2013 Grammy Awards: Ranking the Performances from Best to Worst

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Well, now. The Grammys. The entire spectacle is like watching a huge whale thrashing ineffectively on a deserted beach, except the whale somehow has an unfathomable supply of money and gets an entire multi-bazillion dollar extravaganza on live TV to demonstrate to the world that it’s a slowly decaying behemoth. And yet we get together to watch them every year, wincing our way through interminable hours of awful award speeches and awful awards because of one thing: the performances — because just occasionally, there might be something good. Was that the case this year? Click through, gentle readers, and find out — we watched the whole damn thing so you don’t have to.

Frank Ocean

OK, so, let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. Even with a strange choice of song (“Forrest Gump”) and a weird, trippy conceptual projection thing that wasn’t quite as cool as its creators might have liked it to be, Ocean was head and shoulders over pretty much every other insufferable wazzock who played this evening. It’s a shame he only warranted one song.

LL Cool J, Chuck D, Tom Morello, Z-Trip, Travis Barker

There’s a lot to be said here about hip hop’s neutering as a genuinely revolutionary force — it’s kinda bittersweet to see Chuck D dropping the opening lines to “Welcome to the Terrordome” on stage at the Grammys, after all, and it makes you wonder what’s next… “Burn Hollywood Burn” at the Oscars? But still, this was both fun and rather touching, both adjectives that could be applied to very few performances at this year’s Grammys — the tribute to the late MCA of the Beastie Boys was welcome and nicely done, and it’s also great to see the crazily talented Z-Trip get some recognition. (We’re just gonna pretend Travis Barker wasn’t involved.)

Justin Timberlake

It seemed like the entire award ceremony was an advertisement for the new Justin Timberlake record, but shit, at least he’s actually good at what he does. The Instagram chic of the first half of the performance was kinda strange business, and the second half was hilariously overblown — Oh, look, it’s Jay-Z! Oh, look, it’s an orchestra! — but Timberlake pulls off his neo-soul pastiche with panache.

Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea and Kenny Garrett

The unexpected jazz interlude — a tribute to the late Dave Brubeck — was a rare, fleeting moment of sanity and virtuosity. It wasn’t to last. (And of course there’s no video of it.)

Miguel and Wiz Khalifa

This was perfectly OK in a largely nondescript commercial hip hop/R&B sense, notwithstanding the fact that the duo’s suits made us wonder if our TV was malfunctioning. In other news, Wiz Khalifa followed up this performance by presenting the award for… Best Country Solo Performance?

The Black Keys and Dr. John

True fact: Dr John is 27x cooler than anyone else here, with the exception of the aforementioned Chuck D and Frank Ocean. Shame you can’t hear him AT ALL.

Rihanna

It has come to this: an overblown ballad featuring an anonymous wetbag in a beanie falls well into the top half of our countdown. At least she didn’t break into “Diamonds,” eh?

Jack White

We’ll leave it to your next gender studies class to discuss the implications of assembling an all-female band to play the piano ballad and an all-male band to do the bro-y rocking-out bit.

Mumford and Sons

You will notice that of all the acts listed in this feature, Mumford and Sons fall right in the middle. This is no accident. They have made an entire career out of coming right in the middle. Clearly, this qualifies them perfectly for being deemed to have made the best album made by anyone anywhere in 2013. Good job, Grammy people. (Also, the performance was so dull that it seems to have broken YouTube.)

Lumineers

But wait, why are Mumford and Sons playing again?

Elton John, Zac Brown, Mavis Staples, Mumford and Sons, and the kitchen sink

This year’s saccharine tribute to everyone who died during the year comes in the form of “The Weight,” commemorating the death of Levon Helm. It’s… well, y’know, it’s OK, as far as weird ensembles of bizarrely mismatched parts go. Still, we don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but the fact that it was Helm who commanded this tribute ahead of Adam Yauch or Donna Summer says pretty much everything you need to know about the Grammys’ baby boomer-centric white dude aesthetic.

Kelly Clarkson

In which the generally insufferable Kelly Clarkson “pays tribute” to Patti Page and Carole King. Paying tribute is generally a risky business, but in fairness, her “Tennessee Waltz” is not horrible. Her “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” is… well, OK, it’s fairly horrible. But on the whole, she’s a whole lot better when she’s not singing her own songs. Also, she’s living proof that screaming/emoting/etc. does not make for good singing, in the same way that supersizing your McDonald’s sandwich does not make it a better eating experience.

Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley

Anyone have a guess at what those six guitar players were actually doing?

Bruno Mars, Sting, Rihanna and two Marley siblings

I mean, what did you expect? Given that precisely no one in the history of the universe (outside the Academy, anyway) has ever said, “Y’know what’d be awesome? A ‘tribute’ to Bob Marley featuring a Bruno Mars song and a Sting song!”, this was never going to be anything but bizarre at best and actively terrible at worst. It fell somewhere in between.

Taylor Swift

We are never, ever getting back together? Sure. Everyone wins.

fun.

Behold: the band who’ve snatched the coveted Least Appropriate Band Name Ever award out of the hands of Egyptian Hip Hop (spoiler: neither Egyptian nor hip hop) and Of Montreal (spoiler: not actually of Montreal at all.) This is not fun, period. This is like having someone amputate your pinkie with a rusty fish fork. Lena Dunham could do better. The Grammys could do better. The world could do better. Humanity could do better.

Maroon 5

Apparently Maroon 5 still exist, and guess what? They’re still about as entertaining as watching drone warfare. Also, Alicia Keys, is this what your career has come to?

Hunter Hayes and Carrie Underwood

And finally, this is like a trip into a parallel universe where a ghastly pop-country homunculus like Hunter Hayes not only gets to play a song and doesn’t get bottles of piss hurled at him from on high, but also gets nominated for album of the year… and the devil himself possesses the terrifying Carrie Underwood’s dress and animates it with designs of inscrutable Satanic intent. This could actually be where the spaceship from Event Horizon ended up. Liberate tutemet ex Grammy Awards. Until next year. God help us all.