Over the years, there have been a number of all-time great and just plain confounding Grammy awards show performances; during the 2020 telecast Sunday (Jan. 27) night, most of the performances fell somewhere in the middle. But a few truly stood out, delivering inventive and emotive spectacles that stuck with you.
From Tyler the Creator’s earthquake to Usher’s purple reign, these are our five favorites.
1-Tyler Leaves the Stage Sh00k
Tyler the Creator is hardly an awards show veteran, but he made the case that they’ve been missing out big time when he absolutely destroyed the stage with a ferocious medley of “Earfquake” and “New Magic Wand.” While most contemporary artists bring out legends for a quick dose of nostalgia, Tyler seamlessly wove Boyz II Men and Charlie Wilson into his medley, taking full advantage of their silky harmonizing before throwing the sonics for a turn.
Standing in front of a row of cookie-cutter suburban houses that soon were engulfed in strobing lights and (fake) flames, Tyler tore into each syllable, screaming and rapping while the camera shook as if in imitation of an actual earthquake. Backup dancers decked out as Tyler clones – wearing his asymmetrical white and red suit and Carol Channing blonde wig – marched about the stage, after which the real Tyler backed up, put his hand to his head like a gun and fell backward into the flames. Yeah, that’s how you make an impression.
2-Big Nas Meets Lil Nas
When Lil Nas X hit the Grammy stage to perform his Hot 100 record-breaker “Old Town Road,” you knew he was gonna bring out a coterie of featured pals – gravel-voiced hook crooner Billy Ray Cyrus, K-poppers BTS (RM appeared on the official “Seoul Town Road” remix), viral yodel kid Mason Ramsey and Diplo (on banjo, no less). Hell, Billboard‘s Lil Nas X cover story even made an appearance in the background. But after dropping his cowboy duds and returning to the stage looking like Neo from The Matrix, LNX was joined by a guest no one saw coming – his namesake, the actual Nas. The NYC rap icon, playing Morpheus to the breakout star, joined him for an enthusiastic run-through of “Rodeo.” It was exactly the kind of unexpected oddity that keeps a ceremony (that always runs too long) interesting.
Rosalía, the Spanish star reinventing flamenco music for a global audience, stunned during the 2020 Grammys telecast, delivering both current single “Juro Qué” and “Malamente” from her Grammy-winning El Mal Querer. Wearing a white bodysuit dripping in fringe, Rosalía was flanked by dancers in blazing red. But the best part was just her, when she stomped her feet and twirled her arms standing in front of a mirror while the stark lighting blinked in and out, creating a beautifully disorienting effect.
4-Usher’s Purple Reign
Ahead of the Tuesday (Jan. 28) Grammy salute to Prince, Usher brought his vocal intensity to a three-song medley of the Purple One’s best-loved songs. Opening with “Little Red Corvette,” Usher was nearly immobile at first, allowing his passionate delivery to sell the simmering classic. As the muscular band segued into “When Doves Cry,” FKA Twigs took the stage, performing a fanciful pole dance during the sobbing synths of the song’s instrumental break. During “Kiss,” though, everyone let loose, with the band unleashing a frenzied funk, Usher sliding up into those yelping falsettos and Twigs shimmying around the stage in a white feather boa.
When Demi Lovato hit the Grammy stage for her first TV performance in two years, she wasn’t messing around. Following her 2018 health scare, she was going to do a return right. So when she began singing brand-new tune “Anyone” and didn’t quite get the notes, she paused, started over, and then completely nailed the emotive, resonating performance. “I feel stupid when I sing / Nobody’s listening” she sang, painfully and powerfully. “Why do I pray anyway if no one’s listening?” Lovato, and her powerhouse pipes, are back.
Plus: Special mention goes to Alicia Keys bringing out Boyz II Men for a touching “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” that paid homage to Kobe Bryant. Opening an awards show — something that’s supposed to be a joyous celebration — just hours after the world has learned one of its most beloved figures has died is an unenviable proposition. Keys did an admirable job attempting to heal the pain hanging over Staples Center.