From rapping atop cop cars (2015 BET Awards) to performing while ninjas scale flaming walls behind him (2017 VMAs), Kendrick Lamar has a history of turning standard-issue awards show performances into high-concept works of art. Somehow, his opening spot at the Grammys — wryly named “This Is A Satire By Kendrick Lamar” — managed to surpass his already-high bar. Masked soldiers danced around Lamar as he rapped “XXX.” with collaborators Bono and the Edge of U2. Dave Chappelle provided witty interjections. And Lamar’s performance climaxed with the torrential rhymes of “King’s Dead,” his new collaboration with Future, Jay Rock, and James Blake from the Black Panther soundtrack. —Eric Renner Brown
Little Big Town
The country foursome brought their newly minted Grammy-winning song “Better Man” — they won Best Country Duo/Group Performance while walking the red carpet Sunday evening — to the Madison Square Garden stage early in the broadcast. As has become almost a guarantee in recent years, Little Big Town immediately proved a musical highlight. Standing on a set made to look like the roof of a city block and draped in sequins, they laid down their swoon-worthy harmonies and Taylor Swift’s uber-deft lyrics. What a treat. —Madison Vain
Add “show-stopping Grammys performance” to Donald Glover’s ever-growing resume. With 2016’s Awaken, My Love!” — nominated for Album of the Year at this year’s event — Glover rebranded his joke-rap act Childish Gambino into a vehicle for fiery funk. But he didn’t bring the album’s smash “Redbone” or an upbeat cut like “Have Some Love” to Madison Square Garden Sunday. Instead, he opted for the simmering slow-burn “Terrified,” showing off golden pipes that much of his television and movies audiences might not have realized he had. —E.R.B.
Have we gotten spoiled? Have we started to think there’s no ceiling Pink can’t descend from, no building she can’t scale, and no ribbon she can’t wrap to her will? The good news is, that’s probably all still true — and the better news is, she doesn’t need to do any of it. Sunday night, she performed “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” off 2017’s Beautiful Trauma, in a plain white T-shirt and jeans, standing fairly still behind her mic stand, and still, she dazzled. —M.V.
Bruno Mars and Cardi B
The 32-year-old pop star’s third album 24K Magic — which won Album of the Year — continues to yield chart smashes. Mars performed the latest of those, “Finesse,” recently resurgent thanks to a new remix featuring Cardi B, on the Grammys stage Sunday night. With a little help from the New York rapper, Mars brought slick dance moves and plenty of brightly colored ’90s throwback garb for a bit that was as fun as it was musically impressive. —E.R.B.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee
The Spanish-language hit “Despacito” dominated the airwaves like few other singles have in recent years, so it’s unsurprising that even without featured guest Justin Bieber present, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s rendition of the song at the Grammys was one of the evening’s most colorful and memorable. “Despacito” turned countless venues into kinetic parties, and, flanked by a cadre of dancers, the two stars brought that energy to living rooms throughout the country. —E.R.B.
Eric Church, Brothers Osborne, and Maren Morris
There might have been audio problems during Maren Morris’ introductory speech, but nothing could quell the emotional weight of her performance with Brothers Osborne and Eric Church Sunday night. Conducted in honor of the concertgoers who died in 2017 at the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the bombing in Manchester, U.K., outside of an Ariana Grande concert, the stars — each of whom was on the Las Vegas billing last fall — sang Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” over minimal acoustic backing and a devastating set design that beamed the names of the deceased into the crowd. —M.V.
Before the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns sparked a national conversation about sexual misconduct in recent months, Kesha released “Praying,” a staggering cut that referenced her own personal turmoil with Dr. Luke. (Kesha has accused the producer of sexual and verbal assault—claims he has vehemently denied.) Clad in white, vocal powerhouses Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Andra Day, Julia Michaels, and Bebe Rexha joined Kesha for a rendition of the deeply resonant song — and earned one of the evening’s biggest ovations. —E.R.B.
Elton John and Miley Cyrus
Elton John began his long farewell Sunday night at the Grammys with a completely bonkers rendition of his 1971 hit “Tiny Dancer” that saw Miley Cyrus playing his duet partner. With their famous, warm-toned rock vocals, Cyrus, wrapped tightly in a magenta chiffon ballgown and donning a huge smile, and John, dazzling in sequins galore, made a perfect pair. —M.V.
Technical and logistical challenges can often mar televised vocal performances. Not so for R&B breakout and Best New Artist nominee SZA who obliterated the mic when she belted “Broken Clocks,” a standout from her stellar 2017 album CTRL. The singer didn’t take home the Best New Artist prize but given her enormous talent — and her performance Sunday — she’s destined to be a Grammys staple for years to come. —E.R.B.