The Grammys returned to semi-normalcy on Sunday night, following 2021’s crowdless, COVID-safe event held on a random rooftop in downtown Los Angeles. But this year’s ceremony, once again hosted by The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, wasn’t without its own pandemic shenanigans — originally scheduled for February, music’s biggest night was forced to postpone due to Omicron. They had to change the locale too, taking the show on the road to Las Vegas. Maybe that’s why most of the 2022 performance slate — from Billie Eilish to H.E.R. to BTS — was so on point. Other moments … er, not so much. Also Volodymyr Zelenskyy stopped by? Ahead were the highs, lows, and whoas of the evening.
Whoa: An actually interesting premiere show!
The premiere — what the Grammys call their preshow — is usually a perfunctory run-through of the dozens of awards that don’t get shown on TV, with a few random performances interspersed. It can get pretty sleepy, especially by the third hour. But for once, this year’s felt dynamic. The host, LeVar Burton, brought genuine enthusiasm for the performers and some good jokes (including an early one about how Kunta Kinte cleans up). There were some fun and moving speeches, from TJ Osborne reflecting on winning a Grammy after coming out as gay to Kalani Pe’a charming the audience while representing Hawaiian music. And the performances would have fit right in on the main show, especially Jimmie Allen’s emotional tribute to his late father in “Down Home” and Allison Russell’s stunning “Nightflyer.”
Whoa: The Weeknd, who is boycotting the Grammys, wins a Grammy.
Like a jilted ex who just can’t let go, the Recording Academy awarded the Weeknd a Grammy for Best Melodic Rap Performance thanks to his work on Ye’s Donda single “Hurricane.” Abel famously withdrew from all future Grammys in 2021, calling the event corrupt due to its practice of secret voting committees after his acclaimed After Hours was snubbed. The Academy eventually banned the committee practice, but The Weeknd remained unmoved, saying he’d no longer submit his music in the future. Of course, he has no control over submissions for songs he guests on. Hence, a “Hurricane” Grammy that will likely get returned to sender.
Low: Louis C.K. wins a Grammy.
Disgraced comedian Louis C.K. nabbed Best Comedy Album for Sincerely Louis C.K., once again proving there are absolutely zero consequences for bad public-figure behavior.
High: Silk Sonic’s wigged-out throwback.
Silk Sonic followed up its funky live debut at the 2021 Grammys with something even funkier for 2022. Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak’s performance of “777” came with Elvis getups, a surprise jazz breakdown, and Anderson’s outstanding Ike Turner–esque wig. Plus Mars’s James Brown “get up” yelp was the second most impressive note of the night (after this one, obv).
Whoa: Lil Nas X is how much taller than Laverne Cox?
More like Big Nas X.
High: Olivia Rodrigo goes full theater girl.
Don’t forget that Olivia Rodrigo is first and foremost a theater kid. The Sour singer tapped into her roots for her performance of her breakout single “drivers license,” inside a car and against a suburban backdrop. Rodrigo even upped the drama by turning the bridge into a full-on rock breakdown. It may have been the second performance of the night, but it felt like the 11 o’clock number.
High: BTS, at their smoothest.
BTS coming out in all-black suits to sit in the audience and whisper into Olivia Rodrigo’s ear would’ve been enough to make for one of the night’s hottest performances. But the K-pop stars don’t settle for enough, so the group put on their best Danny Ocean for a fittingly Vegas Ocean’s Eleven–themed performance of “Butter.” The group debuted some suave new choreography between jazzy interludes as Jin, nursing a finger injury, manned the control center. Call that mission a success.
High: Lil Nas X, feeling himself.
What better way to end your social-media maternity leave — though we could have done without that very cruel April Fools’ joke about an upcoming Rihanna collab!! — than an eclectic Grammys medley in front of a giant sparkly bust of your own head? Lil Nas X performed rousing versions of “Dead Right Now” and “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” before bringing out rapper/famous horndog Jack Harlow for an inspired take on their collab, “Industry Baby.”
Low: Can’t we spread the country love?
Yes, he makes great country music. And yes, he can growl and shred like the best of them, as he proved during his performance of “Cold.” But did Chris Stapleton deserve to sweep the country field (with Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Song, and Best Country Album) for a second time, after accomplishing the same feat in 2018? Maybe not this year, when the categories were stacked with deserving, under-awarded nominees, from Mickey Guyton to Maren Morris.
Whoa: Billie Eilish is a rock star.
Billie Eilish wore a T-shirt honoring Taylor Hawkins for her performance — and proceeded to channel the Foo Fighters drummer as she rocked out to “Happier Than Ever.” She navigated a stylish house set as the song built toward its massive breakdown. By the time her brother, Finneas, picked up his electric guitar, Eilish made it to the roof, ready to thrash around as she belted the song’s closing lines. She looked — forgive the pun — happier than ever to play rock star.
Whoa: Volodymyr Zelenskyy leads a Ukrainian tribute.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy skipped Amy Schumer’s Oscars request and instead made a satellite appearance at the Grammys amid his country’s war with Russia, asking viewers to “support us in any way you can. Any, but not silence.” The short speech was followed by an understated but powerful performance by John Legend, who debuted his new song, “Free,” alongside two Ukrainian artists, singer Mika Newtown and poet Lyuba Yakimchuk, the latter of whom fled the country only days earlier.
Low: Where were the big mid-show performances?
The first hour of the telecast was unusually strong, packed with sets by some of the night’s biggest stars. Then things hit a bit of a lull in the middle third. Our solution? Book more big performers! Where was Doja Cat, nominated for eight awards? What about Jazmine Sullivan, who took home her first Grammy hardware tonight? Too many showstopping acts were in the room, so why did we have to sit through a Nas medley in the Year of Our Lord 2022?
High: Our tears during Lady Gaga’s tribute to Tony Bennett.
Watching Lady Gaga ham it up while singing “Love for Sale,” it was hard to tell what we were going to get from her performance, a tribute to her duet partner, Tony Bennett, who retired from performing due to Alzheimer’s. But once she slowed things down for “Do I Love You?” and clips of her with Bennett started rolling, so did the tears. The star looked genuinely emotional at points as Gaga delivered a more restrained, poignant version of a song that said all it needed to about her friendship with Bennett. And everyone else watching looked pretty emotional too.
High: Jazmine Sullivan picks up her first Grammys.
Jazmine Sullivan is one of contemporary R&B’s best artists, and until tonight had been one of the Grammys’ most snubbed, logging 12 nominations with no wins. That changed with her Best R&B Performance trophy for the showstopping “Pick Up Your Feelings.” And while that one was a tie (with Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open”), Sullivan got her solo moment during the main show, winning Best R&B Album for Heaux Tales, to the star’s genuine shock.
Low: These rooftop performances don’t do what the Academy thinks they do.
The Recording Academy wanted to spotlight “underrepresented” genres for this year’s Grammys, since the show has been criticized for its focus on popular genres. So they selected three — a tropical singer, a worship group, and a bluegrass musician — to perform during the show. Great idea! Except it relegated the musicians — Aymée Nuviola, Maverick City Music, and Billy Strings — to rooftop performances that played out commercial breaks, not giving them enough time to actually make an impact on the telecast.
Whoa: Jon Batiste does it all.
Jon Batiste was nominated in seven separate fields at this year’s Grammys, a testament to the many different sides of his musicianship. And he stuffed as much of that as he could into his performance: showing off on piano to open with “Movement 11,’” howling out a jubilant take on “Freedom,” and throwing down some dance moves before marching through the audience to end the set. It wasn’t just a showcase of a stellar musician, it was a damn fun show.
High: H.E.R. and Lenny Kravitz’s guitar hero–ing.
As is her wont, Grammy fave and R&B multi-hyphenate H.E.R. did a little bit of everything during her medley set: played the piano and drums; jammed with Travis Barker and R&B legends Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis; and, to top it off, covered Lenny Kravitz’s immortal “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” before trading a blistering guitar solo with Kravitz himself.
Low: The number of awards presented during the main show.
Nine, that is.
Whoa: Olivia Rodrigo hits some roadblocks in the general categories.
Common wisdom suggested that Rodrigo was pure Grammys bait: a capable songwriter making acoustic, organic music who also crafted the biggest hit of last year. But when given the chance, the Grammys didn’t go out of their way to award her — at least not like they did for her peer Billie Eilish two years before. While some (including us!) thought Rodrigo would sweep the general categories off the strength of “drivers license,” she actually came up pretty short. Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open” won in Song and Record of the Year (which marked repeat wins for Bruno Mars), while top nominee Jon Batiste took home Album of the Year for We Are. Rodrigo still won three trophies (Best New Artist, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album), but not giving high honors to the most impactful release of 2021 feels like a missed opportunity.
Whoa: A show that ends right on time!
After a tight three-and-a-half hours.