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Grammys 2018: 20 Best and Worst Moments

Highlights and lowlights, including Kesha, Kendrick Lamar and “Subway Karaoke”

At the 60th iteration of Music’s Biggest Night, Kendrick Lamar owned the opening, Kesha and Janelle Monáe delivered stirring calls-to-arms, Patti LuPone reprised her classic Evita role, and Sting and Shaggy refused to cede the spotlight. Here’s the best and worst of a night where Dave Chappelle played unofficial host and comedians played with adorable pug pups in the crowd.

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Music’s Biggest Voices Vie for the Championship Belt

Sunday’s telecast was teeming with ballads, but on the bright side, slowing things down allowed vocalists to show off their chops. Lady Gaga’s robust, confrontational alto amped up the power of “Million Reasons”; Kesha fueled her vocal power with raw emotion during “Praying”; Pink stayed earthbound and let her voice do the soaring on “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”; and Elton John and Miley Cyrus offered up a spirited singalong of “Tiny Dancer.” Perhaps the presence of Patti LuPone, a Tony- and Grammy-winning vocal powerhouse who lit up Evita‘s torch song “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” in a tribute to composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, inspired other singers on Sunday’s bill to step up their collective game, but no matter the reason, the vocal prowess on display was a serious treat. 

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Patti LuPone Heads Up a Broadway Mini-Coup

Sure, Lady Gaga, Kesha and Pink once again proved on Sunday that they’ve got platinum-plated pipes. But very few vocalists of any genre inside MSG (or anywhere) could belt toe-to-toe with Patti LuPone. The Tony-winning performer ended a nearly 25-year feud with Broadway impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber to honor him with a tribute performance of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from 1979’s Evita. Perched atop a makeshift balcony, Broadway’s original Evita delivered a nuclear-caliber reprise of the show’s trademark anthem, singing with terrifying power and heartbreaking charisma as a woman (the real-life Eva Perón) negotiating, then commanding, the political realm. Trenchant and artistically awe-inspiring enough to make fans forget that Madonna movie – and, frankly, most of the 2018 Grammy performances. (Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt’s accompanying Leonard Bernstein tribute performance of “Somewhere” was also very nice.)

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Camila Cabello Gives It Up for the Dreamers

The Grammys largely avoided references to President Trump or the partisan grudge-matches taking place daily on Capitol Hill. But before introducing U2’s performance, Camila Cabello offered an urgent plea on behalf of the Dreamers, roughly 800,000 immigrants who are currently facing an uncertain fate due to Republican calls for increasingly restrictive immigration law. “Tonight in this room full of music’s dreamers, we remember that this country was built by dreamers for dreamers chasing the American dream,” Cabello said. “I’m here on this stage tonight because just like the Dreamers, my parents brought me to this country with nothing in their pockets but hope … I’m a proud Cuban-Mexican immigrant … and all I know is, just like dreams, these kids can’t be forgotten and are worth fighting for.” Many artists skirted around partisan politics, but Cabello showed the effectiveness of tackling the issues head on. 

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Puppies!

James Corden’s hosting was rocky at best, but he nearly redeemed himself in the aftermath of Dave Chappelle’s Best Comedy Album win: “I don’t want anyone to be upset tonight,” he declared, “so the good news is: Nobody goes home empty-handed because all night we will be handing out consolation puppies.” Cue shots of comedy-Grammy also-rans Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan and Sarah Silverman snuggling with adorable pug pups, even as Corden warned about their bad habits and lack of toilet training – followed by the inevitable “oohs” and “awws.” Perhaps he should have brought a couple of pups along on his ill-fated subway ride with Sting and Shaggy.

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Pink Stays Grounded, Still Soars

It’s time we made peace with the fact that there is no topping Pink’s aerial silks routine at the 2010 Grammys. Absolutely no chance. That said, the singer made a strong statement on Sunday night during her performance of a cut from her first album in five years, Beautiful Trauma. There were no backup dancers, no pyrotechnics, no high-fashion frills – just a diva and her sign-language interpreter, notably understated in white T-shirts and jeans. But lest the viewers lose sight of what got her the coveted spot in Sunday night’s program, Pink’s mighty vocal performance came correct.

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

Worst: Sting, Shaggy and James Corden Get Desperate With “Subway Karaoke”

There was no way James Corden was going to pass up the chance to transpose his famous “Carpool Karaoke” segment to New York City, but the resulting skit was predictable and overlong, running a single flimsy idea into the ground. Corden, Sting and Shaggy – the last two are promoting their new single “Don’t Make Me Wait” – boarded a subway car and started to sing, only to find that, surprise, the clichés you hear about New Yorkers are all true: They’re rude, standoffish and they don’t want to hear any music on their commute. Whether the trio sang Police oldies (“Every Breath You Take”), Shaggy hits (“It Wasn’t Me”) or new collaborations (“Don’t Make Me Wait”), the natives remained unimpressed, burying their heads in their hands. The bad puns started piling up. “We’re filming this for the Grammys,” Corden protested. “Not for this grannie,” a subway-riding grandma retorted. After the would-be buskers admitted defeat, Sting echoed the sentiments of viewers everywhere when he asked, “Whose stupid idea was this?” “It wasn’t me,” Shaggy replied, ending the skit on a bum note. This was not the last of Sting and Shaggy: The pair were given two chances to boost their forthcoming collaboration. The bassist later performed “Englishman in New York” before Shaggy joined him to sing “Don’t Make Me Wait” yet again. The mid-tempo reggae felt tepid, and it drained the energy from the evening following Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s powerhouse performance of “Finesse.”

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Zuleyka Rivera Flaunt Puerto Rican Pride During “Despacito”

Following a streak of relentlessly somber performances, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee cranked up the heat in their strictly Spanish-language performance of “Despacito.” Fonsi played it cool in white leather, while an elated Daddy Yankee surfaced in a bejeweled tracksuit. The song’s original video vixen, Puerto Rican actress and 2006 Miss Universe winner Zuleyka Rivera, took center stage in a mesh bodysuit, commanded attention among a crew of gyrating dancers. Beaming in the audience was songwriter Erika Ender, whose vision of a more inviting sexual anthem came to life in the broadcast. “We were looking for something new,” she explained on the red carpet earlier Sunday, “An urban fusion that would really take care of women … exposing us as works of art, not sexual objects.” How the most popular song of 2017 – and the track with the most-viewed YouTube video of all time – could fail to take home a single Grammy is between God, the voters and the collective side-eye of Latin American Twitter.

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Elton John and Miley Cyrus Tear Into a Crowd-Pleasing “Tiny Dancer”

Just four days after announcing a farewell tour that will keep him on the road for the next three years, Elton John took the Grammy stage to belt out “Tiny Dancer” with his touring band. The song didn’t even crack the Top 40 when it came out in 1972, but decades of constant airplay on classic-rock radio and placement during a crucial scene in Almost Famous has turned it into one of his most beloved tunes. After the first verse, Miley Cyrus sauntered onstage in a maroon gown to deliver the “Jesus freaks” verse and lock voices with Elton for the rest of the song. The duet worked so well that nobody even seemed to care that they lopped off the soaring coda for time. It was just a tiny preview of the Grammy Salute to Elton John that’s filming at the Theater At Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, at which the legendary singer-songwriter will be joined by Miranda Lambert, John Legend, Little Big Town, Keith Urban and several others. What a strange coincidence that all this is happening right as tickets are going on sale for the tour.

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Childish Gambino Teams Up With ‘Lion King’ Pal JD McCrary on “Terrified”

Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover could have played it safe at the Grammys by performing “Redbone” – a Record of the Year nominee and the biggest hit of his music career to date – but instead he delivered a sublimely slinky rendition of “Terrified,” a deep-funk cut from his “Awaken, My Love!” album. The set-up was bare-bones: A guitarist unfurling long, keening lines, a bassist picking out three or four fat notes, a synth player conjuring soothing sheets of noise, and a drummer triggering pre-programmed snaps and flurries of hand-percussion. Wearing a resplendent white tuxedo, Glover sang with leisurely precision, swiveling his hips and draping falsetto couplets across the groove. He was joined by a small cadre of back-up singers during the chorus, and together they pushed “Terrified” towards spooky gospel. The 10-year-old singer JD McCrary, who appears on the album cut and will voice young Simba in the new Lion King remake alongside Glover’s adult version of the character, turned up to lend a hand. The song ended at an impeccable climax, as Childish Gambino did his best impression of Prince’s scream and his singers vamped through an exultant riff again and again. And for those fans who were missing “Redbone,” it soundtracked a psychedelic advertisement for Animojis as soon as the Grammys cut to commercial. 

Best Worst Grammys 2018 Watch Read

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Best: Jon Batiste and Gary Clark Jr. Honor Rock’s Raucous Roots

The Grammys haven’t featured a lot of noteworthy rock moments in the past few years, but the passing of twin icons Fats Domino and Chuck Berry in the same year simply had to be commemorated in some way. This could have led to a sloppy medley of their hits with a stage crammed full of singers, pianist and guitarists, but instead the producers opted for the simple route by putting Jon Batiste and Gary Clark Jr. together on a tiny stage with only a drummer to perform killer renditions of “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Maybellene,” highlighted by electrifying solos from the pianist and guitarist in turn. There may not have been time to play the complete songs, but within just a couple of minutes the pair paid fitting tribute to the two rock & roll forefathers as Chuck Berry’s son Charles Jr. looked on from the audience with pride. 

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