The Grammys are known for many things: outrageous fashion, gasp-worthy unscripted moments, and — of course — incredible performances by the greatest musicians of our time. So, what do all the best Grammy Awards performances have in common? Well, they up-end our expectations, either with an innovative set-up, costume, dance routine, and or by switching up the tone of their usual stage persona. From raw, emotional performances that made us cry to dance numbers that had us jumping out of our seats, these Grammy performances are absolutely unforgettable and we don’t expect any of this to change with the upcoming ceremony.
At the Grammys, all genres are represented, from country stars like Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris to pop stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. At the 2021 Grammys, airing on Sunday, March 14, at 8 p.m. EST, host Trevor Noah will be joined by performers like Cardi B, Miranda Lambert, John Mayer, Taylor Swift and more.
No matter what your preferred tunes are, the Grammys have something for everyone — and so do these 23 standout performances from the 60-plus years the Grammys have been running.
Lizzo kicked off the 2020 Grammy performances for the night with a bang and belted her heart out as she sang, “Cuz I Love You.” And can we take a minute to appreciate the all-woman orchestra?! Iconic.
Dolly Parton Tribute, 2019
In 2019, Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton blew us away with their rendition of “Jolene,” a tune Cyrus had already memorably performed in a 2012 “Backyard Sessions” YouTube video.
Kesha’s performance of “Praying,” from her first album in five years Rainbow, was especially emotional given her recent legal battles with former producer Dr. Luke, who she’s accused of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
Adele has had many memorable Grammy performances, but her 2017 delivery of “Hello” was a new level of impressive.
Bow down! While pregnant with twins Rumi and Sir, Beyoncé belted out “Sandcastles” and “Love Drought” in this insanely regal attire.
Kendrick Lamar, 2016
Everyone was rapt at Kendrick Lamar’s 2016 Grammys performance, where he sang hits “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” from To Pimp a Butterfly.
Madonna’s “Living for Love” at the 2015 Grammys proved this star is still unbeatable — and the bullfighting theme made for a hell of a performance.
Beyoncé & Jay-Z, 2014
We love a Carter moment. Beyoncé and Jay-Z opened the 2014 Grammys with their performance of “Drunk in Love” — and everyone else might as well have gone home after.
Taylor Swift, 2014
Whether you love her or hate her, you have to admit Taylor Swift gives it her all on stage. That was never more apparent than the 2014 Grammys, where her performance of “All Too Well” didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Carrie Underwood, 2013
Carrie Underwood performed “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs” at the 2013 Grammys — while wearing a dress that doubled as a film screen. Unforgettable.
Jennifer Hudson, 2012
Jennifer Hudson can always make us cry with her beautiful singing voice, but her 2012 tribute to Whitney Houston left us especially emotional.
Lady Gaga, 2011
In the biggest Grammys stunt performance in recent years, Lady Gaga was carried around in a giant egg from which she then “hatched” on stage for her performance of “Born This Way.” (Get it?)
Pink’s “Glitter In the Air” performance was a sneak peek at how acrobatic the singer’s shows have now become. At the time, her gymnast skills here relatively unknown — and when she suddenly flew up into the air on a sheet, jaws everywhere collectively dropped.
Amy Winehouse, 2008
Amy Winehouse won five Grammys in 2008, and her performance makes it easy to understand why. “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” were both performed via satellite from London due to the singer’s Visa issues, but that didn’t stop her performance from stealing the show.
Christina Aguilera, 2007
Sing it, Xtina! Christina Aguilera’s rendition of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” performed in tribute to James Brown, is talked about to this day for the passion and power of her delivery.
Kanye West, 2006
Kanye West went all out for his 2006 performances of “Gold Digger” and “Touch the Sky,” enlisting both Jamie Foxx and the entire Florida A&M University marching band to round out the show.
Beyoncé & Prince, 2004
Is it any surprise that Beyoncé pops up most often on this list? When icons Beyoncé and Prince joined forces in 2004 for “Purple Rain” and “Baby I’m a Star,” the crowd was on their feet. “Don’t hate us ’cause we fabulous,” Prince warned the audience before walking off the stage.
No Doubt, 2003
Will we ever stop being nostalgic for the days of No Doubt? Gwen Stefani and her crew rocked out “Underneath It All” and “Hella Good,” and it’s still one of our favorite performances to watch.
Destiny’s Child, 2001
Speaking of nostalgia — Destiny’s Child took the Grammys stage in 2001 to perform “Independent Woman” and “Say My Name,” two hits that remain classics now and forever.
Shania Twain, 1999
What’s more memorable, the way Shania Twain sang “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” or what she wore to do it? We swear we’re not trying to distract from her skills as an artist — but that opera glove-corset combo haunts our dreams.
Céline Dion, 1998
The only thing better than Céline Dion’s 1998 performance of “My Heart Will Go On” might be the backstory. Only 24 hours before the Grammys, Dion’s plan to perform a duet with Barbra Streisand fell through (Streisand fell ill with the flu). Yes, that’s right — Dion prepared this highly memorable rendition in less than one day.
Eric Clapton, 1993
Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” written for his late son Conor, will bring tears to your eyes in a recording. Performed live, no one stood a chance.
Whitney Houston, 1986
Rolling Stone calls this performance by Whitney Houston the moment she became a “full-fledged superstar.” We agree.
Curious who will be added to this list? Tune in to the 63nd Grammy Awards on Sunday, March 14, at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
Before you go, click here to see the most shocking Grammy awards red carpet looks of all time.
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