The Taylor Swift Circus
Taylor Swift opened the show with an Alice in Wonderland meets Cirque du Soleil fever-dream nightmare. Donning a circus leader’s costume and stalking around the stage with a cane, Swift crooned her Record of the Year–nominated hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” while Siamese twins, clowns, a deranged white rabbit, and men on stilts twirled around her. And thus began music’s biggest night, with a country-pop acid trip.
Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez, and Jennifer Lopez’s right leg presented Best Pop Vocal Performance to Adele for “Set Fire to the Rain (Live)”—yes, the Grammys love Adele so much they gave a Grammy to a new live version of a year-old song. “I read the memo,” J.Lo teased, referencing the memo that was sent to all the artists banning “breasts, buttocks, and genitals” and “visible ‘puffy’ bare skin exposure.” Eyeing J.Lo’s completely exposed leg—and likely flashing back to her iconic green Grammy dress—Pitbull responded, “You inspired the memo.”
fun. Gets Wet
Frustratingly punctuated band fun.—nominated for six Grammys including Record, Album, and Song of the Year—performed their song “Carry On.” At the climax of the performance, it rained on stage. Implausibly, no one thought to call Adele. She sets fire to that.
And Then Wins Song of the Year
Song of the Year goes to … Lena Dunham! At least you’d think that based on how many times the camera cut to the Girls multi-hyphenate, who is dating fun.’s Jack Antonoff, as the group accepted its award for writing “We Are Young.” The boys were quite charming with their speech, joking they were insane to write the song, as America can now tell they are, in fact, not young at all. Antonoff thanked his Girls girlfriend, and also the band’s family members, who supported them while they made no money for nearly 12 years of touring.
Mumford and Sons Will Wait for You
Simply standing in a straight line with some backlighting as their only stage effect, Mumford and Sons played “I Will Wait for You”—nominated for Record of the Year—with more rousing energy than any other artist who had hit the stage. The performance got the ultimate seal of approval: Taylor Swift sang along in the audience.
Justin Rocks His Suit and Tie
The producers couldn’t have done a better job hyping Justin Timberlake’s return to the Grammy stage. Having Ellen DeGeneres and Queen Beyoncé herself demand that the audience rise from their seats and dance along to a performance isn’t too shabby as far as warm-up acts go. The camera then switched to black and white for J.T.’s performance of “Suit and Tie,” complete with a cameo from Jay-Z, who casually walked up to the stage from his front-row seat in the audience. Timberlake then transitioned into “Push Your Love”—and an impressively high falsetto—earning a standing ovation by the time he crooned his last notes.
Kelly Clarkson Thinks Things Are Sexy
“Miguel, I don’t know who the hell you are, but we need to sing together,” Kelly Clarkson said, referencing the R&B singer’s performance earlier in the night during her adorably off-the-cuff acceptance speech for Best Pop Vocal Album. “Good god. That was the sexiest damned thing I’ve ever seen.” Also sexy: Clarkson’s fiancé, whom she thanked and praised for looking “damned sexy tonight.”
The Black Keys Get Funky
Rock duo the Black Keys added put an unexpected funky twist on their “Lonely Boy”—nominated for Record of the Year—by using the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and legendary New Orleans blues man Dr. John as backup. The performance earned an extended standing ovation, including some particularly enthusiastic clapping from Neil Patrick Harris.
Kelly Clarkson Sings Her Face Off
Kelly Clarkson paid tribute to Patti Page and Carole King, ending with King’s hit “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman).” She just stood in front of a piano and sang. Quite simply, she killed it.
Bruno Mars, Rihanna, and Sting Pay Tribute to Bob Marley
Just how popular is Bruno Mars’s song “Locked Out of Heaven?” Adele, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, and Neil Patrick Harris all danced and sang along. Mars was joined by Sting for a performance of the hit and the Police classic “Walking on the Moon” before the two welcomed Rihanna and Ziggy Marley for a rendition of “Could You Be Loved.” So it’s nice that the tribute to Bob Marley at least had one Bob Marley song in it.
Gotye Wins Record of the Year
Prince (!) strutted across the stage with a pimp cane to present Record of the Year to Gotye and Kimbra for their song “Somebody That I Used to Now.” The duo gave an incredibly gracious speech, first paying tribute to Prince for inspiring them musically and then thanking all their fellow nominees and, tearfully, each other.
All-Star Tribute to Levon Helm
Elton John, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown, Alabama Shakes, Mumford and Sons, and T Bone Burnett performed “The Weight” to pay tribute to The Band’s Levon Helm. And it was good. So good.