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Grammy Awards 2015’s 21 Best and Worst Moments

From Kanye’s bum-rush to AC/DC’s explosive performance to Sam Smith’s big night

Prince, Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith

Prince, Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Nobody swung from an actual chandelier, but the 57th Annual Grammy Awards were a three-and-a-half-hour emotional roller coaster, shifting from moments that were thrilling (AC/DC’s pyrorific opening set) to sober (President Obama’s message about domestic violence) to historic (Paul McCartney taking the stage with Kanye West and Rihanna). Legends like Annie Lennox stepped in to raise the bar, while West threatened to step onstage and cause a scene when Beck grabbed Album of the Year from Beyoncé — this time he was kidding (mostly). After Taylor Swift finished shaking it off in the front row, we were left with these 21 moments that best summarize the night’s beautiful highs and embarrassing lows. 

Sam Smith and Jimmy Naps

Songwriter William Phillips, singer Sam Smith and Producer/sound engineer Jimmy Napes accept the Song of the Year award for "Stay With Me" onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards in Los Angeles, California on February 8th, 2015.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Worst: CBS Goes Keyboard Cat, Plays Everyone Off

We'll make this quick. We'd like to thank the producers, for packing this show with 23 musical performances, while at the same time giving the night's winners 30 seconds to make acceptance speeches before the dreaded playoff music hit. It would have been cool to hear what Pharrell or Beck had to say, but everybody knows those extra "Thank you"s are why this telecast is always three-and-a-half hours long. And we'd like to thank the Recording Academy for still mandating that their president, Neil Portnow, got three minutes to re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic with his annual keynote. And, oh gosh, we'd like to thank [music begins to swell]…uh, Mom and Dad, God, the New England Patriots, LL Cool J for not doing an opening monologue, Taylor Swift's reactions to everything, Target's integrated marketing department, "social media reporter" Pauley Perrette, Kim Kardashian's shoulder pads [music reaches thunderous crescendo] and, uh…thankyougoodnight!

Barack Obama

Best: Barack Obama Gives the Presidential Middle Finger to Chris Brown and Phil Spector

Katy Perry's performance of "By the Grace of God" was prefaced by two very important messages, the first coming from none other than President Barack Obama. Via a video message taped in the White House, Obama made a brief but powerful statement directed towards the stars in the room, encouraging them to take a stand against sexual assault and domestic violence. Citing statistics on how many women have been victims of rape and domestic violence, Obama was a great intro to the impassioned spoken word of domestic violence activist and survivor Brooke Axtell. While Perry's performance was strong and poignant in its own right, nothing compares to hearing the POTUS take such a strong public stance against violence against women just before a woman had a platform to deliver her experiences in her own words. 

Prince

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Best: Prince Has Gotta be Prince

Every time Prince struts onstage to present at one of these shows, the crowd goes nuts — and not just because he's a mercurial genius who dresses like Clarence Williams on The Mod Squad. Resplendent in a Creamsicle-colored number, and clutching a cane, Prince was given the relatively dry task of presenting the Grammy for Album of the Year, though he still managed to work in a couple of great lines. First, he shot the elephant in the room, joking, "Albums, remember those?" while a grin creased his face. Then, he managed to make a statement that spoke louder than any show-closing number, adding, "Like books and black lives, albums still matter," as the crowd whooped in approval. And finally, he was smart enough to extricate himself from Kanye's awkward stage invasion as Beck readied his speech. Thirty years after Purple Rain, he's still one of the most brilliant guys in the room.

Pharrell

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Lester Cohen/Getty

Worst: Pharrell Has Too Many Ideas in His Hat

Dressed like a demented bellhop, Pharrell Williams led the performance of his ubiquitous, Grammy-winning Despicable Me 2 tune "Happy" in the oddest way: First fracturing the melody into a decidedly unhappy dirge and then ceding the spotlight to classical pianist Lang Lang and film composer Hans Zimmer. The former played a sonata in the middle of the herky-jerky song, while the latter — who looked like a 57-year-old music exec had forced his way onstage — did his best Angus Young impression as a guitar solo. The one saving grace of the muddled mess was a nod to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri last year: dancers in hoodies holding up their arms as if to say, "Hands up, don't shoot."

LL Cool J

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Host LL Cool J speaks onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Best: Grammy Viewers Love Cool James

Don't call it a comeback. LL Cool J, hosting the Grammys for the fourth time, has got this down to a science. He got in one great joke ("I'm goin' back to Cali… I –I – guess so…") before announcing — up front — that he was avoiding a monologue ("for your safety and mine"). He got the the right balance of "promote social media" and "not sound like a dad" ("hashtag to your heart's content") and gave props to 89-year-old Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein without being treacly ("Everybody say, Hi George!"). Even if the Grammys aren't going to actually air rap awards, at least the whole thing gets to be hosted by one of its greatest performers.

Josh Duhamel

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Worst: Everyone Takes Bad Trips

The arch villain of this year's Grammys? No, it wasn't Kanye, who poked fun at his own past antics — it was the top step of the circular satellite stage. First, it nearly tackled actor and Fergie beau Josh Duhamel; the Best Rock Album co-presenter gamely avoiding a humiliating face-plant in front of two New England Patriots no less. Then the stupid thing almost took down musician Nile Rodgers on his way to hand off the Best R&B Performance gramophone. Fortunately, his co-presenter, the always smooth Smokey Robinson, averted what would have been true disaster by chivalrously helping Beyoncé up the diabolical step to accept her award.

Tom Jones and Jessie J

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Singer-songwriters Jessie J and Tom Jones (R) perform onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)

Kevin Winter/Getty

Best: Tom Jones and Jessie J Get Cheek to Cheek

Tom Jones and Jessie J gave Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga a run for their money as the Grammys' best May-December singing relationship with their performance of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." As is Jones' wont, the frosty-haired Welsh crooner poured his everything into the performance, singing passionately at the "Bang Bang" singer. Rather than the end of a partnership, as the lyrics suggest, it looked like the start of something special.

Shia Labeouf

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Actor Shia LaBeouf speaks onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Worst: Shia LaBeouf Reads Pink Poetry

When he walked out onstage wearing actual clothes, with neither a paper bag nor a pair of flesh-toned undies in sight, it was tempting to think/hope that Shia LeBeouf might possibly live out the title of his recent L.A.-gallery performance piece #IAmSorry and redeem himself by not acting like an insufferable second-year art student for one public moment. Instead, the Transformer star introduced Sia's "Chandelier" performance by producing a long, pink sheet of paper and somberly reading a poem addressed to the Record of the Year nominee by a mysterious admirer "Erik" (Us Weekly reports that it was indeed a poem by Sia's new husband, filmmaker Erik Anders Lang). "If strength were made of broken pieces, you and I would always win," LeBeouf intoned. "It is, though, and buildings and statues wink at us…Punch me if I stop crying, and I'll do the same." #SorryNotSorry.

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