In its 60 years of existence, the Grammys have remained one of the top events of the awards season. Although a lot has changed since the best and brightest gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton in 1959, one thing that has remained the same: the excitement to see artists perform.
While some of the performances have been mind-blowing, like Michael Jackson’s moonwalk in 1983, other performances have left us cringing. It is an honor for performers to take the stage at the Grammys, but sometimes artists have pushed their aesthetics too far. As the 64th Annual Grammy Awards approaches, let’s take a look at the best and worst performances of all time.
Best: Michael Jackson Captivated the Crowd (1988)
Michael Jackson had several iconic Grammy moments during his career, but his 1988 10-minute medley performance went down in history for being his best. The King of Pop performed “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Man in the Mirror” while showing off his otherworldly dance skills.
Although his album Bad lost to U2’s The Joshua Tree, Jackson won the night with his show-stopping routine. As he danced and sang, a gospel choir joined him on stage to take the show to the next level. The dynamic MJ proved that all he needs is a mic and a moonwalk to mesmerize a crowd.
Best: Eric Clapton Brought the Crowd to Tears (1993)
The most memorable thing about the 1993 Grammys was Eric Clapton’s tear-jerking performance. There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience as he performed “Tears in Heaven.” Two years after his 4-year-old son Connor passed away in a tragic accident, the guitar legend honored him with this performance.
During the show, Clapton said, “I want to thank my son for the love he gave me and the song he gave me.” It was understated for the flashy standards of the Grammys, but he didn’t need to put on a big production for this piece. The song also won Record of the Year.
Worst: Nicki Minaj Left Audiences Confused (2012)
Out of all the performances in Grammy history, Nicki Minaj’s 2012 spectacle might be the worst one ever. When she arrived on the red carpet in a cape escorted by a man dressed as the Pope, viewers knew she had something strange planned. Instead of singing or rapping, she staged an exorcism.
Her song “Roman Holiday” played as a musical backdrop while she recreated a scene from The Exorcist. It got even more bizarre with a Catholic confession gone wrong and background dancers dressed as monks. The intricate production left everyone in shock, but Minaj dismissed the criticism that it was satanic.
Worst: OutKast’s Andre 3000 Took It Too Far (2004)
Fans of OutKast usually look past Andre 3000’s eccentric costumes because he is one of the best MCs to take the mic. However, his 2004 Grammy performance of “Hey Ya” went too far. The Native American theme was offensive, and he’s lucky cancel culture wasn’t a movement back then.
Andre 3000 and his backup dancers were dressed in lime green, which was a questionable color choice. The wild choreography matched the “shake it like a Polaroid picture” lyric, but it took attention away from the music. To top it off, the psychedelic intro of Jack Black’s floating head didn’t help.
Best: Whitney Houston Was Perfection (1994)
Unlike some artists, all Whitney Houston needed was a microphone to blow the audience away. She opened the 1994 Grammys with a flawless and breathtaking rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” Houston looked angelic as her vocals left everyone with goosebumps.
The song won Houston record of the year, album of the year, and best female pop vocal performance. At the 2012 Grammys, Jennifer Hudson performed the famous track in a moving tribute to honor Houston just a day after her death that stunned the world.
Best: Tina Turner Made an Impression (1985)
In the earlier decades of the Grammys, it seems that people didn’t worry too much about elaborate backdrops, gaudy costumes, or several backup dancers; it was just about the music. When Tina Turner performed “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” she kept things simple.
Turner’s spot-lit act needed little more than her powerful vocals and stunning legs to make an impression. As she strutted up the stairs to finish the tune, the audience was already giving Turner a standing ovation. There’s no one that can perform quite like Tina Turner.
Worst: The Michael Jackson Tribute Was a Letdown (2010)
Jackson’s indescribable talent has inspired plenty of artists throughout the years, and it was hard to come to terms with his passing. As a music legend, the Grammys wanted to pay tribute to Jackson after he passed away using his “Earth Song,” but it was a letdown.
Although their hearts were in the right place, the ensemble of unrelated vocalists didn’t make sense. Celine Dion, Usher, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and Smoky Robinson took the stage to cover Jackson’s song, but even the best artists can’t recreate MJ’s magic.
Best: Aretha Franklin Came to the Rescue (1998)
Although Aretha Franklin is known as the Queen of Soul, she proved that she could do much more than that. In 1998, Luciano Pavarotti was initially scheduled to perform “Nessun Dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. However, he called in sick, so they had to replace him.
Franklin, who had already sung the piece a few days earlier at the Grammys MusiCares benefit, agreed to take his place. She commanded the audience with a transcendent act and wowed everyone with her opera abilities. Franklin performed it again in 2015 for the Pope.
Worst: Ariana Grande Could Have Done Better (2015)
Ariana Grande has put on many spectacular performances throughout her career. However, her 2015 Grammy appearance was a bit of a snooze fest. Out of all the catchy songs from her album My Everything, she chose the most generic ballad from the song list.
While her vocals never fail to amaze people, the performance was lackluster. She retreated into a neon Fortress of Solitude, which might have been the most exciting part of her act. It wasn’t the worst performance ever, but we know Grande can do much better.
Worst: Stevie Wonder’s Performance Was a Hot Mess (1985)
While there is no denying that Stevie Wonder is an incredible musician and performer, his 1985 Grammy performance was not his best work. In theory, it was a good idea to bring together synthesizer pioneers Herbie Hancock, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, and Wonder.
However, their electronic jam session sounded like muddled static. It was hard to watch, but there was something to laugh about when Dolby’s instrument stopped working in the middle of his solo. It was hard not to giggle as his counterparts didn’t realize what had happened.
Best: Pink Stole the Show (2010)
Pink is one of those artists who is always thinking of new and creative ideas. At the 2010 Grammys, she put on one of the most spectacular performances we’ve ever seen at an awards show. While performing her song “Glitter in the Air,” Pink looked like a superhuman.
The pop star hung from the ceiling as she belted out the vulnerable ballad. Pink flew through the air with aerial silks while simultaneously spinning, singing, and getting drenched in water. Nothing can compare to this fantastic showcase of her talents.
Best: Prince and Beyonce Were the Perfect Combo (2004)
Beyonce has performed at the Grammys more times than we can remember, and she always puts on a good show. The star power in this duet is overwhelming, and it was just one of the two times Prince performed at the awards show throughout his career.
Viewers came for the “Purple Rain” duet but stayed for the guitar-shredding “Crazy in Love” to “Let’s Go Crazy” transition. Surprisingly, Beyonce was hesitant to do the duet because she wanted to perform solo. She ended up doing two separate acts that night.
Best: An Unlikely Pairing Created a Fabulous Performance (2001)
Sir Elton John and Eminem are two people you would never expect to see on stage together, but stranger things have happened. At the 43rd Grammy Awards in 2001, Elton John and Eminem took the stage to perform the rapper’s single “Stan” from The Marshall Mathers LP album.
Eminem was facing backlash for his perceived homophobic lyrics, with people protesting outside the Staples Center. When openly gay Elton John joined him for the song, it surprised everyone. Their duet was terrific, and it led to a long-time friendship.
Worst: Milli Vanilli Was Exposed (1990)
While some singers use background tracks to enhance their performances, most artists rely on their natural talents. However, Milli Vanilli wasn’t so impressive because they weren’t actually singing. The lip-syncing was unconvincing during the duo’s 1990 rendition of “Girl You Know It’s True.”
There were moments when the audio tracks were playing, but the group members didn’t have their mics near their mouths. Their producer Frank Farian later exposed them for not singing the vocals on their music. The Grammys made Milli Vanilli return their award later that year.
Worst: The Beatles Tribute Was Embarrassing (2006)
While the star-studded cover of the Beatles “Across the Universe” had the potential to be as impactful as “We Are the World,” it went horribly wrong. The Beatles tribute included Slash, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Brian Wilson, Alicia Keys, Scott Weiland, Billie Joel, Tim McGraw, Steven Tyler, and a few more.
We don’t know if they didn’t have enough rehearsal time, or if it was a mix of people that didn’t mesh well together, but it was hard to listen as they sang. Their vocals didn’t blend well, and the whole performance was so out of tune.
Worst: JLo and Motown Didn’t Match Up (2019)
Although Jennifer Lopez is an incredibly talented performer, she should probably stick to the genres she knows best. A tribute to 60 years of Motown hits would have been a lovely addition to the Grammys if it had been performed by someone who understood the assignment.
JLo’s 2019 performance was awkward and unfortunate with her salsa dancing during “Another Star.” She also twerked during “ABC,” and even with the help of Smokey Robinson and Alicia Keys, she flopped. Was no one who knew Motown music available to lead this tribute?
Best: Kesha’s Comeback Couldn’t Have Been Better (2018)
For the first part of her career, Kesha was known for singing auto-tuned hits about partying. However, when she returned to music in 2017 after a hiatus, she was determined to create music that she enjoyed. Ignored by the Grammys in the past, Kesha finally got her moment.
Her emotional ballad “Praying” was the focal point of her performance with Cyndi Lauper, Camilla Cabello, Julia Michaels, and Andra Day. They all contributed to the emotional number, and it was a turning point in Kesha’s career after all she had dealt with.
Best: Christina Aguilera’s Vocals Were Impeccable (2007)
There is no denying that Christina Aguilera is one of the most talented singers of her generation. She can belt out songs like nobody else, which is precisely what she did at the 2007 Grammys. Aguilera covered James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
It was a tribute to Brown after he passed away in 2006. Although it might seem odd for Aguilera to cover Brown’s song, people said her rendition was one of the best performances they have ever seen. Everyone was on their feet by the end of the song.
Worst: Adele Needed Some Luck (2017)
When it comes to the Grammys, Adele hasn’t had the best luck on the performance side. From being outshined by Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles to her shaky tribute to George Michaels at the 2017 Grammys, but this might have been the worst performance of her career.
There is no doubt that Adele is a highly talented musician, but she famously restarted the performance when she realized how off-pitch she was during the first chorus. It was doomed from the beginning because “Fastlove” shouldn’t be turned into a string-laden ballad.
Worst: Pharrell Williams Made a Questionable Decision (2015)
Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” was the hit song of 2013 and 2014. The upbeat tune was playing everywhere you went, so it was only natural for him to perform the catchy song at the Grammys. However, his collaboration with Hans Zimmer was somewhat confusing.
The upbeat tempo of “Happy” didn’t match with Hans Zimmer’s string and choir style. It was a mash-up no one asked for, and no one wanted. Pharrell and Zimmer are great on their own, but not together. We would love to know how these two became a duo.
Best: This Trio Was Simple Yet Effective (2015)
While most people never thought that Paul McCartney, Kanye West, and Rihanna would be on the same track, their song “FourFiveSeconds” was a fantastic collaboration. When they performed this hit at the 2015 Grammys, it closely resembled the simple music video, and it was beautifully executed.
McCartney, Kanye, and Rihanna performed in front of a white background, wearing matching black suits. No one overplayed their roles, and the audience was left with an unexpected but delightful performance. They didn’t need to do much to sell the song, and the bare-bones aesthetic worked.
Worst: Frank Ocean Was Too Nervous (2013)
Frank Ocean is such an innovative artist, and it was a shame to see the pressure get to him at the 2013 Grammys. Ocean stood behind a waist-high monitor playing slow-motion jogging footage, so it looked like he was running. The stage setup was incredible, but the performance was shaky.
Ocean was pitchy and nervous throughout the song. It was a sharp contrast to the incredible acts that graced the stage throughout the evening. Hopefully, he makes a return to the Grammys stage soon to redeem himself.
Worst: Bob Dylan Isn’t to Blame for This Disaster (1998)
Long before Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs, someone ruined Bob Dylan’s Grammy moment. As he was performing “Love Sick” at the 1998 award show, Michael Portnoy stormed the stage with the words “soy bomb” painted on his chest. But Dylan continued to play.
Dylan was visibly concerned as the uninvited guest danced around the stage. It took security a long 40 seconds to get Portnoy off the stage. While it wasn’t Dylan’s fault that the performance went south, it is too bizarre not to include.
Best: Jennifer Hudson’s Tribute Gave Everyone the Chills (2012)
As we mentioned earlier, Whitney Houston passed away a day before the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. It was a shock to everyone, and Grammy producers had to scramble to find a way to honor her with less than 24 hours to plan.
Jennifer Hudson stepped in at the last possible minute to cover Houston’s trademark song “I Will Always Love You.” With just a microphone and a spotlight, Hudson’s powerful performance left everyone with chills. Hudson paid tribute in the most stunning and respectful way she could.
Worst: Barbra Streisand Bored Viewers (2011)
While we hate to say it because Barbra Streisand is a music legend, she bored everyone to tears with her 2011 Grammy performance. Streisand did yet another rendition of “Evergreen” from A Star Is Born, and it wasn’t anything special to watch.
Streisand’s performance was the perfect time for viewers to step away from their TVs for a break. The contemporary string section could have put us to sleep. While we have all the admiration in the world for Streisand, everyone knew she had more to offer than this act.
Best: Destiney’s Child Tore the House Down (2001)
It was the performance that started it all. Destiney’s Child took the stage in 2001 for their Grammy debut, and they could not have done better. The trio made everyone want to get up and start dancing with their matching glittery outfits and perfectly in-sync choreography.
Destiney’s Child performed a mash-up of their hit songs “Independent Woman Part 1” and “Say My Name.” Not only was their performance impeccable, but they also took home their first two Grammys that evening. Destiny’s Child owned the night that year.
Best: Lady Gaga Went All Out (2011)
If Lady Gaga is known for anything, it is her avant-garde fashion and performance style. She is always looking for new ways to top herself, and she left a significant impression at the 2011 Grammys. Before hitting the stage, Gaga made her way down the red carpet in a giant egg.
After being carried inside, Gaga “hatched” on stage to perform her LGBTQ anthem “Born This Way.” Gaga wore a yolk-colored latex ensemble as several dancers moved around her. It might have been bizarre, but that’s what Gaga does best.
Worst: Cee Lo Green and Gwyneth Paltrow Should Have Stayed Home (2011)
Everyone is still trying to forget this 2011 performance that has been etched into our brains. Gwyneth Paltrow let her popularity as a singer on Glee go to her head when she joined Cee Lo Green and the Muppets on stage at the Grammys.
There was so much going on in the performance between Green’s red, furry suit and the Muppets playing instruments that people almost missed how out of tune Paltrow was. It was like a karaoke set on acid. However, we give her credit for doing something out of her element.
Worst: The Pairing Should Have Worked, but It Flopped (2013)
On paper, the throwback blues-rock of The Black Keys paired with Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band made sense. However, the performance was lackluster as everyone other than The Black Keys played the same few notes over and over again.
The background additions didn’t add much to The Black Keys’ guitar number. While we understand that they were trying to give other artists a chance to be on the Grammys’ stage, it wasn’t the best combination. Many people were left disappointed by artists who are ordinarily exciting to watch.
Best: Shania Twain Made Our Jaws Drop (1999)
When country-singer Shania Twain hit the stage in a barely-there corset dress, over-the-knee boots, and fringe opera gloves, everyone loved her new look. Her rendition of “Man I Feel Like a Woman” was a far cry from the Grand Ole Opry in terms of sound and style.
As soon as the first few notes played and Twain said, “Let’s go, girls,” everyone wanted to get up and sing along. The singer set her sights far beyond Nashville during that performance and throughout her career. It has worked in her favor so far.
Best: Celine Dion’s Last-Minute Change Worked (1998)
For the 1998 Grammys, Celine Dion was supposed to perform the Grammy-nominated “Tell Him” with Barbra Streisand. Unfortunately, Streisand came down with the flu just days before the show. Dion and the producers scrambled to change everything in less than 24 hours.
With only one rehearsal before the performance, Dion sang her hit song “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. It’s one of those songs that she never gets wrong. The following year, she won a Grammy for the song. It is an instant tear-jerker, and the performance was emotional.
Worst: Arcade Fire Upset Grammy Producers (2011)
After winning Album of the Year, Arcade Fire surprised everyone, including their management, with an impromptu performance at the end of the show. Before accepting the award, the indie band had already performed a seizure-inducing rendition of “Month of May” with flashing lights and BMX bikers.
When they accepted the award, they went back to their instruments for an unwelcomed encore. The Grammy producers were happy to run with it until they went overtime. Then they told everyone to get up and leave to their song, which was not what the producers had planned.
Split: The Hollywood Vampires Sucked the Life Out of Their Performance (2016)
If you haven’t heard, Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper, and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry formed a band for a brief period called The Hollywood Vampires. At the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, they were responsible for giving tribute to Motorhead’s guitarist, Lemmy Kilmister.
Surrounded by numerous candelabras and fire graphics, the Hollywood Vampires shredded through the medley. The act included a spoken word segment by Depp and a debut of a new song. Some critics enjoyed it, but others thought it was a little too much for the awards show.
Best: U2 Rocked Their Grammy Debut (2001)
U2 has been around since the ‘70s, but they only made their Grammy debut performance in 2001. The group performed “Beautiful Day” from their tenth studio album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The rock band proved that they deserved to be on the Grammy stage.
The band tied with Steely Dan that evening and won Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Rock Performance. U2’s act was well done like in their typical stadium-filling performances. They walked into the audience, sang into the cameras, and Bono took off his signature shades.
Best: Justin Timberlake Made a Big Comeback (2013)
After a six-year hiatus from performing at the Grammys, Justin Timberlake took the stage in 2013 to perform his hit single “Suit & Tie” from The 20/20 Experience. He was joined on stage by Jay Z, who wore a matching tuxedo from the song’s music video.
Everyone was having a good time as the two gave one of the best performances of the evening. How could anyone not want to get up and dance to that song? It was the perfect way for Timberlake to come back and show the Grammys he was still a good performer.
Worst: Lady Gaga Didn’t Nail It (2016)
Lady Gaga has been known for putting on great performances, but she sometimes misses the mark. At the 2016 Grammys, Gaga paid tribute to the work of David Bowie a month after his death. However, instead of respectfully honoring the legendary artist, Gaga made it about her.
She nailed the Bowie-inspired look, but the jam-packed medley of his hits mixed with quick costume changes made it hard to follow. Everything happened so fast that there was never a chance to enjoy each segment. This could have been brilliant but she was doing too much.
Worst: Adele Ran Into More Problems (2016)
Adele deserves a chance to redeem herself at the Grammys because her luck hasn’t been great. She always goes home with several awards and gives excellent acceptance speeches, but her 2016 performance had some technical difficulties that were out of her control.
During Adele’s rendition of “All I Ask,” one of the mics inside the piano fell out of place and picked up the sound of reverberating strings. It took a minute for producers to figure out the problem and mute the mic, but she was already halfway through the song.
Best: Amy Winehouse Made a Splash (2008)
Due to issues with her visa, Amy Winehouse was stuck in the UK when she was supposed to perform for the 2008 Grammys. However, that didn’t stop her from performing via a live video. Her emotional rendition of “You Know That I’m No Good” and “Rehab” was felt across the pond.
Winehouse was at her peak. She took home five awards that evening, including Record of the Year for “Rehab” and Best New Artist. She could have done so much in her career if her team had looked out for her.
Best: Kendrick Lamar Gave an Important Message (2018)
You can always count on Kendrick Lamar to deliver a powerful performance. In 2018, he opened the Grammys with one of the most politically-charged sets in Grammy history. Lamar began with his song “XXX” from Damn, flanked by men in head-to-toe red outfits.
He was then joined by U2’s Bono and The Edge for his song “DNA.” A video message appeared behind him that read, “This is a satire by Kendrick Lamar.” Then comedian Dave Chapelle delivered a statement to the audience about the struggles of being a Black man in America.
Best: Usher Had a Debonaire Debut (2005)
When Usher made his Grammy debut in 2005, it was particularly charming. He moved across the stage like a veteran performer with his skilled choreography. He kept up with the big band that accompanied him, and it was a nice change of pace.
To make everything better, James Brown joined Usher on stage for a dance battle. It was an iconic moment in Grammy history. At the end of the battle, Brown crowned Usher as the “Godson of Soul.” That’s a significant honor for an artist’s first Grammy performance.
Best: Madonna Did What She Does Best (2006)
In 2006, a leotard-clad Madonna performed her ABBA-sampling hit “Hung Up.” The Queen of Pop was joined by virtual performers The Gorillaz as she danced around the stage and showed off her toned body. She was already a seasoned Grammy veteran by then.
Madonna proved that 3D imaging is no match for her performance skills. It was easily one of her most vibrant and joyful performances in years. She will do anything to cause a stir these days, but it isn’t always what people want to see.
Best: Daft Punk Brought Some Legends Together (2014)
Where else could Daft Punk, Stevie Wonder, Nile Rogers, and Pharrell Williams come together on one stage beside the Grammys? The artists played a medley of songs, including “Get Lucky,” “Another Star,” and “Le Freak.” The high-energy segment had everyone on their feet.
As Daft Punk did a live mixing of their hits and segued into Wonder’s song, it blew the crowd away. It was one of the most inspired collaborations in Grammy history. However, looking back is a sad reminder that the French robot DJs are no longer a duo.
Best: Kelly Clarkson Showcased Her Raw Talent (2013)
Kelly Clarkson took the stage in a tribute to Patti Page and Carol King, accompanied by just a piano and guitar. Her pitch-perfect performance would make any singer proud. Clarkson proved that she was carving out a legacy of her own while honoring some of music’s finest women.
She didn’t add excessive vocal runs, but each piece fit together perfectly. Clarkson’s raw talent was on full display, but she didn’t make the tribute about herself. She performed “Tennessee Waltz” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” with perfect execution.