Ranking The Performances At The 2024 Grammys

Features News Popular

Ranking The Performances At The 2024 Grammys


Look, it’s the Grammys. They’re not going to surprise you. If they do surprise you, it’s your own damn fault for getting your hopes up. Even if you are a child who is watching the Grammys for the first time, the adults in your life should’ve warned you: “It’s the Grammys. They always do this shit.” In this case, “this shit” means a very long broadcast where lots of people play piano ballads, semi-retired legends are carted out to sing duets with their supposed heirs, and the host kisses so much celebrity ass that I want to throw my TV out the window. It all ends with someone — usually white, usually fantastically famous — winning Album Of The Year. Generally, that winner boxes out out someone who made a more daring and maybe more popular record but who is less white and sometimes less fantastically famous. It’s what the Grammys do.

This year, fate dealt the Grammys some strong hands. This year’s nominees were very young, very female, and very relevant. Most of them were pretty good, too. Taylor Swift, currently the most famous person on earth, didn’t want to perform this year — she sometimes gets weekends off, and she wants to keep it that way — but she was willing to show up and appear in every crowd reaction shot. That’s good for the NFL, and it’s good for the Grammys, too. The show was also blessed with a long list of legends — Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman, Billy Joel — who have been operating out of the public eye for a while, to one degree or another. They felt like coming back, and the Grammys were right there to embrace them.

The way everything lined up, the Grammys were able to put on a fairly strong show — again, for the Grammys — while still doing all the same things that make them the Grammys. Jay-Z, accepting some kind of meaningless lifetime achievement award, lightly chided the voting body for getting things wrong so many times, especially where his wife is concerned. Really, though, that’s the Grammys taking criticism of the Grammys and making it part of the Grammys. The show hasn’t stopped operating in its deathless way, which is why we got Trevor Noah constantly being obsequiously shocked at the fact that he had celebrities around him. (Why is this still standard operating procedure for this show? I’d take Jo Koy over that shit.) But the way things shook out this year, we also got some powerful moments.

For at least the second year in a row, I did not hate most of the performances at this year’s Grammys. We’re in one of those historical blips where a lot of important youngish musicians actually care about this show and want to do well on it. That probably won’t last, but it made for a better viewing experience. The pacing is still insane, leading to wild shit like Travis Scott following Joni Mitchell. But the show had isolated moments that made me feel things, and those moments didn’t necessarily have anything to do with Taylor Swift announcing the album that, given past precedent, has a 40% chance of winning Album Of The Year next year. So, like we always do at this time, here are last night’s Grammy performances, ranked from worst to first by my own personal preference.

15. U2

Whenever the Grammys hit us with a performance that does not take place at the actual Grammy Awards, it feels like it shouldn’t even count, and that has never been more true than it was with this. This was less of a performance, more of a a video-package advertisement for the Sphere. If that meant some trippy widescreen spectacle, that would be one thing, but the Sphere doesn’t look that special on a TV screen since the venue’s whole gimmick is that the whole place is a TV screen. And it wasn’t even an effective advertisement because “Atomic City” is a trash-ass song. I hope this cost James Dolan so much money.

14. Billy Joel

When iconic stars return for TV performances, their voices don’t always sound great, and we don’t always hold it against them. (See: The #1 entry on this list.) But with Billy Joel, it was actually a bit of a surprise that he sounded like a dying walrus. Billy Joel hasn’t released new music since Earth’s plate tectonics were in a slightly different arrangement, but when “Turn The Lights Back On” came out a few days ago, I was like, “Wow, Billy Joel’s voice sounds amazing! It hasn’t aged at all!” Then, he came out at the Grammys and sounded like a heaping helping of dog farts. He sounded like a drunk uncle’s drunk uncle. This guy never should’ve agreed to this. To be fair, “You May Be Right” sounded better during the end credits, but “You May Be Right” was built for drunk uncles.

13. Stevie Wonder

I had no idea that Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett were friends. That’s cool. That doesn’t mean I want to see a living person sing a duet with a recording of a dead person, but it’s cool. Stevie Wonder is a living legend with an impeccable legacy, and he should probably stop saying yes to do all these damn Grammy performances.

12. Jon Batiste

You shouldn’t be allowed to change the words of Bill Withers songs. There oughta be a law. Batiste’s whole theatrical jazz-funeral thing felt very forced. If I was Gordon Lightfoot or Magoo, it’s not how I’d want the world to bid me farewell.

11. Billie Eilish

This morning, I got a PR email about how “What Was I Made For?” is “the perfect song to help you sleep.” Yeah, no shit. This song is so boring! This performance was also very boring! We’re going to get another dang Billie Eilish torch-song ballad at every Grammys until the earth is swallowed by the sun, aren’t we? Why did we allow this to happen? The headscarf and the slow-spinning camera looked nice, though.

10. Travis Scott and Playboi Carti

For whatever reason, following Joni Mitchell with Travis Scott feels like the most Grammys shit ever. I am so sick of the blockbuster performance-art style of rap show. The stage design and lighting looked cool, and “Fein” is an OK song. At least theoretically, I should be fired up about the idea of the Grammys giving time to Travis Scott doing a TLC match with himself in a fake volcano while Playboi Carti raps in a mask, but I don’t know. It felt rote. I miss rappers with towels on their heads and 15 guys with mics onstage all yelling at once. I miss real chaos. This staged chaos just isn’t exciting in the same way.

9. Dua Lipa

Doing a new song as the opening Grammys performance feels like an unbelievable flex, but I already don’t remember how that opening song goes, so maybe the flex didn’t work out so well. Dua Lipa looks great, and the jungle gym full of brolic dudes was a fun touch. But even when she transitioned into “Houdini,” with the stage full of mirrors, it didn’t feel like the grand statement that it was presumably intended to be. It just felt like a replacement-level pop-star performance — fun, but inessential. If you’re going to go for a big, attention-grabbing opening, you need to go all the way over the top, Lady Gaga-style. This was not that.

8. Burna Boy, Brandy, and 21 Savage

Burna Boy is an actual global star, and the Grammys didn’t have to turn his performance into African kitsch. That’s what they did, though. That’s just what they do. I do like when someone performs a song with a big sample and the person being sampled comes out to perform it. That’s always fun. Brandy somehow looks exactly the same as she did in 1998. (Maybe she sounds the same, too? I don’t think she was really singing, though.) 21 Savage barely seemed like he was there. He could’ve been a hologram, and I would have no idea.

7. Annie Lennox

Saying “ceasefire” on live TV after singing “Nothing Compares 2 U” is something that Sinéad O’Connor would’ve done, so this felt like a fitting tribute, even if the whole emotional-oversinging thing didn’t work so well for me. Sinéad wouldn’t have done that.

6. Olivia Rodrigo

Olivia Rodrigo has sung “Vampire” on camera many, many times, but this was the first one where the walls were bleeding. That gets bonus points. It would’ve been cooler if she’d gone full Gwar — just firehose-spraying fake blood all over the Crypto.com Arena and maybe also feeding Trevor Noah to the Dream Maggot. I know that’s not vampire-specific, but I would’ve liked it. Perhaps I should take a moment here for the audience-cutaway shots. Taylor Swift knew that there would be cameras on her all night, and so she kept jumping up and singing along. It looked show-offy, but it’s also what the music business requires of her. In the case of Olivia Rodrigo, Swift basically had to squash any rumors of simmering beef by standing up and acting supportive, and she did her job. In every one of her own cutaway shots, Olivia Rodrigo looked like she was having a terrible night, and god knows I can sympathize with that.

5. SZA

The back-alley stage setup was confusing. Was it supposed to evoke Michael Jackson, or do Grammy producers still think that flaming dumpsters imply street credibility, like this was an episode of 21 Jump Street from 1988? But if you’re trying to appeal to me personally, then ninja swords and wirework are very helpful touches. The theatricality of the performance sort of overwhelmed the songs and SZA herself, but I wasn’t bored. SZA was able to put on a very different kind of performance with her acceptance speech, and that one didn’t get upstaged by ninja swords. Also, I’m very glad that Phoebe Bridgers was not accidentally decapitated. For a second there, that looked like a real possibility.

4. Miley Cyrus

The aesthetic was Solid Gold in 1982, but the vibe was four-drinks-deep lounge entertainer. I was into both of those things. Miley Cyrus said that she’d only performed this song twice, but she acted like she’s sung it five million times, like she’s slightly sick of it. This also worked for me! You’re not going to get anything revelatory from a performance of a song that most people have heard many, many times, but you can make the performance a whole lot more interesting by making constant asides to the audience, and that’s what Miley Cyrus did. I did not expect to have fun watching this, and fun is what I had.

3. Fantasia

People were expecting Beyoncé to do the Tina Turner tribute, right? Or maybe hoping for it? And I bet that would’ve been great, but it might not have been this great. I really miss Fantasia singing live on TV every week. She was great at that. She could still be great at that. The in-memoriam thing is a thankless job, and attempting to impersonate Tina Turner is even more thankless, since nobody’s ever going to be able to approach the original. But Fantasia managed to summon some of that explosiveness, and that’s really all anyone could be asked to do in her spot. Tina Turner had superhuman force and charisma, and nobody will ever be like her. Fantasia has her very own superhuman force and charisma, and she managed to salute Turner by being herself.

2. Tracy Chapman And Luke Combs

Tracy Chapman did not have the same issues as Billy Joel. Instead, she sounded so good that people thought she might’ve been lip-syncing to a record that came out 37 years ago. This was her first time performing in public in years, and her return felt like almost as big a deal as that of Joni Mitchell. She was glowing. It’s low-hanging fruit, but the Grammys were practically invented to present this kind of moment. I wish I could make anything that will be as timelessly loved as “Fast Car” — that I could write a blog post and come out and read it decades from now, to a rapturous reception. It sure looks nice. This moment happened because Luke Combs had a big, unexpected hit last year with his “Fast Car” cover, but he knew that his presence was pretty superfluous. He stayed out of the way, which was the right thing for him to do. I’m glad he dressed up nice for it. He doesn’t do that very often.

1. Joni Mitchell

Come on. I know that the actual quality of the performance is beside the point here. Judging Joni Mitchell on the same criteria as Dua Lipa makes no sense at all. The big deal is the fact that Mitchell was willing and able to give the performance in the first place — that she’s still here, watching her songs resonate in new, different ways. But this performance did something to me. I didn’t get the squicky feeling that I’ve gotten from so many aging legends’ Grammy performances, where it feels like we’re being force-fed something. Maybe it’s just because I’ve lost a few people recently, but seeing Joni Mitchell up there, 80 years old and singing about not knowing life at all, holding this whole big room in hushed reverence, and then laughing — that was something I’m glad I got to see. Moments like that actually cut through the bullshit. Moments like that feel real.

Back To Top