2021 Grammys Performances, Ranked – Watch 2021 Grammy Performances

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2021 Grammys Performances, Ranked – Watch 2021 Grammy Performances

Has there ever been a year with this many Grammy performances? Sunday night’s Grammys bucked the awards show slump of the past year and managed to boast twenty different performances from the likes of Lionel Richie to Mirnada Lambert and back to Megan Thee Stallion. Hosted by Trevor Noah from Los Angeles, most of the performances were predictably pre-recorded thanks to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. That sounds like a big departure from the live excitement we’ve come to expect from awards season (especially the Grammys), but for the most part, it didn’t just work—it kind of felt refreshing?

The most successful performances of the night were dynamic and unexpected (see: DaBaby and his crew of choir singers, perfectly called DaBaby Boomers). With no audience, it’s all about turning out something so engaging that the audience reaction didn’t matter. Unfortunately, not everyone got that memo.

Ironically enough, it was some of the night’s biggest winners that paid the price for that little detail. Taylor Swift’s folklore just doesn’t translate well to a pre-recorded stage, nor did Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted.” Did it stop them from nabbing Album of the Year and Record of the Year, respectively? No. But when it comes to who won the Grammys airing, it was all about being ratchet. Bougie, perhaps. Nasty, most certainly.

Here are the 2021 Grammy performances, ranked.

1) Megan Thee Stallion ft. Beyonce – Body/Savage

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It was her first time at the Grammys and Megan left nothing on the table. “Savage” was turned up to a twelve with a diamond studded fleet of back up dancers, falling cash money, and a stage drenched in golden light. Megan Thee Stallion has had a massive year, and the Best New Artist winner made it clear on Sunday night that this is just the first in a long line of performances. Let’s just hope that all of them manage to have a tap dancing break like tonight’s did.

2) DaBaby – ROCKSTAR

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I mean, come on. Seven words for you: DaBaby featuring the cast of Book Club. DaBaby’s performance of “Rockstar” was the definition of what an awards show performance should be. Already affecting in its lyrics, DaBaby grabbed the audience’s attention with a choir backing him. It had absolutely no right working, and yet, it’s the most memorable performance of the night.

3) BTS – Dynamite

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When it comes to choreography, there’s no comparison, really. Airtight to the point that they seem to have been crafted in a laboratory, BTS is a gargantuan presence on the music scene right now, whether the Grammy voting body wants to recognize that. Their performance from Seoul helped cap an evening of great performances, and that’s a difficult position to be in. Even still, the boy band helped liven up the tail end of the night’s ceremonies.

4) Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Lionel Richie, Brandi Carlile, Brittany Howard, Chris Martin – In Memoriam

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If you remove Richie from this list, this is arguably the best performance of the evening. Mars and .Paak gave more to their Little Richard tribute than any of us could have imagined. Carlile’s dedication to Prine’s legacy was poignant and heartfelt, and then Brittany Howard. Brittany Howard. Her version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to close out the in memoriam was predictably powerful without losing an ounce of gravitas. And we’ll just ignore that Richie performance of Kenny Rogers’ “Lady.”

5) Harry Styles – Watermelon Sugar

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It was understated. It was funky. It had a green boa. Styles’ performance of “Watermelon Sugar” was a perfect way to kick off the night’s ceremonies, setting the tone for one for the best awards shows we’ve seen in the past year.

6) Black Pumas – Colors

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Yes, gimmicks are great, but all the Black Pumas’ had to do to entrance the audience was perform. Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada’s performance was a highlight of the evening and a reminder that a touch of funk and a good helping of soul will do the heart good. The duo was nominated for three awards on Sunday evening, with “Colors” getting a nod for the coveted Record of the Year.

7) Lil Baby – The Bigger Picture

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No performance was grander and more attuned to the events of the past year that Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture.” One of the final performances of the evening, the rapper’s larger than life performance depicted a police shooting of a Black man and the protests that ensued after, clearing evoking the heartbreaking events that led to last summer’s protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. With a cameo from Killer Mike, “The Bigger Picture” was one of the standouts of the night.

8) Mickey Guyton – Black Like Me

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Guyton is a country music force. Now the onus falls to the genre—country music has to figure out how to amplify her. Her performance of “Black Like Me” is a landmark single for the genre, especially considering the way it has struggled with how to address racism within its ranks. There may be issues within the genre, but Guyton’s performance at the Grammys is proof that none of them are her.

9) Haim – The Steps

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Haim doesn’t need a blown out stage or a gimmick. Give them the absolute basic materials, and they’ll still turn out one of the best performances of the night. It’s as simple as that. Making their Grammys debut, Haim’s performance of “The Stairs” was upbeat, fun, and a testament to why these three women were nominated for three awards.

10) Doja Cat – Say So

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The Queen of TikTok music did not come to play. Between the outfit, the choreography, and the performance itself, Doja Cat proved that she is far more than a random act that went viral a couple times on the social media app du jour. While performances late in the evening can get overlooked because of awards show fatigue, Doja Cat refused to be ignored.

11) Maren Morris ft. John Mayer – The Bones

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At this point, Maren Morris is a guarantee for a solid performance. Joined on stage by John Mayer, Morris was the closer for the trio of performances shining a light on the women of country music. Her rendition of “The Bones” had Miranda Lambert and Guyton dancing along from the audience.

12) Cardi B – Up / WAP ft. Megan Thee Stallion

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Not to pit the women of hip hop against one another, but following up Megan Thee Stallion’s jazzed up performance of “Savage” is a tall order. Cardi B gave it her all with her new single “Up,” but it largely paled in comparison to Megan’s outing. However, when the two joined forces for “WAP,” the performance livened up, showing that when the two combine forces, they’re a show stopping force.

13) Miranda Lambert – Bluebird

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I think the main problem here was the sound. Country music’s livewire seemed strangely quiet during the Grammys, seemingly damned by sound issues. But beyond technical struggles, the reigning queen of country gave an respectable performance of her single “Bluebird” off of Wildcard.

14) Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak)- Leave the Door Open

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The superduo behind the track “Leave the Door Open” is an exciting pairing, no doubt. Mars and .Paak are incredible in their own respects, but “Leave the Door Open” is a bit of a corny slow burn that harkens back to a different time without ever fully transporting us to the ’70s era it evokes. In this new era of awards shows done at a distance, the performances really have to capture attention to land without audience reaction. This one did not.

15) Bad Bunny, Jhay Cortez- Dakiti

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Like a lot of the night’s performances, Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez’ performance felt more akin to a soundcheck than it did a final product. The primary issue is that the song simply lends itself to working best with an audience. I think of Maluma’s 2020 VMA performance with a drive in element and how, how it didn’t replace people right up in the action, it made the performance feel more seen—it’s hard to imagine that wouldn’t have helped the energy for this one. The Grammys would have benefitted from an element like that.

16) Dua Lipa – Levitating/Don’t Start Now

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Dua Lipa is great. Her six Grammy nominations speak to how beloved she is, so the question when it comes to her Grammys performance is: where was the energy? The pop disco priestess gave us wardrobe changes and choreography, but her medley performance lacked any of the excitement that helped make her one of 2020’s biggest artists.

17) Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding

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Big night for unexpected choirs! Joined by a collection of hooded choir members, the mumble rapper took the stage to perform his Record of the Year nominee, “Hollywood’s Bleeding.” The bizarre set up was definitely attention getting, but the overall performance seemed a bit blasé in comparison to some of the night’s stronger fare.

18) Roddy Rich- Heartless

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To be frank, Roddy had the unfortunate position of closing an especially long Grammys ceremony. Though he surprised and delighted by spending the first part of “Heartless” behind the piano, the night’s final performance lacked the energy required to perk anyone up after nearly four hours of awards.

19) Taylor Swift – cardigan / august / willow

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Most of folklore’s tracks just don’t make for live performance fodder. That’s not bad! It’s precisely the reason why this pandemic-era album was perfectly timed. You don’t need to tour with folklore. But the medley of album tracks started with “cardigan” and took quite a while to build up steam. By the time we ended with “willow,” the energy had picked up, but a performance of “ betty” would have traveled much better than Swift’s sleepier options.

20) Billie Eilish – Everything I Wanted

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Eilish stood on a car and it was fine. The song lacked the necessary energy to get the crowd going, especially after Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar.” And don’t even suggest it had to do with the type of song because last year’s performance of “when the party’s over” still hauntingly rings in my ears.

Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.

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