The Best And Worst Of The 2019 Grammys Performances

Diana Ross performs a medley at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

With a staggering 15-plus performances, the 61st annual Grammy Awards seemed more like a concert than an awards show. Taking the stage during the three-and-a-half-hour broadcast were the likes of Camila Cabello, Kacey Musgraves, Shawn Mendes, Cardi B and host Alicia Keys, and tributes were made to Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, Motown, Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin. Though the lineup was at times overwhelming, there were undeniably memorable moments on the Grammys stage. Here are the best and worst of them.

Highlight: Alicia Keys’ medley

Alicia Keys’ homage to her favorite songs was a welcome surprise by the show host. She played two grand pianos simultaneously as a nod to pianist Hazel Scott, who performed the same feat in the 1943 film The Heat Is On, before launching into a medley of tracks she “wish[es] she wrote.” Songs ran the gamut from Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” to Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” and Juice Wrld’s “Lucid Dreams,” but Keys was sure to remind the audience of her own songwriting talent with her 2009 Jay-Z collaboration, “Empire State of Mind.”  

Lowlight: Post Malone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lacking chemistry

As one of three mashup performances of the night—the others being Shawn Mendes with Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa with St. Vincent—Post Malone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers fell flat. Post Malone’s stripped down opening with “Stay” seemed promising through its transition to “Rockstar.” (The absence of 21 Savage for his featured verse because of his detainment by ICE was not acknowledged.) He hopped on guitar to join the Red Hot Chili Peppers for “Dark Necessities,” but was lost within the band, making for more of a passing of the mic than a collaborative performance.

Highlight: Theatrical productions by Camila Cabello, Janelle Monaé, Cardi B, and Travis Scott

These four artists in particular stepped up to the challenge of transforming the Grammys stage for their career-defining performances. Show opener Camila Cabello’s extravagant set featured bedrooms overlooking a busy “street,” complete with a Calle 8 subway station from which Ricky Martin emerged to join Cabello and J Balvin for the latter’s “Mi Gente.” Janelle Monaé remained true to her Afrofuturistic aesthetic, joined by latex-clad dancers for a funky, Prince-influenced performance of tracks from her nominated Dirty Computer album. Cardi B extended the ‘50s glamor of her red carpet look to the stage with a tufted, tiered set, on which she and her dancers performed to “Money.” Travis Scott tapped James Blake and Earth, Wind & Fire for “Stop Trying to Be God,” before confining himself to a cage while a crowd stormed the stage during “No Bystanders.”

Highlight: Vocal gymnastics by Shawn Mendes, Kacey Musgraves, H.E.R., Brandi Carlile and Chloe and Halle

Artists who opted for more straightforward performances were by no means lacking in entertainment. Shawn Mendes and Brandi Carlile gave rousing renditions of “In My Blood” and “The Joke,” respectively, with the former being joined by Miley Cyrus for added range. Kacey Musgraves gave a breathtaking performance of “Rainbow,” as did Chloe and Halle for their Donny Hathaway tribute. A stomping chorus joined H.E.R. for “Hard Place,” getting the crowd on their feet for the laidback track.

Lowlight: The Motown tribute

Even with Jennifer Lopez being a stellar performer, undoubtedly tapping her Vegas experience to effortlessly dance through a medley of songs that included the likes of “Square Biz” and “Dancing Machine,” she was overshadowed by the elephant in the room: With so many soul/R&B artists with direct connections to the seeds sown by Motown, why was she tasked with the homage? For a record label with such a rich history, having played a major role in the racial integration of pop music, the tribute had massive potential (Daniel Caesar covering Marvin Gaye, Janelle Monaé returning to the stage for her own version of “Please Mr. Postman,” the possibilities are endless), but instead was a disappointment.      

Highlight: Dolly Parton and Diana Ross honoring themselves

Not every tribute was a bust; the homages to Dolly Parton and Diana Ross were perfect depictions of their contributions to the music industry, and it’s due in part to their involvement in their own honors. Joined by Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and a standout Cyrus, Parton brought her warm, welcoming ambiance to the stage for “After the Gold Rush,” “Jolene,” “Red Shoes” and “9 to 5.” Ross’ tribute couldn’t have been more on-brand for the legendary singer: performed entirely by herself, in honor of her 75th birthday, which isn’t until March.