The polar stars of the 2017 Grammys provided two of the telecast's most memorable performances, one a celestial dream of near perfection, the other endearingly human.
Anyone wondering whether Beyoncé's just-announced pregnancy would take away from her ability to perform as vividly as we've come to expect got their answer Sunday night when the singer delivered a stunning rendition of her songs "Love Drought" and "Sandcastles."
Dressed in a flowing gown and elaborate head piece, Beyoncé moved slowly but surely down a long runway surrounded by female dancers, then took a seat in a wooden chair that reclined nearly 90 degrees over empty space — all while she continued to sing powerfully and with palpable emotion in her voice.
The performance was a masterful show of strength and delicacy, intelligence and feeling — one she pulled off not in spite of her changing body, but because of it.
Adele, meanwhile, came out strong, opening the show with a confident performances of "Hello," which went on to win song of the year. But during her tribute to the late singer George Michael, she flubbed and had to start again.
Well into Michael's 1996 song "Fastlove," the singer paused and, with a look of sorrow on her face, cussed and said, "I'm sorry for swearing and I'm sorry for starting again. Can we please start again?"
The restart was worth it — Adele went on to nail the song — but when the performance was over, the Grammy winner put her hands over her face the moment the lights went down and shook her head.
Both the resplendent Queen Bey and the chagrined Adele were met by cheering crowds and the requisite Twitter storm of devotion.
Bruno brings it. Twice.
Pity poor Bruno Mars, tasked with following up what was perhaps the finest Grammy performance in a generation. But if anyone had a prayer of playing live after Beyoncé without instantly vaporizing into total cosmic insignificance, it was probably Bruno Mars.
There's nothing one can really do to follow up on a nine-minute medley of mind-erasing pregnancy holograms and chair-tilt stunts, so Mars instead did what he does best: corral his bros, throw on some gold chains and play his new pitch-perfect '80s funk pastiche with aplomb. "That's What I Like" is a great, slow rolling slice of his recent affection for Zapp and Gap Band (so much so that the latter sued him).
When he played it for the still-stunned-by-Bey Grammy crowd, he pulled the not-insignificant feat of reminding viewers why he's one of the most endearing, charismatic performers in pop.
And then he did it again, returning to the stage an hour later in full Prince regalia to pay tribute to one of the industry's greatest losses of the year.
The thing about Mars is, he's got a similar mix of instrumental chops, stage presence and deftness with electro-funk that made Prince so exalted. Add a kickoff set from the Time, favored collaborators of the Purple One, for a medley of "Jungle Love/The Bird" into "Let's Go Crazy," and it all adds up to an homage that's not just respectful, but flat-out fun and worthy of the benefactor.
A Tribe calls 'Resist'
Among the many inspiring artists died in 2016, the loss of rapper Phife Dawg hit the hip-hop community hard. As co-founder of A Tribe Called Quest, he helped create classics of the genre including "People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm," "Midnight Marauders" and "The Low End Theory."
When his co-founders Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip landed onstage with Busta Rhymes and new artist nominee Anderson .Paak to pay tribute, Q-Tip gestured toward an empty microphone and dedicated the performance to Phife.
And although the tribute featured Tribe tracks like "Movin' Backwards" and "Award Tour," it focused on the new "We the People." A timely song, particularly in light of recent changes to U.S. immigration policies, its chorus jumped out of the speakers:
"All the black folks, you must go/ All the Mexicans, you must go/ All the poor folks, you must go/ Muslims and gays, we hate your ways/ See all you bad folks you must go."
But it was the roar of Busta Rhymes that made the biggest impression. Decrying "President Agent Orange," he and the others crashed through a makeshift wall.
At the end, with the people alongside him onstage, Q-Tip screamed, "Resist! Resist! Resist!"
You're going to know my name
James Corden gently mocked Grammy winner Sturgill Simpson for being the name that would send the most viewers to search engines to find out who exactly he was. With a performance backed by the Dap-Kings horns, Simpson provided an answer.
Simpson leaned into "All Around You" from his nominated "A Sailor's Guide to Earth," and his weathered voice soared atop the brassy backdrop provided by the longtime collaborators with the late Sharon Jones (who presenter Dwight Yoakam paid tribute to in his introduction).
While it may have been entirely on-brand for the Grammys to have asked Simpson to perform something from Jones' catalog, the rising country star's performance pointed toward what those who could already identify Simpson already knew -- that he has a perfectly deft touch with brassy R&B in his own right.
And, one assumes, a very busy Wikipedia page.
Daft Punk and the art of the backup
The last time Daft Punk was on a Grammy stage, the act was playing alongside Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers and Stevie Wonder just before accepting the album of the year award in 2014 for "Random Access Memories."
This time, the French duo was happy to play backup to the Weeknd for an icy rendition of "I Feel It Coming," one of the standout collaborations from the latter's LP "Starboy."
The trio played in front of a frigid interstellar setup that was part vintage Kanye West mountain range and part Hoth from "Star Wars."
It didn't have quite the vocal pyrotechnics of Adele's opening number or much more live instrumentation than a little robot keyboard poking. Daft Punk, much to the chagrin of fans, has pretty much stuck to awards shows for live appearances since "Random Access Memories" brought the duo back to prominence.
But its stint with the Weeknd has been an interesting case of perhaps the most famous act in electronic music willfully hanging back and adding analog sparkle to his nihilism.
Times staff writers August Brown, Randall Roberts, Chris Barton and Mikael Wood contributed to this report.
Follow me on Twitter: @toddmartens
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