Every year, the Grammys dishes out awards to the year’s biggest artists, and honours the most important musical offerings of the last 12 months.
What gets us most excited, though, is the thought of the A-list performances, as huge stars grace the stage to deliver memorable, impactful and, at times, outrageous renditions of their hits, in the hopes of being the stand-out star of the evening.
With countless offerings to choose from, we’ve picked 30 of the performances that have stuck with us over the decades, and here they are from the earliest to the most recent...
Whitney Houston – Saving All My Love For You (1986)
For many music fans, this 1986 Grammys performance will have been their first time hearing the unmistakeable and incomparable live vocals of Whitney Houston.
Not the best awe-inspiring performance she’d give in her lifetime, of course, but this was a definite sign of promising things to come.
Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You (1994)
Fast-forward eight years, and Whitney Houston was one of the biggest stars on the planet, riding a huge wave of success after her appearance in The Bodyguard.
By the time the Grammys rolled around in 1994 (and, actually, for many years following) there was no escaping this song – but there’s also no beating it in its flawless live form.
Aretha Franklin – Nessun Dorma (1998)
As the story goes, Luciano Pavarotti had initially been scheduled to perform, but pulled out at the last minute on doctors’ orders, leaving his friend Aretha Franklin to step in instead.
With limited time to rehearse, the soul singer completely floored everyone with her talent on the night.
It’s a rendition that shouldn’t work on any level, but who could honestly argue with those vocals?
Madonna – Nothing Really Matters (1999)
The Evita film and Ray Of Light album helped kickstart Madonna’s career after a few years of projects that had been met with a lukewarm reception.
Ray Of Light went on to gain critical acclaim and huge chart success, but the cherry on top was the queen of pop finally winning her first ever Grammy, and delivering this stunning and surprisingly haunting performance on the night.
Eminem and Elton John – Stan (2001)
The performance was considered by many to be a response to critics who panned Eminem’s past homophobic lyrics, particularly as the two stood together in solidarity at the end.
However, almost 20 years later, the rapper would still receive criticism for his use of anti-LGBTQ language in his music...
Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott and Patti LaBelle - Lady Marmalade (2002)
This Lady Marmalade performance allowed each of the track’s four performers to enjoy their time in the spotlight – complete with all the sequins, feathers and big hair it’s become synonymous with – before coming together as a four-piece.
As if there wasn’t enough talent on stage already, they were joined on stage first by Missy Elliott and eventually its original performer, Patti LaBelle, who taught those younger artists a thing or two about high notes.
What. A. Performance.
Prince and Beyoncé - Purple Rain/Baby, I’m A Star/Let’s Go Crazy/Crazy In Love (2004)
We all know that when it came to rising stars and new talent, no one had a better eye than Prince, so it’s no surprise that right at the beginning of Beyoncé’s solo career, he chose her to perform with him at the Grammys.
Needless to say, this is not Beyoncé’s last appearance on this list.
Kanye West – Jesus Walks (2005)
While Kanye West has made headlines for reasons other than his music in recent times, when he pulls it out of the bag, as he did with this religious-themed performance in 2005, there are few who can touch him in terms of showmanship.
Gorillaz, De La Soul and Madonna – Feel Good Inc/Hung Up (2006)
Listen, we all know Madonna as a great popstar, but it’s not unfair to say that her sense of humour is something she’s... less associated with.
That’s why it was so great to see her interacting with the Gorillaz at the Grammys in 2006, first crashing their performance of Feel Good Inc before launching into an energetic version of her hit, Hung Up.
The Chicks – Not Ready To Make Nice (2007)
It had been a tough time for The Chicks – then still known by their old moniker – in the lead-up to their performance at the 2007 Grammys.
The group had been at the centre of a controversy when they criticised then-President George W Bush and the Iraq war, leading to them being shunned by the country music scene and on the receiving end of abuse and even death threats.
Their defiant appearance at the 2007 Grammys saw them address the backlash head-on in Not Ready To Make Nice, and the group wound up becoming the night’s big winners, taking home all five of the awards they’d been nominated for, including “the big three”.
Amy Winehouse – You Know I’m No Good/Rehab (2008)
By the time of Amy Winehouse’s Grammys performance, the sad truth was that while everyone was talking about her, it was rarely in conjunction with her songwriting talents or incomparable vocal abilities.
In fact, her Grammys performance was aired live over satellite link, as she wasn’t granted a visa to travel to the US for the ceremony.
Still, with this performance, she managed to silence all of her critics, and remind everyone why she had become one of the world’s most famous people in the first place.
Beyoncé and Tina Turner – Déjà Vu/What’s Love Got To Do With It/Proud Mary (2008)
And as if duetting with Prince wasn’t enough, four years later Beyoncé was tasked with introducing the legendary Tina Turner, only for the two of them to perform the classic Proud Mary together.
Tina looked totally thrilled to be sharing the stage with Beyoncé, while the Queen Bey truly held her own next to one of her idols, while managing not to outshine her.
The stuff legendary duets are made of. Also... what a brilliant intro from Cher.
Kanye West – Hey Mama (2008)
Kanye was struck by tragedy just months before his emotional performance at the 2008 Grammys, when his beloved mother, Donda, died during surgery.
In her honour, he performed a sombre remixed version of his 2005 track, Hey Mama, during the ceremony, having written the song three years earlier, as a thank you to all his mother had done for him in her life.
Seven years later, Kanye would perform another song dedicated to his mum at the Grammys, this time the heartfelt Only One, on which he imagines his late mother as a guardian angel, and sings about his love for his daughter, North.
Lady Gaga and Elton John – Poker Face/Speechless/Your Song (2010)
By the time she made her debut at the Grammys, Lady Gaga had already become the biggest star in the world, so the stakes were pretty high for her first ever performance there.
Did she manage to pull it off? Well, let’s see.
Ridiculous OTT introduction? Check. Giant sets? Check. Multiple songs? Check. Amazing outfit? Check. Casually performing with a musical legend, proving just a couple of years into her career that they were already contemporaries? Check.
We’d say that’s an emphatic yes.
Pink – Glitter In The Air (2010)
Pink’s fans had long been aware of quite how much she put into her live performances prior to her solo performance at the Grammys, but in 2010, she made sure the world knew about it.
Singing the haunting ballad, Glitter In The Air, Pink first walked out into the crowd, before performing air aerobics while hanging from the ceiling, all while belting along with the track.
Jennifer Hudson – I Will Always Love You (2012)
In her lifetime, Whitney performed at the Grammys on multiple occasions, each time bringing the house down with her powerhouse vocals.
Her death in 2012 came just 24 hours before that year’s ceremony, and it was would have been remiss for organisers not to pull together a tribute.
It was decided that Jennifer Hudson was the star with the vocal capabilities of doing Whitney justice, and with less than a day to prepare, we can’t imagine how she could possibly have bettered this stirring performance.
Nicki Minaj – Roman’s Revenge/I Feel Pretty/Roman Holiday (2012)
Undeniably one of the most shocking productions to ever grace the Grammys stage, Nicki Minaj certainly raised eyebrows with her debut performance at the awards show.
Having already arrived at the show on the arm of a man dressed as the pope, she began her set with a rap in a confessional booth.
After a brief short film, she then staged an exorcism live on stage, culminating in her levitating to the roof, all in character as alter-ego, Roman Zolanski.
Adele – Rolling In The Deep (2012)
Another performance that hits even harder when you know the context behind it, the Grammys in 2012 marked Adele’s first live performance after undergoing throat surgery.
The world hadn’t heard her sing in a long time, and fears began to rise about whether she’d ever be able to match her old vocal offerings. Clearly, we needn’t have worried.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z – Drunk In Love (2014)
The music world was still reeling from the shock release of her self-titled visual album when Beyoncé took to the stage at the Grammys in 2014.
This time, she wasn’t there as a member of Destiny’s Child, she wasn’t promoting a song from a film, and she wasn’t anyone’s special guest.
She was standing on her own two feet, and it felt like after years of being one of the world’s most famous singers, she’d really cemented her place as a superstar.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert, Trombone Shorty, Madonna and Queen Latifah – Same Love/Open Your Heart (2014)
At a time when the debate around same-sex marriage was still raging on in America, Macklemore decided to use his slot at the Grammys to make a bold statement.
Performing his song Same Love, 33 couples of all different genders and sexualities gathered to tie the knot there and then (with Queen Latifah officiating, natch), before Madonna appeared in full cowboy attire to sing Open Your Heart with a gospel choir.
While on paper it sounds like a clunky and even arguably insincere stunt, we struggle to hold back tears every time we we re-watch this clip.
Sia – Chandelier (2015)
When you’re a singer who’s become known for never showing your face and standing in a corner when you perform live, how do you make an impact at a public spectacle like Grammys?
You bring in Maddie Ziegler, Kristen Wiig, a load of wigs and what appears to be the set of an episode of Hoarders, of course.
Katy Perry – By The Grace Of God (2015)
Best known for her elaborate and cartoonish performance style, Katy Perry stripped it right back for her Grammys performance in 2015.
She performed the lesser-known ballad By The Grace Of God, which discusses the suicidal feelings she felt towards the end of her marriage.
The performance was in support of victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, with a short message from Barack Obama in support of the #ItsOnUs campaign playing shortly beforehand.
Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker The Berry/Alright (2016)
And talking about making a statement on the Grammys stage... wow.
While that year’s decision to award Taylor Swift Album Of The Year over Kendrick Lamar may have been controversial in 2016, his was the performance that had everyone talking that year.
Just watch it to see what we mean.
Lady Gaga – Space Oddity/Changes/Ziggy Stardust/Suffragette City/Rebel Rebel/Fashion/Fame/Let’s Dance/Heroes (2016)
Lady Gaga managed to squeeze in a whopping 10 of David Bowie’s iconic hits into her tribute, a performance that divided opinion.
Some felt it reminded viewers of Bowie’s greatness and influence on pop music, while others – including the late musician’s son – were less impressed by the elaborate performance (and the fact it was so heavily sponsored by Intel).
Beyoncé – Love Drought/Sandcastles (2017)
Adele may have won the three biggest awards at the 2017 Grammys, even she admitted that the night really belonged to Beyoncé.
Bey’s elaborate and beautiful rendition of Love Drought and Sandcastles came shortly after the news that she and husband Jay-Z were expecting twins, and her 10-minute performance celebrated motherhood, serving as the perfect closer to her stunning Lemonade era.
Adele – Fastlove (2017)
A year after a rather shaky version of All I Ask, Adele opened the 2017 Grammys with a flawless rendition of Hello. Sadly, her second performance of the night didn’t go quite as smoothly.
Having been chosen to pay tribute to George Michael with a rearranged version of Fastlove, Adele restarted the performance a minute in, declaring: “I’m sorry. I can’t do it again like last year.
“I’m sorry for swearing and sorry for starting again, can we please start it again? I’m sorry, I can’t mess this up for [George]. I’m sorry.”
Kesha, Andra Day, Bebe Rexha, Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper and Julia Michaels – Praying (2018)
The 2018 Grammys were all about the Time’s Up movement, which the stars in attendance honoured by wearing black and holding white roses on the red carpet.
This emphasis on honouring the survivors of sexual abuse, particularly in the work-place, made Kesha’s stunning version of Praying – surrounded by other female singers – all the more striking.
Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel/PYNK (2019)
Janelle Monáe’s 2018 album Dirty Computer was accompanied by a short film of the same name, which was brought to life on the Grammys stage the following year.
And while Janelle may have gone home empty-handed on the night, this performance – which included provocative choreography, homages to Prince and *those* vulva trousers – was undoubtedly a stand-out.
Cardi B – Money (2019)
This performance was pretty much everything we love about Cardi B. It was in-your-face, it was loud, it was confident, it was totally extra, it was brilliant.
No, we’re not 100% convinced there wasn’t a bit of *ahem* help in the ol’ vocal department, but who else in the industry right now is going to give us a perfectly-executed routine on top of a grand piano, before giving a shout out to her infant daughter and strutting about in a leopard-print peacock tail?
Ariana Grande – Imagine/My Favourite Things/7 Rings/Thank U, Next (2020)
A year after snubbing the Grammys due to a dispute with organisers, this performance served as a victory lap for Ariana Grande at the end of her hugely successful Thank U, Next era.
After delivering some powerful vocals on album cut Imagine (and a quick blast of My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music), Ari served a quick costume change and brought the house down with renditions of her chart-topping tunes 7 Rings and Thank U, Next.
Tyler, The Creator, Boyz II Men And Charlie Wilson – EARFQUAKE/NEW MAGIC WAND (2020)
Tyler, The Creator brought his unique brand of showmanship to the Grammys stage in 2020, the same year he’d take home his first award from the Music Academy.
Despite clocking in at under five minutes, Tyler took us on a wild ride with this performance, which included a Boyz II Men cameo, pyrotechnics, moshing and a whole lot of bowl cuts.
Demi Lovato – Anyone (2020)
This 2020 performance can’t have been an easy one for Demi Lovato. Not only was it the first time she’d sung live in public since her near-fatal overdose two years earlier, she was debuting a brand new song about her experiences written just days after she was hospitalised.
Accompanied by just a piano, the extremely personal lyrics really shone, and although the singer had to begin the number again near the beginning due to being too choked up, she ended up completely nailing her performance, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
The 2021 Grammys will take place on Sunday 14 March.