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Taking Notes From The Grammys: A Ranking of the Best Performances

Photo Contributed: Thomas Hawk

1. Kendrick Lamar

The Compton rapper came out in chains, shackles and a blue prison uniform to perform snippets of “Alright” and “The Blacker the Berry” before finishing with a fiery new verse that paid tribute to the late Trayvon Martin with a map of Africa as his backdrop.  Lamar didn’t take home the coveted album of the year, but he’ll settle for five wins (11 nominations) and the best performance of the night.

2. Lady Gaga

Gaga performed a medley of many of the late David Bowie’s greatest hits that included “Space Oddity,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” “Under Pressure,” “Let’s Dance” and “Heroes” and featured a number of the singer’s iconic looks and an appearance by frequent Bowie collaborator Nile Rodgers.

3. Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark Jr. and Bonnie Rait

Country music’s newest star, the brightest young blues guitarist in the world and a legendary blues legend teamed up to pay tribute to the late B.B. King with a powerful performance of “The Thrill Is Gone.”

4. The Cast of Hamilton 

As if it wasn’t already hard enough to get tickets to the hottest show on Broadway, Lin-Manuel Miranda and company performed the opening number of the hit musical live from the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City, ensuring that you won’t be able to get tickets until sometime in 2017.

 5. Alabama Shakes 

Brittany Howard has one of the best voices in rock, and Alabama Shakes delivered a killer performance of “Don’t Wanna Fight” from their album of the year nominated “Sound and Color.”

6. Miguel’s Tribute to Michael Jackson

This short performance of Jackson’s “She’s Out of My Life” deserved more time than it got. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Miguel has one of the best voices in modern music; he could have done a lot more with this if given the chance.

7. Ellie Goulding and Andra Day – “Rise Up”/”Love Me Like You Do”

“Rise Up” sounds like what I imagine Rihanna performing an Adele song would be like, and I can’t really think of a better compliment. A mash up with the “50 Shades of Grey” hit worked surprisingly well.

8. Tori Kelly and James Bay

Two of the industry’s brightest and best young voices joined forces for a mash-up of two of their biggest hits — “Hollow” and “Let It Go.”

9. The Weeknd 

This performance was supposed to feature Lauryn Hill, but apparently

she showed up too late and The Weeknd went on without her. “Can’t Feel My Face” is still awesome, but it would have been nice to hear “The Hills” instead of the mediocre “In the Night.”  

10. Taylor Swift 

Swift kicked off the night with a solid but unremarkable performance of her newest hit “Out of the Woods” before going on to win the award for Album of the Year.

11. Adele 

This was disappointing. Without the technical errors — a mic fell down into the strings of the piano — her performance of “All I Ask,” would have been one of the best performances of the night.  

12. Justin Biebe

His solo performance of “Love Yourself” was solid and Bieber’s voice is stronger than ever, but the Skrillex and Diplo assisted smash

“Where Are Ü Now” (one of my favorite songs of last year) didn’t work as well live.

13. Eagles and Jackson Browne’s Tribute to Glenn Frey

This was a touching moment in memory of deceased Eagles’ founding member, Glenn Frey, with the remaining members performing Frey’s song, “Take It Easy,” alongside Jackson Browne.

14. Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt – “Take Your Time”/”Heartbeat”

This was a really solid performance from two of the country artists I actually enjoy. “Something in the Water” would have been much better, though.

15. Joey Alexander Piano Solo

A short piano solo from the night’s youngest nominee — a twelve-year-old jazz pianist — was sweet and charming, but that’s about it.

16. Luke Bryan, Demi Lovato, Tyrese Gibson, John Legend and Meghan Trainor Tribute to Lionel Richie

Paying tribute to a person who is still alive is very strange to me. Doing it with primarily white artists is even stranger. At least John Legend killed it.

17. Stevie Wonder and Pentatonix – Tribute to Maurice White

Stevie using his time as a presenter to make a point about accessibility while simultaneously poking fun at his own disability, was much more memorable than this performance.

18. The Hollywood Vampires’ Tribute to Lemmy Kilmister

This supergroup of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Joe Aerosmith paid tribute to late Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister with performances of “As Bad as I Am” and “Ace of Spades.” It felt pretty out of place.

19. Little Big Town – “Girl Crush”

Fine. Boring.

20. Pitbull, Sofia Vergara, Robin Thicke and Travis Barker – “El Taxi”/”Bad Man”


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