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.
Three years before #MeToo took stock of sexual assault in the entertainment industry, Kesha sued her ex-producer, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, for “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally [abusing her] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life.” Sunday night she returned triumphantly to the stage to perform her Grammy-nominated comeback single, “Praying” – but not without a posse. Looking fierce in all white, Kesha’s Grammys squad featured Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and Bebe Rexha, as well as the Resistance Revival Chorus of Women’s March fame. Fighting back tears with blazing fervor, Kesha sang, “Some say in life, you’re gonna get what you give … but some things only God can forgive.” Perhaps directed at Dr. Luke – or perhaps all those who turned a blind eye, only to applaud her in front of the cameras – Kesha’s words reflected a poise that’s impossibly demanded of all survivors of sexual abuse. Crowned by a massive group hug from her fellow performers, Kesha’s showing was a testament to the healing power of women’s solidarity. Pray for anyone who snubbed Kesha’s earth-shattering high note for Best Pop Vocal Performance.
Kendrick Lamar opened the Grammys with perhaps the most impressive network-TV performance of his career to date, a masterful display that mixed technical bravura and jaw-dropping showmanship. He blitzed through recent songs – including a pair from his Album of the Year nominated Damn. LP (“XXX,” “DNA”) and his spitfire verse on Jay Rock’s “King’s Dead” – and employed a steadily shifting series of backdrops. The rapper emerged in the middle of a group of dancers clad in army fatigues; they marched in place as American flags waved in the background. The jerky rhythm of their marching soon gave way to vigorous, unpredictable movements, and they crowded around Lamar, evoking Kanye West’s performance of “All Day” at the Brit Awards in 2015. Later the stage emptied, leaving Lamar alone with a taiko drummer who slammed along to the beat. When the group of dancers returned, they were wearing red from head to toe. As Lamar sped through the staccato finale of his “King’s Dead” verse – a long string of four- or five-syllable declarations – each dancer fell down as if shot. And that was only part of it. Bono and the Edge also showed up briefly to sing their snippet from “XXX” (they later released their own version of this song titled “American Soul”). And Lamar might be the only artist working right now who could fold two Dave Chappelle interludes into a stunning performance without losing momentum.
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