Grammys 2016: Grading the Performances
Kendrick Lamar, “The Blacker The Berry / Alright / New Track"
On a night of polite performances, Kendrick Lamar was willing to sweat it out and make a statement. On a stage that had the eyeballs of millions upon it, the 28-year-old entered in chains. His band stood behind bars. By the time they unshackled and launched into a performance of “Alright,” as fiery as the bonfire blazing behind him, his stage had transformed. He ended debuting a new song. He stood alone because who possibly deserved to stand next to him? A —Madison Vain
The Cast of Hamilton, "Alexander Hamilton"
The history-meets-hip-hop Broadway juggernaut has taken New York and the theater community by storm — but the Grammys helped the production reach an exponentially larger audience Monday evening when it broadcast a performance of opening tune "Alexander Hamilton" live from the Richard Rodgers Theatre. "This is like nothing you've ever experienced," Stephen Colbert said when introducing the cast, and the well-choreographed, impeccably performed segment proved him right. A —Eric Renner Brown
Chris Stapleton, Gary Clark Jr., and Bonnie Raitt, "The Thrill is Gone"
Country songwriter-turned-singer Stapleton started off the trio's powerful B.B. King tribute by bringing the blues to the Grammys before passing the mic to Clark Jr., a Texas-born artist whose guitar-playing is as soulful as his voice. Raitt — a renowned blues musician herself — soon joined in, and together, the three honored the late King with a stirring rendition of one of his best known (and Grammy-winning) songs. A —Ariana Bacle
Glenn Frey Tribute, "Take It Easy"
When it was announced that the Grammys would honor Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, who died last month at the age of 67, the group’s longtime manager Irving Azoff said their ambition was to do something “simple and elegant, and in discussing it with the family, we wanted an uptempo moment.” They chose “Take It Easy,” the song the seminal guitarist is probably best known for. Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, who co-wrote “Easy” with Frey, manned the mic and rather than try and make it his own he remained faithful to the iconic arrangements, performing it with the same ease we all might, driving down the road and singing along with one of our all-time favorites. Browne’s eyes were damp by the end, and he wasn’t alone. A —Madison Vain
Adele, "All I Ask"
The vocal powerhouse brought 25's penultimate track "All I Ask" — co-written by Bruno Mars, who introduced her — to the Staples Center for a bare bones performance that was as impressive as her astronomical sales numbers. But although Adele's nuanced rendition of the cut might've even topped the original album version, poor audio mixing and intermittent volume issues took away from CBS's broadcast. A- —Eric Renner Brown
Taylor Swift, "Out of the Woods"
The pop star, who already scored two Grammys during the pre-show awards, celebrated those victories at the start of the show with a passionate performance of "Out of the Woods," the latest single off 1989. Though the sequin-clad Swift began shrouded by purple lights and leafless trees, by the end of the performance she had ventured into the crowd to belt the song's impressive vocal coda and give the Staples audience a taste of the show she served up on the 1989 Tour all summer long. A- —Eric Renner Brown
Stevie Wonder & Pentatonix, "That’s the Way of the World"
The R&B legend and the a cappella quintet might seem like odd bedfellows, but their brief rendition of Earth Wind & Fire's "That's the Way of the World" — delivered immediately before presenting Song of the Year — paid the group's singer Maurice White, who died earlier this month, an understated and moving tribute. In a broadcast packed with over-the-top performances, this one's only flaw was that it wasn't long enough. A- —Eric Renner Brown
Tori Kelly and James Bay, "Let It Go" and "Hollow"
The YouTube-made Kelly and English import Bay put on one of the night's more intimate shows, standing across each other on a bare stage with only their guitars keeping them company. Bay's "Let It Go" seamlessly flowed into Kelly's "Hollow," and together, the two young musicians proved that sometimes the strongest performances are the simplest ones. A- —Ariana Bacle
Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”
The alt-blues futurists didn't pull out any showy tricks for their Grammys performance of last year's "Don't Wanna Fight," but they didn't need glitzy lights or elaborate stage props. Brittany Howard's howl and the band's tight chemistry helped the standout cut from the Album of the Year-nominated Sound & Color shine — even if it wasn't as memorable a moment as some of the other ones from the evening. B+ —Eric Renner Brown
The Weeknd, "Can't Feel My Face" and "In the Night"
The Weeknd classed up dark anthem "Can't Feel My Face" by donning a crisp tuxedo and performing in a three-walled box of pulsing red lights that distracted from his killer Michael Jackson-inspired footwork. Those lights dimmed though for his following stripped-down rendition of "In the Night," which got an extra dose of drama thanks to an accompanying cellist and pianist. Abel Tesfaye's falsetto sounded strong as ever for both tracks, and the updated "In the Night" gave that voice its rightful spotlight. B+ —Ariana Bacle
Gwen Stefani, "Make Me Like You"
Stefani swapped the stage for pop art-inspired sets in a glamorous, glittery live music video directed by Sophie Muller (a Grammy winner who also directed Stefani’s “Used to Love You”) that saw the No Doubt frontwoman singing the recently released track in a variety of settings ranging from a beauty salon to a full-fledged roller-skating party. The result occasionally felt forced (that wasn't a real fall, was it?), but it's easy to forgive some artificial giggles when they're coming from someone as dazzling as Stefani. B+ —Ariana Bacle
Lady Gaga, "Space Oddity" / "Changes" / "Ziggy Stardust" / "Suffragette City" / "Rebel Rebel" / "Fashion" / "Fame" / "Let's Dance" / "Heroes"
The Grammys had to pay tribute to David Bowie, who died of cancer in January, and they recruited just the right person for the job: Master performer Lady Gaga. Former Bowie collaborator Nile Rodgers organized the career-spanning retrospective, which found Gaga prancing around the stage for glam-rock gems ("Ziggy Stardust") and plastic soul staples ("Fame") alike. Gaga gave the epic medley her all, but the performance would’ve reached its full potential if it had lingered longer on highlights like "Space Oddity" and “Heroes” rather than maximizing the number of songs played. B —Eric Renner Brown
Little Big Town, "Girl Crush"
Karen Fairchild's soulful vocals took center stage when she confessed her girl crush with the help of a string section and her three bandmates, who joined in for pretty harmonies, as she stood on a glowing, circular stage. Although a bit of spectacle could have helped add some excitement, Little Big Town's performance was all in all a consistent showcase of their musical chemistry and prowess. B —Ariana Bacle
Andra Day & Ellie Goulding (“Rise Up” / “Love Me Like You Do”)
The two wickedly talented singers brought their pipes (and little else) to the Grammys stage for a medley performance of Day's 2015 single "Rise Up" and Goulding's Grammy-nominated "Love Me Like You Do." Their vocals impressed, but didn't make up for a sparse stage setup (that's bad for the folks watching at home) and the duo's stiff appearance. B —Eric Renner Brown
John Legend, Demi Lovato, Luke Bryan, Meghan Trainor, Tyrese, Lionel Richie perform Richie Tribute "Easy / Hello / Penny Lover / You Are The Sun, You Are The Rain / Brick House / All Night"
The selection of artists felt a bit like the show rounded up everyone who wasn't already booked for the evening and told them to pick their favorite tune. Legend and Lovato slayed — it’s hard to imagine Legend can give anything but an A performance from his piano — but Bryan and Trainor paled in comparison. Tyrese got a few people back on their feet, but it was Richie, of course, who saved the day. B —Madison Vain
Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood, "Take Your Time / Heartbeat"
Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood, two of Nashville’s most genetically blessed stars, were welcomed to the Grammy stage for a performance with lots of promise — but unfortunately, it never reached its potential. Underwood rarely has collaborations on her albums and last October when Storyteller dropped, there was a ripple of surprise at "Heartbeat"'s warm backing vocals. Hunt was a delicate, welcome addition. Live, though, much of that electricity was lost, replaced instead with a lot of uncomfortable eye contact. B- —Madison Vain
Justin Bieber, Jack U “Love Yourself / Where Are Ü Now"
There was a time when Justin Bieber was a YouTube phenom; an 11-year-old with preternatural talents. When he began his set Monday night at the Grammys with an acoustic rendition of “Love Yourself,” it was a welcome reminder of those raw talents. All problems began after he threw down his guitar and ran to meet the men who helped re-introduce him last summer with their infectious, undeniable “Where Are Ü Now.” Between an awkward amount of fuzzy feedback and even more awkward Bieber dance moves, it felt unrehearsed, even sloppy. B- —Madison Vain
Pitbull, “Taxi” / “Bad Man”
Pitbull may have won — well, tied — for Best Latin Rock album, but on a night that also honored the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, and Chris Stapleton, few were focused on the party rapper. For his show-closing medley of "Taxi" and "Bad Man," Pitbull recruited Robin Thicke and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, but the bro star power couldn't save the boring and generic performance. C+ —Eric Renner Brown
Hollywood Vampires, “As Bad As I Am / Ace of Spades”
In their first televised performance, the Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, Joe Perry) debuted a new track and unfortunately it would fit right alongside with the songs featured on one of the Worst Albums of 2015. They were joined by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Duff McKagan for the second half of their set, where they saluted the late Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister with a cover of his band's iconic song “Ace Of Spades." And while it was a faithful rendition, it didn’t land with the crowd in Staples center — or in living rooms everywhere. C —Madison Vain