Before the Grammy Awards, viewers and artists anticipate who’ll take home the trophies from music’s biggest night.
Of course, the bulk of the ceremony is spent on artists’ performances. As musicians showcase some of their breakout hits, others take it to the next level to make for a standout performance.
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Here are 10 of some of the most memorable Grammy performances from years past.
The world was stunned by the sudden death of rock icon David Bowie in January 2016. Many artists were inspired by the Rebel, Rebel singer, including Lady Gaga. In a stunning seven-minute spectacle, Gaga paid tribute to Bowie in a medley performance of Bowie’s greatest hits including Fame, Changes and Space Oddity. Included were quick on-stage costume changes, marking each decade of Bowie’s career. Joining Gaga was Nile Rodgers on guitar, who had produced Bowie’s hit album Let’s Dance.
At this 1984 performance, three guitar icons shredded and glided through frets and chords while honouring one of the best guitarists in music. In celebration of Chuck Berry’s Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award at the show, Berry took part in his own tribute, taking the stage to perform Maybelline. Berry was then joined by Stevie Ray Vaughn and George Thorogood and they jumped into a guitar showdown. Berry finished the performance with Roll Over Beethoven.
In 2014, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were climbing the charts with their single, Thrift Shop. But it was their performance of Same Love that caught the attention of viewers at the Grammy Awards that night. Toward the end of the performance, Queen Latifah appeared on stage to officiate 33 marriages of straight and LGBTQ2 couples standing in the audience. As the couples were wed, Madonna showed up on stage, breaking out into her classic Open Your Heart.
Jaws dropped at the 1999 Grammy Awards when Shania Twain took the stage in a corset dress, thigh-high boots and opera-style gloves to perform her smash hit Man, I Feel Like a Woman. Her backing band dressed in leather pants and mesh shirts, in a similar style to the band featured in the video for the song. With a backdrop full of interchanging screens and pyrotechnics going off in the first minute, Shania brought the house down with her infectious track that would go on to win Best Female Country Vocal Performance that year.
Anything can happen at award shows, and sometimes performances are thrown together at the last minute. That’s exactly what happened in 2012 when Jennifer Hudson was asked to perform after pop legend Whitney Houston died the day before the awards show. For the ceremony’s In Memoriam segment, Hudson took the stage dressed in all black, standing in a single spotlight. She then performed an emotional rendition of Houston’s classic I Will Always Love You.
Although 1983 may have been Michael Jackson’s year at the Grammys, with his many wins for his album Thriller, it was his performance in 1988 that truly proved he was the king of pop. In a 10 minute show-stopping performance, Jackson began his set behind a screen, posing in a silhouette, later revealing the singer as he sang The Way You Make Me Feel. Busting out his signature moves, all eyes were on Jackson as he broke out into a dance sequence accompanied by backup dancers. He finished his performance with a moving rendition of Man in the Mirror featuring a gospel choir.
Now more than ever, artists are using their platform to express their opinion on social justice, and Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance in 2016 was no exception. One of the most talked-about performances that year, it began with Lamar performing The Blacker the Berry, with a man dressed as a prisoner playing the saxophone in a jail cell. Lamar then jumped into an explosive performance of his song Alright featuring pyrotechnics and African dancers. In the final verse of his performance, Lamar rapped a line about Trayvon Martin, saying “On Feb. 26th, I lost my life too.”
Barely two years before his 1993 Grammy performance, Eric Clapton’s four-year-old son died tragically when he fell from an apartment window. To cope with his grief, Clapton wrote the song Tears in Heaven (along with songwriter Will Jennings). In a beautifully arranged acoustic performance, Clapton performed what the Grammys called the most “emotionally compelling performances in Grammy history.” Tears in Heaven went on to win Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the awards.
Eminem and Elton John (2001)
Eminem has been notorious for writing controversial music, and after using hateful lyrics in some of his songs, the rapper was quickly labeled as a homophobic. But in 2001, a somewhat bizarre duet came to be at the Grammy awards when Eminem and rock icon Elton John performed Eminem’s song Stan. In their performance, Eminem rapped the verses while Elton John joined in on the chorus. At the end, the two came together on stage, hugged, and held hands together, raised in solidarity, ending any speculation that Eminem was homophobic.
Bob Dylan (1998)
At award shows, anything can happen, and this 1998 Grammy performance by Bob Dylan was no exception. Performing his song Love Sick, Dylan was accompanied by his band, and a group of hired extras who swayed and bopped to the music standing behind him. Barely a minute into his performance however, a shirtless man with the words “Soy Bomb” written on his chest, began to do a strange jerky dance. The man, identified as Michael Portnoy, was hired by Dylan’s production company to join the extras, but instead, ripped his shirt off and jumped into this interpretive dance, front and centre. But like a pro, Dylan continued his performance, as the man was ushered off stage, leaving many to speculate it was part of the act.
The 60th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will be held on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
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