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Grading the Grammys

Adele blew us away. But the night’s other performers also offered up plenty of high — and low — notes

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In the shadow of Whitney Houston‘s sad passing, it was appropriate that the evening’s big winner was the owner of another huge, game-changing voice. Adele won all six prizes for which she was nominated at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, including Song and Record of the Year (”Rolling in the Deep”) and Album of the Year (21). Three months after surgery to repair a vocal-cord hemorrhage, the British-born belter also made a triumphant return to live performing, tearing through ”Rolling in the Deep” with full-throated abandon. But perhaps her best moment came during the awards show’s final moments: After receiving the Grammy for Album of the Year from Diana Ross, Adele tearfully gave a shout-out to her mother, noted the irony of spinning her ”rubbish relationship” into so much gold, and even joked about her runny nose (”Ooh, I’ve got a bit o’ snot!”). Thanks to her killer pipes — and her unwavering down-to-earth charm — Adele simply stole the show. How did the other acts fare? We rate 10 of the best (and worst!) performances.

Bruce Springsteen
Well-tanned and dressed all in black, the Boss kicked off the night with a rousing run through his new single, ”We Take Care of Our Own” — a song whose chorus felt especially poignant after the loss of Houston, a six-time Grammy winner. A-

Jennifer Hudson
Space was made for only one brief tribute in song to Houston, and the Academy chose well; Hudson’s expertly rendered ”I Will Always Love You” wisely sidestepped straight impersonation but still felt elegantly true to the late superstar’s spirit. She sounded glorious, even as her emotions got the better of her — and us. A

Electronic Music Mash-Up
Hey, Grammys, thanks for hosting that random rave in a tent! This was supposed to be the Academy’s way of introducing EDM (electronic dance music) to the masses, but the messy, nonsensical, visually seizure-inducing performance — featuring Chris Brown, Deadmau5, Foo Fighters, David Guetta, and Lil Wayne — played like a grab-bag demo reel. C

Taylor Swift (and the Civil Wars)
The charming, harmonizing Civil Wars played a snippet of ”Barton Hollow” before handing things over to their Hunger Games soundtrack-mate Swift, who further folked things up with her playful, double-Grammy-winning banjo banger, ”Mean.” A-

The Beach Boys Tribute
Maroon 5 warmed up the surfboard-strewn stage better than the visibly nervous Foster the People, though it’s still unclear what either group was doing there in the first place. Still, Brian Wilson and his Boys — on stage together for the first time in two decades and harmonious as ever — managed to emit plenty of ”Good Vibrations.” B-

Chris Brown
In his first invitation back to the show since his 2009 Grammy-eve assault on then girlfriend Rihanna, Breezy appeared several times on the broadcast, most notably bouncing up a cubist mountain for ”Turn Up the Music” and ”Beautiful People.” The choreography was impressive as always, but between the phalanx of backup dancers and the blocks lighting up ”Billie Jean”-style, it felt better suited to the VMAs. B-

Nicki Minaj
Nicki’s pointlessly papal debut of her new single ”Roman Holiday” was an indulgent, operatic mess. But we do give her points for boldly trying to fill the ”arty concept” portion of the evening usually executed by Lady Gaga. Incidentally, Minaj had by then lost in all her categories; perhaps this was Roman’s Revenge? D

Bruno Mars
Sporting a 24-karat gold bow tie and blazer, a restless Mars paid pouffy-haired homage to ’50s pop and James Brown pomp as he instructed the seated 1 percent to ”get off your rich asses.” It was 99 percent awesome. A

Paul McCartney
On his first outing, Sir Paul plugged his new album by crooning a jazzy ballad nobody knows (”My Valentine”). He stayed seated throughout, soaked up a standing O, and then began prepping for his superior second performance: a nostalgic trip down Abbey Road. Macca then joined Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Joe Walsh for a jam sesh that was likely more fun to perform than it was to watch. B

The Glen Campbell Tribute
The Band Perry and Blake Shelton staggered through Campbell tunes before the man himself came out to show ’em how it’s done. Campbell (who’s battling Alzheimer’s) may have fumbled a few lyrics, but that hardly mattered — the Rhinestone Cowboy still sparkled. A-

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