After a 2021 edition that felt like the freshest in years, the 2022 Grammys returned Music’s Biggest Night to its standard script: a steady stream of dad-joke groaners from host Trevor Noah, a wild mish-mash of performances that delivered either sensory overload or maudlin tear-jerking, a few charmingly bonkers speeches, and a safe Album of the Year choice that seemed to completely ignore what music fans actually listened to during the past year. Here’s our rundown of the best, worst, and weirdest of the night.
Best of the Night: Billie Eilish Actually Looks Happier Than Ever
Did Billie Eilish even know she was performing at the Grammys? The way she rocked out while singing “Happier Than Ever,” jumping up and down and smiling at her brother, guitarist-producer Finneas, she seemed like she was owning a moment all her own. Not even pouring rain — or the fact that she would walk away with zero trophies among the seven she was nominated for, an egregious shutout given the year she had — could ruin the good time she was having on top of a prop mobile home as she belted “Just leave me aloooo-ho-ho-hone.” But she didn’t lose herself completely; she still remembered to hold up her T-shirt, repping late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, sharing in her triumph.
Best: Silk Sonic Kick Off the Night in High Seventies Style
Silk Sonic launched their Las Vegas residency just a little more than a month ago, so it made sense for Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak to open the first Sin City Grammys with an explosive rendition of “777.” The performance was a trip back to the Seventies, and the start of a very, very good night for the duo, who picked up four awards, including Record of the Year. They danced their way to the podium each time they won, reminding everyone of their effortless charisma that’s just catnip for Grammy voters.
Best: BTS’ Spy-Movie Cool
Last year, BTS joined the Grammys live from a rooftop in Seoul, South Korea, proving that “Dynamite” is simply too catchy to be bounded by the traditional rules of time and space. Could they top that in 2022? Come on. You know they could. The repeat Best Pop Duo/Group Performance nominees went full Mission: Impossible this time for “Butter,” starting with an elaborate framing device that involved lasers, computers, and a priceless moment in the audience between V and Olivia Rodrigo (quick, give them both Best Supporting Awards-Show Actor statues!) — and proceeding to remind us that BTS are quite possibly the seven sleekest-grooving, sharpest-dressed, most absurdly magnetic people on the planet.
Best: Mercifully, Little to No Slap Content
Enough said. Seriously. We never need to read another word of commentary about the true meaning of the Slap, let alone hear a hacky joke about it at another awards show. We counted just two brief, innocuous references to the incident during the televised Grammys broadcast — way less than we could have reasonably expected. Thank you, Trevor Noah and everyone in the MGM Grand, for sparing us.
Worst: Lady Gaga and All That Jazz
Look, Lady Gaga’s friendship with Tony Bennett is sweet. Love those two crazy kids. And if one of the most vocally gifted and outrageously imaginative pop artists of her generation wants to get her kicks doing goofy-ass, let’s-pretend-it’s-1947 yabba-dabba-doobie-doobie-doo jazz schtick, well, good for her! That’s cool, really. But does she have to do so damn much of it?
Best: Joni Mitchell Returns to Her Rightful Place on the Grammy Stage
In 2015, the founding mother of confessional songwriting suffered a near-fatal aneurysm, so the thought of ever seeing Mitchell again on any stage seemed sadly doubtful. But there she was on Sunday night, in a jaunty red cap and, with Bonnie Raitt, introducing a performance by Brandi Carlile. Looking alert and chipper, Mitchell seemed to run into a bit of trouble dealing with the teleprompter (leading to Raitt assisting her much in the way Lady Gaga did with Liza Minnelli at the Oscars). But the mere sight of Mitchell alive and well overcame any technical difficulties.
Best: Jazmine Sullivan Breaks Her Grammy Curse
“I’ll be happy if I win; I’ll be happy if I don’t. I’m good either way,” Jazmine Sullivan told Rolling Stone last fall, looking ahead to the 2022 Grammys. After earning 12 nominations without netting a single trophy in the past, Sullivan braced herself for more of the same this year after getting three nods for her incredible Heaux Tales. But all is almost right with the world — Jazmine took home the Grammy for Best R&B Album and tied with Silk Sonic for Best R&B Performance. “After losing so many times, I feel like I gave up, so it’s surreal to actually be able to hold these babies right now,” she admitted in the press room. “I’m really happy.”
Best: Doja Cat and Silk Sonic Bring DGAF Comedy to the Podium
The Grammy censors weren’t quick enough to catch Doja Cat when she admitted to having just returned from a remarkably fast “piss” to grab her award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with SZA for “Kiss Me More,” hilariously adjusting the crotch of her garment and all. Though she seemed to be in a seriously low place in her career just days ago, Doja Cat choked up during Sunday’s more measured moment as she called the award “a really big deal.” Silk Sonic, too, recognized the magnitude of their win for Record of the Year in laughable fashion, rising from their seats with slow-gyrating hips and sauntering to the mic, Bruno Mars with a cigarette hanging from his lips and Anderson .Paak hollering how hard it is to stay humble when you sweep the Grammys.
Worst: Latin Talent Gets Sidelined
The fact that J Balvin was the only Latin artist to lead a performance on the main stage was beyond embarrassing, especially since the telecast skipped all the Latin categories this year. It was nice to see the Colombian artist briefly share the spotlight with Argentinean newcomer Maria Becerra, a former YouTube star who joined him for “Qué Más Pues?” Sadly, she was pretty much the only representative of emerging talent in Latin music. Even sadder: Cuban singer Aymée Nuviola sang a dynamic rendition of “La Gota Fria” during a pretaped rooftop performance, but we only got to see a couple of glimpses of it.
Best: Lil Nas X Trolls Uptight Conservatives
“When you get this rich and famous,” Lil Nas X rapped during “Dead Right Now,” the first song of his 2022 Grammy medley, “everybody come up to you singin’, ‘Hallelujah, how’d you do it?'” How? Well, with a drum line, sparkly costumes, nods to Travis Scott and Michael Jackson (a giant digital head and marching band uniforms, respectively), and a stellar guest appearance by Jack Harlow. In typical Nas X fashion, he pushed the envelope right off the table, baiting conservatives by making fun of Fox News’ coverage of his “Montero” (which he then performed) and taking turns with Harlow in wagging their microphones like phalluses during “Industry Baby.” Whether his performance made you excited or uncomfortable, you were feeling something by the time he was done. The fact that he was completely (and absurdly) shut out in the five categories he was nominated in only seemed to reaffirm his status as one of modern pop’s spiciest provocateurs.
WTF: The Erratic Bleeping of Justin Bieber’s “Peaches”
If the telecast’s producers wanted to bleep something from this performance, they could have gone with the entirety of the interminable piano-ballad intro in which Justin somberly intoned the words “badass bitch” like he was speaking the secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord. Instead, they chose to censor every third or fourth word of the chorus — here a “weed,” there a “Georgia” — like they, too, were high on the perplexing power of peaches. As a Grammy moment, it was many things, but it was decidedly not that shit.
Worst: The Glaring “In Memoriam” Omissions
In fairness, the In Memoriam segment is always a challenge, especially during a year in which we lost massive figures such as Ronnie Spector, Charlie Watts, Meat Loaf, Vicente Fernández, and Taylor Hawkins. But come on, folks — some of these were flat-out careless. There was no mention of Drakeo the Ruler, the 28-year-old rapper who was fatally stabbed in Los Angeles; Joey Jordison, the original drummer of Slipknot; or Calvin Simon, a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic (the group actually won a Lifetime Achievement Award not that long ago, in 2019). There were even more omissions if you pan out across the globe: Bollywood legend Lata Mangeshkar, Argentinian singer Diego Verdaguer, and Brazilian singer Elza Soares.
Best: Nas Finally Gets a Proper Grammy Moment
In a slot 27 years in the making, hip-hop standard-bearer Nas gave his first solo performance on the Grammy stage. Breezing through modern classics from his seminal career, such as “One Mic” and “Made You Look,” the Queens rapper was the image of passion and control. “We’ve been telling gangsta stories for a long time,” said Nas in a modified bar from “Rare,” a track on his latest album that cinched a nomination this year. Looking stately in a pale, double-breasted suit, Nas commanded a sizable outfit of similarly cool instrumentalists for a show that spoke to hip-hop’s timelessness.
Best: A Spotlight for the Crew
Few in the music business suffered as much during the pandemic as road-crew workers, who had their livelihoods and often salaries yanked away from them overnight. So it was sweet to see tour and production managers or wardrobe supervisors who work for Billie Eilish, Chris Stapleton, H.E.R., and Carrie Underwood (Nicole Massey, Katie Wilkinson, Misha Hedman, and Joan Lee, respectively) introduce their bosses’ performances.
Best: Volodymyr Zelensky and Local Performers Put the Focus on Ukraine
The Grammys were relatively apolitical this year, considering the chaotic state of the world, but they made a big exception when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an unannounced virtual appearance to introduce John Legend. “The war doesn’t let us choose who survives and who stays in eternal silence,” he said. “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals, even to those who can’t hear them. But the music will break through anyway.” His point was hammered home when Legend was joined by Ukrainian singer Mika Newton and poet Lyuba Yakimchuk for a powerful rendition of “Free” — followed by a call for donations to the war-torn country — that made nearly every other part of the broadcast seem almost trivial by comparison.
Worst: Louis C.K. Sins and Wins
The Grammys as a whole already deserved a “worst” half a year ago when it1 announced a number of questionable nominations for artists who have been accused of problematic behavior. This year, Marilyn Manson could have received a trophy, via Kanye West’s Donda album, despite a dozen women accusing him of sexual assault and psychological abuse, and producer Dr. Luke, whom Kesha has sued for sexual assault, might have won for Song of the Year. (Both men have denied all allegations against them.) Although neither of them won Grammys, Louis C.K. received an award for Best Comedy Album — despite having faced accusations of sexual misconduct a few years ago — beating out Lewis Black, Chelsea Handler, and others. And as many noted during the broadcast, one of the night’s high-profile performers, Nas, has also been accused of abuse by his ex-wife Kelis; he has denied her allegations.
Best: Oliva Rodrigo’s Tear-jerking Megahit
If you’re gonna stalk your ex, you typically don’t want to get out of your car and wake up the neighborhood by belting a song that’s literally about stalking your ex. But in her Grammys performance, Olivia Rodrigo played by her own rules. After fiddling with the radio in her prop convertible, the singer — whose sparkly eye shadow looked like tears — abandoned her vehicle to sing her emotional breakthrough hit “Drivers License” on a suburban street, pouring her heart into every word despite having sung it uncountable times since last year. The raw and moving performance set up Rodrigo’s successes later in the show, as she claimed trophies for Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Pop Solo Performance.
WTF: Gap Ad Drives Home Jon Batiste’s Safe-Choice Status
As the heartbeat of the music in the Disney Pixar film Soul and the bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jon Batiste is undeniably gifted. And his Album of the Year win — the first for a Black performer since Herbie Hancock took home the trophy in 2008 — was a touching moment. But it seemed depressingly on-the-nose that right after he performed his Hallmark-card-vague single “Freedom” at Sunday’s awards, it soundtracked a Gap commercial. His incredulous reaction when he won AOTY — over high-powered hitmakers like Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, and Doja Cat — showed that even he realized he was the safe-choice pick.
Best: H.E.R.’s One-Woman-Band Triumph
Did Lenny Kravitz and Travis Barker even need to be onstage with H.E.R.? During the multi-instrumentalist’s wildly impressive medley, she pretty much did it all herself: She sang, she played drums, and she rocked out on guitar as she performed her song “Damage” and Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” And while the four-time Grammy winner probably could have played every instrument herself, it was a thrill watching her jam out with musicians — especially Kravitz, one of her key influences, and the production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who co-produced “Damage” and joined her onstage on keytar and bass, respectively.
WTF: Jared Leto Skins a Gerbil, Quotes David Bowie
Jared Leto came to the Grammys to promote his new Marvel movie, Morbius (currently scoring a 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and he showed up in a bathrobe, a chain-mail shirt, and sleeves that looked like two skinned gerbils. It was a crazier get-up than anything he wore in House of Gucci, and he read his Best Pop Vocal Album speech in the same cadence as someone in a hostage video, complete with a dead-on-arrival joke about agents. He wrapped up by quoting David Bowie’s “I promise I won’t bore you” speech, from his 50th-birthday show at Madison Square Garden in 1997. He didn’t live up to it.