Grammys '14: Grading 20 Performances
Beyonce and Jay Z, 'Drunk in Love'
Since Beyoncé wrapped up 2013 by grabbing the biggest headlines with the surprise release of her self-titled fourth album, why wouldn't she kick off the Grammy Awards? With the aid of some sure to be epilepsy-inducing strobes and a deeply uncomfortable-looking latticework singlet that rode up her famous backside, Beyoncé let the slow burn of ''Drunk In Love'' speak for itself. That song's big problem is that it sort of spins in one place (just like her rotating set), which is why Jay Z's entrance was well timed and provided just enough of a boost. This show could have used a little more spectacle to elevate the energy level to kick things off, but it's hard to argue with Bey and Jay's superstar bona fides. B+ —Kyle Anderson
She may have (mostly) tamed her famously unruly hair, but that doesn't mean Lorde abandoned her art-goth vibes. Dressed like a hip AHS: Coven escapee, the 17-year-old claw-danced with her creepy-cool black fingertips and lost herself in ''Royals'' in the best way. And given the content of the song, she gets double points for roasting the audience and charming them at the same time. A- —Ray Rahman
Hunter Hayes, 'Invisible'
Hunter Hayes, who made one of last year's bubbliest country pop songs, ''I Want Crazy,'' provided the first down moment of the night with a saccharine new song, ''Invisible,'' that seemed to be about staying strong in the face of bullying. But the performance — which started with him behind a piano, then standing and belting — was most notable for the inspirational quotes from the likes of John Lennon and, uh, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, and Johnny Depp projected behind him. C+ —Nick Catucci
Katy Perry and Juicy J, 'Dark Horse'
At the intersection of American Horror Story and Tim Burton's Halloweentown sits Katy Perry, Juicy J, and the extra-spooky presentation of ''Dark Horse.'' Apparently, Perry was quite the naughty witch, as she was kinda sorta burned at the stake by the end of it. That's an awfully harsh adjudication — the roll out of Perry and Juicy's ghost trap creepshow was appropriately cinematic if a little goofy. Toss in a potential Spinal Tap moment inside an inflatable crystal ball and you've got a great piece of Grammy camp. B+ —Kyle Anderson
Robin Thicke with Chicago, 'Saturday in the Park,' 'Blurred Lines'
To keep the audience's older members entertained (plus serve as a tribute for producer Phil Ramone), Robin Thicke performed a medley of vintage hits with the band formerly known as the Chicago Transit Authority. But, of course, it wasn't all pre-twerk rock: The collab ended with Chicago's ''Saturday in the Park'' transforming into ''Blurred Lines,'' because vanilla funk is timeless. B- —Ray Rahman
Keith Urban and Gary Clark Jr., 'Cop Car'
For a love song as saucy as Keith Urban's ''Cop Car,'' Keith and Gary Clark Jr. struggled to find much chemistry — until, of course, they were able to get off some tasty guitar licks at the end. Then they actually seemed kind of adorable. B —Nick Catucci
John Legend, 'All of Me'
John Legend's ''All of Me,'' from last year's underrated Love In the Future, is a very pretty piano ballad, and Legend is as strong an ivory tickler as there is. But on a show already running way too long, ''All of Me'' felt a little stilted. Props to whoever was throwing the key light on Legend's new bride Chrissy Teigen at the edge of the shot, though. That's good hustle. C —Kyle Anderson
Taylor Swift, 'All Too Well'
Piano, emotions, hair: T-Swift brought it, and then some. The awards-show vet silenced the critics (aka Twitter) with an all-in, headbang-heavy rendition of ''All Too Well.'' Proof that she should perform the song more often, whiplash be damned. A- —Ray Rahman
Pink and Nate Ruess, 'Just Give Me a Reason'
So maybe Nate Ruess didn't drop down from the ceiling on ropes, but Pink sure did — and then executed a mini modern dance performance with a dude almost as ripped as her. And when Ruess did start singing (through his mustache), Pink appeared for the duet with an elegant dress slipped over her body suit. That, Mr. Grohl, is rock and roll. A —Nick Catucci
Ringo Starr, 'Photograph'
There's a reason Ringo Starr is known more as the drummer for the Beatles and less as a frontman. While his sway game is top shelf, his performance of ''Photograph'' was punishingly rote, made all the more confusing by the fact that it apparently took 47 people to get that anti-climactic song across. Even the montage of early Beatles pics running behind him seemed less like a tribute to a legacy and more like a screen saver somebody forgot to turn off. C- —Kyle Anderson
Kendrick Lamar with Imagine Dragons, 'M.A.A.D City' and 'Radioactive'
In one of the night's more WTF-y pairings, Nevada's Imagine Dragons served as a backing band for the unjustly awards-bereft Kendrick Lamar. But, weirdly, it worked! The Compton-bred good kid tore into ''m.A.A.D City'' with bonkers intensity, prompting the crowd to wedding-dance along the best they could (we see you, Tay Tay). . Lamar's drum-banging swagger was even strong enough to osmosis some street cred over to ID's ''Radioactive,'' which is no easy feat. A — Ray Rahman
Kacey Musgraves, 'Follow Your Arrow'
Critics (like this one) love Kacey Musgraves, and maybe now, some Taylor Swift fans who had never heard of her will, too. The neon cacti and light-up get-ups were adorable, and the song's undeniably great — although had the band (and singer, especially) bitten harder into it, it might have sounded as radical as critics like to think it is. B+ —Nick Catucci
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, 'Queenie Eye'
See, Ringo? That's how you do it. While everybody would have probably preferred a classic (or even a Beatles deep cut), Paul McCartney teamed back up with his old drummer to deliver one of the best songs from his better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be 2013 album New. The jauntiness of the beat and sweetness of the melody helped suggest their old band without directly invoking it, which ended up being an artful bridge linking past and present. Plus, McCartney gets an extra boost for his wacky looking piano, a sort of psychedelic paint-by-numbers deal. A- —Kyle Anderson
Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and Blake Shelton
The country/roots/Americana wing of the ceremony emerged all at once for a honky-tonk extravaganza that brought the living Highwaymen together with Haggard and Shelton. It was twangy-good fun to watch the foursome jump from standards ''I Was a Highwayman,'' ''Okie From Muskogee,'' and ''Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys'' — especially when Haggard sang the lyric ''We don't smoke marijuana'' with Nelson an arm's length away. B+ —Ray Rahman
Daft Punk, Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder, 'Get Lucky' medley
Wowza: ''Get Lucky'' has never sounded as lively and well-loved as it did here, with Stevie Wonder in the thick of things with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers, stamping the melody with his own inimitable phrasing, tapping away at a little keyboard, and taking a detour through his ''Another Star.'' We got a bit of Rogers' ''Le Freak,'' too, and Daft Punk's ''Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger'' (a classic on par with those songs). The Frenchmen, true to anonymous form, only appeared partway through, in their usual helmets. But an altogether human ecstasy was written on Pharrell's face the entire time. A —Nick Catucci
Sara Bareilles and Carole King, 'Beautiful'/'Brave'
If anybody really needs the differences between Katy Perry and Sara Bareilles driven home one last time, look no further than their Grammy performances: While Perry presented her (admittedly entertaining) interpretation of The Wicker Man, Bareilles sat at a piano across from Carole King and belted out ''Brave.'' The mashup with King's ''Beautiful'' worked more often than it didn't, though King reminded everyone that she's a much better songwriter than she is a performer. Bareilles' unusual charisma carried the pair just far enough. B —Kyle Anderson
Metallica and Lang Lang, 'One'
Good thing Pharrell wore his Smokey the Bear hat, because Metallica literally set the stage on fire with their awesomely ominous ''One'' — which they actually performed on the Grammys back in 1989. But back then they didn't have Lang Lang on their side to absolutely kill it on piano, adding even more fuel to the song's doomy flames. A —Ray Rahman
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert, Trombone Shorty, Madonna, 'Same Love'
You can begrudge Macklemore & Ryan Lewis their Best Rap Album Grammy (and I do), but Macklemore and his friends — Lewis and Mary Lambert, plus Trombone Shorty, Queen Latifah, and Madonna — bequeathed the night its most splendid stunt by marrying 33 gay and straight couples on the spot (and letting Katy Perry catch one of the bouquets!). Latifah presided over the ceremonies, Macklemore beamed, and Madonna couldn't even ruin the vibe with her blurrily robotic cameo. A message well-shared. A- —Nick Catucci
Miranda Lambert and Billie Joe Armstrong, 'When Will I Be Loved'
Following a lovely bit of piano by Lang Lang in honor of Van Cliburn, Billie Joe Armstrong and Miranda Lambert teamed up for a bummer. Armstrong and Norah Jones made a whole album of Everly Brothers tribute tracks last year, and it was excellent. So where was Norah? Her replacement Miranda Lambert did not gel with Armstrong at all, and the sweet harmonies of the Everly original got completely crushed by Lambert's bullhorn of a voice and Armstrong's unsteady flatness. Overall, a deeply disappointing salute to the late Phil Everly. D —Kyle Anderson
Nine Inch Nails, Lindsey Buckingham, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl
Kids, you can skip all those summer festivals, because the night's closer mashed up everything you could want: a legend-status team of slayers thrashing out to ''Copy of a'' (NIN) and ''My God Is the Sun'' (QOTSA). No wristband required! Unfortunately, the Grammy telecast cut them off early, so viewers at home will never know whether the rock supergroup launched into a badass version of Fleetwood Mac's ''The Chain.'' A- —Ray Rahman