alicia Keys gave viewers a valid reminder of the artistry that got her to this level of music fame in the first place — which can be easy to forget, considering she’s almost more famous these days as a TV personality or a talking head than the soulful pianist of her younger years. Keys showed just how many songs sound just as good, or in some cases better, when she’s the one performing there, making a serious case that she should adopt “Lucid Dreams” from Juice WRLD and “Use Somebody” from “Kings of Leon.” She also graced Grammys viewers with maybe the purest moment in the night so far, when she started playing a sweet snippet of Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up,” only for the camera to cut to Mai in the audience, looking absolutely overjoyed.
Cardi B, “Money”
Leave it to Cardi B to deliver a set that was really just a string of instantly memeable moments — which sounds like a criticism but is truly a compliment, considering how amazing she is at playing this game. Her stripping off her purple velvet cape. Her descending the steps in a showgirl fantasy of a set, surrounded by body-suited dancers in splits. Her climbing atop the crystal piano and posing with aplomb. Her flailing around in a peacock tail of giant black feathers. Even her on-again-off-again boo Offset was in on it, with the camera cutting to him dancing in the audience and sticking out his tongue audaciously. Was she actually singing? While her critics may crow about the performance’s questionable lack of live vocals, Cardi knows better — and realizes that her visuals, instantly ready to be memed, GIFed and disseminated on Instagram, are far more indelible.
H.E.R., “Hard Place”
Who is H.E.R.? That’s a question that many viewers likely went into the Grammys still asking, after the R&B singer’s surprise windfall of nominations this year. Wearing her trademark dark circular glasses onstage, the singer delivered a succinct lesson on why she deserves to be performing on the Grammys stage tonight, hitting all the marks with an anthemic performance of “Hard Place,” kicking things up a notch when she started shredding on her clear electric guitar. But did she make an impression? Whether she did enough to stick in Grammys viewers’ memories will probably depend on whether she wins the big categories in which she’s nominated tonight, but her talent is undeniable.
Dolly Parton tribute: Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves, Miley Cyrus, Maren Morris and Little Big Town
Thank goodness for Dolly, teaching the younger girls how it’s done, with a tribute in which every segment was better than the previous one. Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves kicked off the performance, trading vocals on the least-showy song of the set, “Here You Come Again,” before Parton stormed the stage, serving vocals basically as strong as the women half her age around her. To take on her immortal hit “Jolene,” she was joined by her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, doing a perfect imitation of Parton’s twang. Next came a haunting take on “After the Gold Rush,” made famous by Neil Young, with Parton, Cyrus and Maren Morris singing over a bare-bones accompaniment that briefly dropped out for a thrilling moment of three-part a cappella harmonies. Little Big Town emerged next for Parton’s new song for the “Dumplin’” soundtrack, “Red Shoes,” giving her a few minutes to show off just how incredibly strong her voice still is. By the time the set ended with a feel-good group singalong of “9 to 5,” Parton had convinced us to just hand over the whole rest of the evening to her capable hands.
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Post Malone and Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Stay”/”Rockstar”/”Dark Necessities”
How many Grammys viewers found out tonight that Post Malone could actually sing? A smart move of Malone to start his set on a stool, with an acoustic guitar, playing his “Stay” track, showing off vocals that anyone who’s seen his Nirvana covers on YouTube knows he’s capable of. The magic ended once he stood up and promptly bungled his cue for his transition into the way-more-insufferable “Rockstar.” The disappointments continued with the set’s abrupt transition into the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ portion of the performance, featuring one of their relatively newer songs, “Dark Necessities,” with Malone indiscernibly singing backup for Anthony Kiedis. This was one of the Grammys’ most-anticipated performances, if only for comedic value, and actually had a ton of potential for the very-obvious crossovers that could’ve been made between Malone and RHCP’s music. Instead, they basically performed separately, another wasted opportunity for the awards.
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Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel”
Finally, some life. Monae brought one of her Prince-iest songs to the Grammys and did the Purple One proud with her electric guitar and flawless choreography — though she owes the perfect moonwalk she busted out halfway through the performance to Michael Jackson. A break from the relatively bland performances that came before her, Monae transitioned from “Make Me Feel” to a snippet from “PYNK,” complete with the music video’s pussy pants, and ended with a stunning scene, of elevated tiers of dancers that somehow never distracted from Monae performing below. Even if Monae doesn’t win album of the year tonight, she gets credit for restoring a pulse to the ceremony, if just for a few minutes.
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Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow”
Too much echo! Too much fog! Less was always going to be more when it came to Musgraves’ performance tonight, considering she’s one of the purest talents scheduled to sing tonight, and the Grammys could literally just arm her with a guitar on an empty stage and let her do her thing. That’s mostly what the Grammys did, with Musgraves performing her stripped-down ballad “Rainbow” with a simple piano accompaniment, though her pitch-perfect singing didn’t need to be Disney princess-fied by the strange echo that near-airbrushed the character out of her voice.
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Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus, “In My Blood”
As straightforward as Grammy performances come, this wasn’t a mash-up between the two artists’ songs or a reimagined arrangement, just Cyrus duetting with Mendes over his perfectly inoffensive single. Biceps fully out, Mendes was endearing — or wildly boring, depending on whether you ask his fans or his haters — as he played piano before joining Cyrus onstage, backed by a swelling string section, because what is a dramatic Grammys performance without a string section, truly? As attendees of Dolly Parson’s MusiCares tribute saw when Mendes and Cyrus sang Parton’s classic “Islands in the Stream” together, the two artists are capable of making some lovely musical moments together. It’s a shame the Grammys didn’t give them a little more to do.
Camila Cabello, “Havana”
The Grammys certainly gave Camila Cabello quite the set for her show-opening performance, placing her in a giant dollhouse surrounded by faux-neon storefronts and an army of colorfully-costumed dancers. And yet, at this point in February 2019, it’s been over a year since the release of “Havana,” and it’s worth asking whether the Grammys should’ve picked something a little fresher to lead the show. Bonus points go to Young Thug’s appearance, one of the most prolific rappers in recent years not to earn a single Grammys nomination, though to be honest, he didn’t do much but recite his verse while striking various poses. Things livened up once Ricky Martin took the stage in his all-white suit, joined by J. Balvin who did a few bars — too few, honestly — of “Mi Gente.” Just as the stage started melting down into chaos, it was over.
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