Madonna grabs the bull by the horns -- literally -- to sing "Living for Love." While the 56-year-old wears a sexed-up matador's uniform, it's her backup dancers who bring the real kink to stage. Dressed in form-fitting black unitards, rhinestone masks and black bull horns, the lithe but faceless dancers undulate around her, as if to promise to fulfill all of her deep, dark and crazy animalistic desires. We smell a sequel series: Fifty Shades of Pan's Labyrinth. Get on that, Guillermo del Toro!
Although Sia took the stage to sing "Chandelier," she stayed true to her recent anti-face stance and turned away from the audience throughout her moving rendition, singing facing the wall of the set dressed to look like a bedroom. To make up for the lack of visual performance, she instead relied on SNL alum Kristen Wiig to give gravitas to the lyrics with a stunning interpretive dance. Once we got over our, "OMG, is that a wig on Kristen Wiig?!" shock, we were happy to drink up her performance, which also featured Dance Mom's Maddie Ziegler, the little girl from the "Chandelier" video. Unlike most of the simplistic performances of the night, the energetic and surprising dance number was a welcome change of pace.
Of all of Kanye's performances of the night, his most convincing was when he pretended to storm the stage to steal Beck's mic after Album of the Year was announced, taking us back to the days when he and T-Swizzle had that infamous "Imma let you finish" moment at the VMAs. But it turns out Kanye wasn't kidding! After the show, West told E! he was completely serious. "Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé," he said. Either way, it was one of the best moments of the night.
Poor Pharrell Williams has had to perform "Happy" so many times this year, most memorably at last year's Oscars. Sans impressive dancing partners like Meryl Streep, Williams decided to change the dynamics of the song completely by adding voiceovers in foreign languages and several interludes of ominous music -- not unlike the night's walk-off music. Despite the many dancers that filled the aisles and Williams' semi-laughable attire - a bellhop uniform paired with yellow glittery sneakers - the overly dramatic result seemed to veer too far from the song's origins. How did we get there?
Despite cutting off nearly every winner of the evening midway through their acceptance speech, the Grammys still ran more than 30 minutes over. But if there's anyone that the people will wait for, it's definitely Queen Bey. After opening the show last year with a dark and heated duet with her husband Jay-Z, the singer went in the exact opposite direction with a soul-stirring performance of "Take My Hand, Precious Lord." Dressed all in white, Beyonce almost looked like an angel brought down from above - but it's more likely viewers were just happy that the end of the show was in sight.
Being bad never felt so good. It's unthinkable that AC/DC had never performed at the Grammys before, but the legendary rock band certainly made up for lost time. The group, sadly minus guitarist Malcolm Young and drummer Phil Lesh, served as the perfect opening act to rev up the audience, first with "Rock or Bust" before launching into a fired up rendition of "Highway to Hell" complete with (expected) pyrotechnics and (unexpected) electronic, light-up devil horns for the crowd to wear. Even better than seeing Angus Young rock out in the final moments of AC/DC's signature tune was the enthusiastic reception they received from artists ranging from Lady Gaga, Blake Shelton, Dave Grohl, Katy Perry and many others. Back in black? More like back on top.
The Year of the Ballad continued with Katy Perry's "By the Grace of God." After a domestic violence PSA introduction from President Obama (via satellite), Katy Perry performed alongside Brooke Axtell, an activist and survivor of domestic violence who told her story on the stage. (The performance strikes a particular chord, given that Chris Brown's assault on Rihanna occurred on Grammy weekend six years ago.) Wearing a dress basically identical to Solange Knowles' wedding gown, Perry sang the tune backed by performance artists who danced as silhouettes behind a white screen. It's quite a departure from Perry's flashy Super Bowl halftime show, but an emotionally affecting one nonetheless.
Now, this is how you perform a ballad at the Grammys. Proving that their chemistry extends beyond the coaches' chairs on The Voice, Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani teamed up to perform Maroon 5's song "My Heart Is Open." (Sidenote: Whose idea was it to have American Idol host Ryan Seacrest introduce them?) Ariana Grande could take a note on stage presence from Stefani, who looked breathtaking in a leg-exposing red dress (and bright lipstick to match), and harmonizes perfectly with Levine. Joint tour, anyone?
First off, we would like to thank God and everyone else in convincing Rihanna not to take the stage in her awful pink monstrosity of a red carpet dress. Despite Kanye West's penchant for stealing the spotlight from whoever he's with at all times (minus Kim Kardashian), the songstress held her own with a powerful vocal performance that might be her best ever at the Grammys. However, we had to dock several points from this performance of "FourFiveSeconds" because it was basically impossible to hear living legend Paul McCartney sing throughout. No living Beatle should ever play third fiddle. Even Ringo Starr.
Making a strong case that the Grammy committee sometimes does know what it's talking about, multiple-award winner Sam Smith put to rest any doubts that he deserved the Best New Artist win with a heartwrenching rendition of his ubiquitous hit "Stay With Me." The gospel singers and backing string section do their part to buoy the track, but what really elevates it to the next level was Smith's singing partner: Mary J. Blige. A perfect pairing on one of the best songs of the year.
In a performance that was more "Top 8 on American Idol" than "second performance at the Grammy Awards," Ariana Grande decided to forego her bouncier Top 40 tracks in favor of the ballad "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart." Backed by a partial orchestra, Grande looked stunning in a royal blue floor-length gown. But unfortunately, the flash that Grande typically employs overshadows any shortcomings in her voice, which is simply not powerful enough on its own to shoulder an entire performance. Yawn.
Top Gun, this is not. Tom Jones and Jessie J team up to sing "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" to honor the songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who received one of the evening's Grammys Trustees Awards. (Phil Spector also helped write that song, but hey, no need to bring a convicted murderer into the festivities.) Unfortunately, the effort is a weird mismatch of singing styles that never quite jells. Not only does it pale in comparison to the Righteous Brothers' signature version, but also to its great covers (see: Hall & Oates).
AC/DC may have gotten people on their feet, but it was Miranda Lambert that upped the head-banging to 11. Performing "Little Red Wagon," the country singer needed few set pieces other than her faithful band, her fiery vocals and her commanding stage presence to captivate the crowd. If there is any justice in the world, hopefully this performance helps Lambert to cross over officially and completely to the mainstream like the Shanias, Faiths and Tay-Tays before her.
Did Ed Sheeran get extra brownie points from the Recording Academy for every other artist he included in his performance? That's sure what it seemed like. Of all of the Grammys' surprising and sometimes confounding artist pairings, seeing Sheeran collaborate with John Mayer, Herbie Hancock, Adam Blackstone and Questlove was one of the biggest head-scratchers of the night. But snark aside, the result was a refreshing and soul-infused rendition of Sheeran's latest hit "Thinking Out Loud." The British crooner, however, really kicked it into high gear - and really sucked up to the higher-ups - when he performed a lively take on "Mr. Blue Sky" with veteran rockers ELO, who also got a chance to shine with a predictably awesome version of "Evil Woman."
When we heard that Hozier would duet on his hit "Take Me to Church" with Annie Lennox, we couldn't be more excited. Her huge voice suits the pseudo-religious love song, but it's really her cover of the R&B classic "I Put a Spell on You" that brings it home. She totally put a spell on the crowd, and don't even get us started on that awesome mouth-harp interlude. Amen!
OK, we'll admit that we were not believers when Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, looking and moving like Cruella de Jessica Rabbit, first hit the stage. But say what you will about Gaga's over-performing and spray tan, the girl can sing. Her vocals and Tony's totally swing together on Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," and they bring it home with a fun bit of scatting. More playful than romantic, the two definitely looked
Sure, he's an attractive man with great dancing skills and a killer body. And did we mention he's a TV star thanks to The Voice? But Usher decided to remind people on Sunday he can also saaang with a beautiful cover of Stevie Wonder's "If It's Magic" accompanied by a harp. Although it seemed like he was going solo, Usher was joined by none other than Wonder himself (on the harmonica, natch) midway through the performance to form one of the night's best twosomes.
Hozier took us to church, but Eric takes us to Church with "Give Me Back My Hometown," kicking off a country mini-set that also featured Brandy Clark, Dwight Yoakam and (yes) Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney. Set to the backdrop of images of protests around the world, Church's performance embodies all the essential elements of modern country music while still staying true to the genre's roots, filling the arena with an emotionally resonant twangy anthem.
(GRAMMYS-SHOW) REUTERS /LUCY NICHOLSON /LANDOV
On a night filled with bellhops and sexy rhinestone bulls, Brandy Clark and Dwight Yoakam prove that good music doesn't need gimmicks or a spectacle to engage. Accompanied by their own guitars, the duo sing "Hold My Hand" in such a sweet and poignant way that one can't help but be moved by the simplicity.
Finalmente! Juanes sings the first-ever performance in Spanish at the Grammys, which we can't believe took until 2015. Although he pulls out that old chestnut "Juntos," we're not going to argue with his up-tempo presence on our TVs. Our only real gripe is that he didn't really get enough time to soak up the applause before he was upstaged by Prince.
As the clock strikes 11, what everyone really needs is a pick-me-up, and instead we get this forgettable musical sleeping pill from Chris Martin and Beck (who, it should be noted, has just picked up the Grammy for Album of the Year). This song is titled "Heart Is a Drum" but it should be called "I'm a snoozer, baby." We've seen coffee shop performances that are more exciting.
Two weeks before the Academy Awards, John Legend and Common closed the Grammys with a passionate, inspiring performance of "Glory," their Oscar-nominated song from Selma. After a surprisingly low-key performance from Beyonce, this is a timely, necessary infusion of adrenaline into what's been a pretty tired broadcast thus far, and one that encapsulates the role music often plays in social change.
As he's done on several previous awards shows, Kanye West proves that his supersized ego is, well, pretty justified. Straddling a single spotlight clad in what looks to be a velour sweatsuit, West offers an understated performance of his bare-bones collaboration with Paul McCartney, "Only One." Alas, McCartney doesn't join him onstage. Advice to enhance your listening experience: Forget the song is probably about Kim Kardashian.