The 2020 Grammy Awards were a somber occasion, especially on the red carpet: Music’s biggest night was held on Sunday, Jan. 26 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles just hours after Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash. The tragic accident understandably put a slight damper on the evening as its participants mourned the loss. However, moving tributes and stellar performances throughout the night, as well as a much-improved hosting gig from Alicia Keys, brought levity back to LA.
There were ups and downs for many of our favorite musical celebs: 18-year-old Billie Eilish, for example, swept the top major categories, including best new artist and best record. Meanwhile, sound issues apparently mired several performances that would have otherwise been great. But what else happened during this live awards ceremony? Here are the five best and five worst moments of the 2020 Grammys.
Best: Alicia Keys’ killer hosting skills
Alicia Keys delivered a heartfelt speech to precede a moment of silence for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, reminding the crowd and the audiences at home that they were celebrating music’s biggest night « in the house that Kobe Bryant built » (via the Los Angeles Times). Boyz II Men then joined Keys to perform an a capella rendition of « It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday » in Bryant’s memory.
« We never imagined in a million years we’d have to start the show like this, » Keys said. « So we wanted to do something that could describe, a tiny bit, how we all feel right now. » Adding that she knew an evening of song, unity, and happiness was in store, the host continued, « I know that we’re going to do what we’re here to do … We’re going to make sure that we are celebrating … the one thing that has the power to bring all of us together. And that’s music … It’s the most healing thing in the world. »
Keys’ lovely performance of « Underdog » with Brittany Howard later made headlines, but what really delivered were her shout-outs to all the nominees and performers set to Lewis Capaldi’s « Someone You Loved » at the piano, per The Sun. She even threw in references to President Donald Trump’s impeachment and begged Cardi B to run for office, adding that the news has « too much spin / It’s when good guys do nothing that the bad guys win. »
Worst: Blake Shelton overpowered Gwen Stefani
Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani took the stage following Alicia Keys’ moving opening speech and performance to sing their own duet, « Nobody But You, » from Shelton’s latest album, God’s Country. With Shelton suited up with a guitar and looking dapper as ever, Stefani — who was dripping in jewels and clad in a white gown emblazoned with red and gold hearts and beading, complete with a coordinating red rose headband — understandably couldn’t take her eyes off of her man during the romantic performance. The couple held hands, and at the end of the song, Shelton bowed down to his lady love and gave her a hug.
As cute and sweet as this moment was to witness (even if we’re admittedly growing a little tired of all their PDA), Stefani’s vocals unfortunately seemed flat at times (Entertainment Weekly claimed Shelton was also off-key, though this wasn’t as immediately noticeable), and her volume didn’t quite keep in line with Shelton’s steady delivery.
Best: Lizzo’s entire existence
Lizzo opened the show in a spectacular sparkling black gown, singing a jazzy rendition of « Cuz I Love You » and announcing, « Tonight is for Kobe. » After a brief interlude of glowing ballerinas, Lizzo emerged in an equally sparkly leotard for « Truth Hurts, » killing it with choreo and powerhouse vocals — and, of course, her signature flute. She ended the song with a pronouncement: « Welcome to the Grammys, b**ch! »
The best part of Lizzo’s performance wasn’t just the skill with which she delivered it: it was also her enthusiasm. She jumped, danced, grinned, and cried with the very joy that makes her music so infectious, creating beautifully uplifting moments on what was an otherwise relatively somber night.
Upon winning her best pop solo performance award for « Truth Hurts, » Lizzo told her peers, « You guys create beautiful music. You guys create connectivity, and as I’m speaking to all of y’all in this room, we need to continue to reach out. This is the beginning of making music that moves people again, making music that feels f**king good, that liberates people … Let’s continue to reach out, hold each other down, and lift each other up. »
Worst: Usher was awesome, but why didn’t FKA Twigs have a mic?!
The 2020 Grammys’ Prince tribute ultimately didn’t disappoint. With Sheila E, a longtime Prince collaborator, playing the drums to honor her former mentor in a medley of his biggest hits, Usher began the tribute with a performance of « Little Red Corvette » that we wish lasted longer. A solid rendition of the classic « When Doves Cry » was next, which incorporated Usher’s signature splits and choreography, as well as a beautifully executed falsetto and an elegant combination of ballet and pole work from a lingerie-clad FKA Twigs.
While Usher and FKA Twigs continued to dance up a storm during « Kiss, » with the former hitting Prince’s high notes in a way that only the two of them can, Twigs unfortunately didn’t sing at all. Though tweeting that she would have liked to do so but wasn’t asked, Sheila E. told press that Twigs decided on her own not to sing. Hm. The performance received mixed reception on social media, with USA Today pointing out that some fans were « complaining that FKA twigs was reduced to a side act. » But still, the tribute seemed to work well enough in the room. Ending with everyone on stage facing Prince’s photo on a screen, Usher and co. earned a much-deserved standing ovation from the audience.
Best: Demi Lovato’s big comeback moment
Rocking a white ball gown, Demi Lovato performed live for the first time since her nearly fatal July 2018 overdose, per Fox News. She may have had a false start, was visibly crying, and had to start over … but it was worth the wait.
Lovato performed « Anyone, » a song she previously told Zane Lowe on New Music Daily that she wrote just days before her overdose, when she wasn’t in a healthy place mentally or physically. Singing about her struggles with addiction, alcohol, and questioning her faith, the lyrics are haunting and heartbreaking: « A hundred million stories / And a hundred million songs / I feel stupid when I sing / Nobody’s listening to me … I talked to shooting stars / But they always get it wrong / I feel stupid when I pray / So, why the hell am I praying anyway / If nobody’s listening? … Anyone, please tell me anyone / Lord, is there anyone? / I need someone. »
Lovato beamed at the conclusion of her powerful performance, for which she was rewarded with a beyond-well-deserved standing ovation. The world clearly missed this starlet, who more than earned her warm welcome back to the stage.
Worst: Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. didn’t do themselves justice
Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.’s 2020 Grammys appearance was unfortunately rife with audio issues. Opening with « Living on the Edge » — set to fire and bright lights — the classic rock group’s frontman, Steven Tyler, didn’t enunciate his best at times and some of his solos were more gravelly than they were in his heyday. However, he made up for it by briefly sharing his mic with the queen of the evening, Lizzo, in the crowd (via Rolling Stone). When the band launched into « Walk This Way, » Tyler could be seen touching his in-ear monitor during a muffled vocal moment, but it didn’t matter much, because Run-D.M.C. kicked out a faux brick wall to join in immediately afterward.
Unfortunately, the rappers had similar issues with their mics rendering them slightly inaudible at times, and several outlets, including The Washington Post, noted that the audio mixing wasn’t the greatest. Luckily, the visuals somewhat compensated for the lack of sound quality: Rev Run held up a Kobe Bryant jersey during the performance, and Tyler picked two pretty women from the crowd to bring onstage to dance with him.
Still, everyone involved clearly had a great time, and that’s what’s important.
Best: Tyler, the Creator’s unbridled joy and ferocity
Tyler, the Creator was accompanied by Boyz II Men and Charlie Wilson for an energetic medley of « Earfquake » and « New Magic Wand. » While Wilson and Boyz II Men’s harmonizing initially stole the show in the intro, Tyler — rocking a short blond wig — took the stage dancing and rapping to a set of police lights flashing in a residential neighborhood that appeared to catch fire, as lookalike dancers surrounded him. The visuals were powerful, and while it was unfortunately difficult to hear his vocals at times during the beginning of the performance, his levels appeared to correct themselves by the final third of the song.
Per the Los Angeles Times, the performance, for which Tyler received a standing ovation, « confirmed his place as one of the most physically incendiary live performers in rap, rock, [and] R&B. » The artist later appeared shocked when he won the Grammy for best rap album. Bringing his cheering mom onstage, Tyler said while beaming, « One, to my mother, you did a great job raising this guy. Two, to the Clancys, my managers, you guys took a seed and watered it, and I thank you for trusting my ideas … Three, to my friends and my family for trusting my ideas and putting up with my annoying hyperactive energy … To my fans and my label, again, trusting my crazy ideas … for y’all to always stand by me and get me here, I appreciate that. »
Worst: Ariana Grande has done better
Ariana Grande can sing. We all know that. And the pint-sized songstress demonstrated her vocal ability at the 2020 Grammys when she opened her medley with « Imagine. » Clad in a big ball gown and lace gloves, the ponytailed one belted at the mic, before transitioning into The Sound of Music-inspired « 7 Rings » with a symphonic turn from the strings section on the stage with her.
Grande eventually dropped the gown in favor of a lace teddy, fur-trimmed robe, and her signature chunky heels for a slumber party setting with her dancers, but it was unfortunately lackluster compared to her ballads. During the more choreo-heavy sections of the performance, Grande didn’t sing at all. Launching into « Thank U, Next » to close out the medley, she sounded out of breath for the bulk of the song before recovering and ending the performance while alone on a bed, appearing to daydream before blowing kisses to the crowd.
It was a sweet and adorable gesture, but it looked like more work was put into the visual for the performance than into the actual performance itself, with Esquire even observing that Grande did not seem into it at all.
Best: Nipsey Hussle’s moving tribute
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay was on hand to introduce a heartfelt tribute to late rapper Nipsey Hussle, which boasted a star-studded medley performance from some of the best in hip-hop and R&B. With Meek Mill and Roddy Ricch kicking things off with a rendition of « Letter to Nipsey, » YG, DJ Khaled, Kirk Franklin, and John Legend later joined in, with the help of Franklin’s choir, on « Higher. »
In addition to including Hussle’s verse from the original recording of the hit « Higher, » a video of the late musician and philanthropist, who was tragically shot to death in March 2019, played in the background, before a photo of Hussle with Kobe Bryant was displayed until the conclusion of the performance. « Long live Nipsey Hussle! Long live Kobe Bryant! » DJ Khaled said at the time, per Vulture.
When « Higher » won the best rap/sung performance Grammy later in the evening, the performers , along with Hussle’s family (including girlfriend Lauren London and his parents), took the stage to accept the trophy on behalf of the slain rapper. « I want to thank all of you for supporting this, and for lifting Nipsey’s name up, » Legend said. « We all love him, we all miss him, it is terrible that we had to lose him so early. We thank his family for being here tonight with us. Thank you for allowing us to use his legacy and lift it up in song tonight. »
Worst: The 2020 Grammys’ length and mic issues
The 2020 Grammys ran for almost four flippin’ hours, which is, well, too long for today’s attention spans. It also led to some clunky moments for presenters and a rushed conclusion when presenting the big three awards. (Props to Billie Eilish for keeping her record of the year speech super brief!)
Equally frustrating was what appeared to be an issue with sound mixing throughout the show: In addition to those already mentioned, Nick Jonas’ vocals were barely audible during the Jonas Brothers’ performance; Mason Ramsey was inaudible during his brief appearance onstage with Lil Nas X for « Old Town Road; » Ben Platt and Cyndi Lauper’s powerful pipes got lost in the mix during « Sing the Body Electric; » and Ariana Grande could be seen touching her ear monitor, indicating that her somewhat lackluster performance may have been the result of not being at the proper volume.
Grammys audio coordinator Michael Abbott previously told The Verge that performance plans often aren’t finalized until almost the moment artists hit the stage, and sadly this seems to be becoming more obvious each year. Considering the show celebrates music and performance, these continuing issues — which are not the artists’ fault, though it affects them the most — are unfortunate, to say the least.