The Grammy Awards are unpredictable. Not in the way that the Golden Globes or the VMAs are – attendees are typically on their best behavior, saving the sauce for the after-party and maintaining a polite poker face throughout the show just in case the camera cuts to them for a reaction shot.
But when it comes to Grammy performances, you never really know what you’re gonna get until all is said and done. There have been Grammy telecasts where A-list stars who pack arenas have underwhelmed, and years where rising stars stole the show.
At the 2024 Grammy Awards on Sunday (Feb. 4), neither happened. Instead, the two iconic, reclusive folk artists made breathtaking comebacks, both supported by some of today’s most impressive musical talents. Joni Mitchell, backed by Brandi Carlile and a coterie of top musicians, performed her undying classic “Both Sides Now,” while Tracy Chapman hit the stage with Luke Combs to share a duet on her timeless “Fast Car.” Both performances elicited their fair share of misty eyes.
All in all, the Trevor Noah-hosted show at the Crypto.com Arena boasted a knockout first hour, followed by another two-and-a-half hours that alternated between riveting and decently entertaining. But for the length, the show was never dull (that surprise Taylor Swift album announcement certainly didn’t hurt).
Here’s our ranking of all the performances at the 2024 Grammy Awards, ranked worst to best. As per usual, we’ve left out the “In Memoriam” performances, so songs by Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox and Jon Batiste are not included in this roundup.
It’s always tough to make a beamed-in performance work on an awards telecast, so it was no surprise that U2 – despite being one of the greatest live rock acts of the last several decades – didn’t quite land with their performance of “Atomic City” filmed remotely at Las Vegas’ Sphere. The Sphere is a trailblazing venue built specifically for immersive experiences – so naturally, making that work for the small screen is a challenge. And in this case, the challenge was not met: The camera swung around the arena like an out-of-control trapeze artist, making it difficult to get a sense of what the band was doing or what the venue was like.
When it comes to Olivia Rodrigo’s recorded output and lyrics, there’s not much to fault, but her awards show performances have been a mixed bag. This one was a strong swing, but on “Vampire,” her bat didn’t connect with the ball. The slow-building track increased in intensity but never quite hit that point of cathartic release, and the bloody aesthetic brought to mind Lady Gaga’s far more inventive 2009 VMAs performance.
While it’s nice to see the Piano Man back in action – and his new single “Turn the Lights Back On” fits nicely into his substantial legacy – it was hard to get over the fact that in a show filled with stunning moments and eye-popping visuals, this was just a guy sitting at a piano. In 1989, Billy Joel assured the world that he didn’t start the fire – and that much remained true at the 2024 Grammys.
Prior to winning song of the year for their contribution to Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster Barbie film, Billie Eilish and Finneas performed “What Was I Made For?” during the show. With Billie seated on a stool and Finneas at a piano, they stayed true to the existential ballad’s simplicity and got a standing ovation from the Crypto.com Arena crowd. Still, it felt a touch sleepy for the majority of us watching in the context of a 3.5-hour show.
Travis Scott – who has now gone 0-10 at the Grammys – channeled his frustration into a rage-fueled performance of three tracks from Utopia. Dressed up like he raided a SWAT team’s closet, Scott started with “I Know?” and “My Eyes” before unleashing his frustration during “Fe!n” alongside Playboi Carti. Channeling his inner WWE star, Scott picked up chairs and hurled them across the stage as flames licked at his elbows. “They slept on me 10 times!” he shouted while furiously rapping the track. Whether you agree with Killer Mike’s Michael besting Utopia, Scott’s frustration made for a riveting performance, and oddly enough, a nice counter-programming follow-up to previous performer Joni Mitchell.
Dua Lipa opened the 2024 Grammys with some libidinous dance-pop, singing upcoming single “Training Season” while climbing on a rotating, cube-shaped jungle gym. She tossed in a line from “Dance the Night” before segueing into “Houdini,” confidently strutting around a dark, reflective stage that seemed straight out of a sci-fi villain’s lair. It set a high-energy bar that the rest of the show, for the most part, lived up to.
Burna Boy, Brandy and 21 Savage
For the first Afrobeats performance at the Grammys, Burna Boy pulled out all the stops. Backed by Brandy’s gorgeous vocals and 21 Savage’s detached, confident cool, Burna sang “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and demonstrated that is precisely where he belongs. The lush, expansive stage — depicting a residential city block – and clever costume design (the color red tied all three performers together, despise their disparate styles) brought to mind an MGM golden era musical — and truthfully, the Nigerian star’s infectious energy and easy charm wouldn’t seem out of place in a Hollywood musical.
Okay, okay – if “In Memoriam” performances aren’t included in this roundup, why is Fantasia here? Well, her performance, by my reckoning, wasn’t part of the In Memoriam segment. Yes, it saluted late rock trailblazer Tina Turner, but since the video montage had stopped by the time she started singing, this counts as a proper performance.
And she deserved that spotlight. As an American Idol champion, Fantasia certainly knows how to command a difficult stage while singing another artist’s song, and her tribute to the inimitable icon on “Proud Mary” was the perfect amount of homage and individual personality. The tassel-drenched outfit and dance moves tipped to Tina, but the joyous, ebullient energy was all Fantasia. It was certainly a proud, merry moment in her career.
Miley Cyrus finally broke her Grammy drought on Sunday, nabbing two trophies for her Hot 100 No. 1 smash “Flowers.” Boosted by that victory, Cyrus was loose and joke-y during her performance of “Flowers,” exuding the irresistible magnetism of someone who genuinely doesn’t give a sh-t what you think of them. “Why are you acting like you don’t know this song?” Cyrus goaded the audience at the top of the song, breaking the ice and letting everyone know this was a victory lap. She even changed one of the lyrics on the fly to reflect her excitement: “Started to cry, but then remembered I just won my first Grammy.”
“Snooze” and “Kill Bill” are two fairly low-key songs, and it can be a challenge to make low BPM songs stand out on an awards show. Well, SZA solved that problem and then some at the 2024 Grammys. Singing “Snooze” in oversized clothes next to a flaming dumpster, SZA created a striking visual note before a martial artist (evoking Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill) leaped onto a table in the audience and showed off some serious swordplay (Phoebe Bridgers, seated nearby, watched with her mouth agape in delight). The swordswoman proceeded to take her fight onstage, facing off against a foe (presumably the soon-to-be-executed ex) as SZA and her leather-clad backup dancers executed their assertive choreo. On “Kill Bill” at the Grammys, SZA’s sword soared.
Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs
Last year, Luke Combs improbably scored a country smash with his cover of Tracy Chapman’s deeply felt folk-rock classic “Fast Car.” According to Combs, it was his first favorite song as a kid, and one of the first tunes he learned to play on guitar. Amidst the song’s resurgence, the reclusive Chapman has remained out of the spotlight – until Sunday night’s Grammys. The living legend made a surprise appearance alongside Combs, acoustic guitar in hand, to trade verses on her breakout 1988 track. Chapman sounded fantastic, her resonant tone pairing comfortably with Combs’ gritty voice. As for the country star, this was clearly a major life moment – he looked over to Chapman about a dozen times during the performance as if to prove to himself it was really happening, and when it was her turn to sing, he pulled back from the mic and mouthed the words anyway, unable to contain his excitement. It sounded flawless and was a heart-tugging delight to witness.
Joni Mitchell’s return to the public eye has been one of the few welcome surprises of the last decade, and at the 2024 Grammys, those of us who haven’t seen her comeback performances in person got a sense of just what we’ve been missing.
On a stage surrounded by candles, Mitchell sat on a plush white chair, cane in hand, singing her all-timer “Both Sides Now” with Brandi Carlile, Alison Russell, Lucius, Blake Mills and Jacob Collier playing along gently. With the minimal, elegant backing music and Mitchell’s raw voice, it felt more like a living room jam session between cross-generational friends than something cooked up for Music’s Biggest Night — and that’s exactly what made this stand out.
It’s hard to remember anything at the Grammys ever coming close to this in terms of warts-and-all intimacy. Mitchell wrote “Both Sides Now” when she was in her twenties, but the melancholy wisdom of the lyrics seemed to come from someone at least twice her age. Well, Mitchell is now 80, and she shaded these contemplative lyrics with a hard-won perspective that only experience can afford. Her weathered voice – one that almost went silent forever because of a brain aneurysm in 2015 – is a stark contrast to the crystal-clear tone from her original recording, but not in a depressing way. If anything, her age-worn voice imbued the entire affair with a tough, leathery beauty that one rarely comes across in life – much less on a TV awards show.
Far from being a polite salute to a legend past their prime, this felt like a vital, vibrant and necessary performance from a once-in-a-generation talent with more to teach us all about what art can unlock in our souls.