Sa'iyda Shabazz
Updated January 30, 2020
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

The Grammy Awards ceremony is the music industry’s biggest night. The show’s performances are almost guaranteed to leave our jaws on the floor and provide plenty of water-cooler talk for the next day. But there have been some iconic Grammy performances in the past that this year’s artists will have to live up to—and we have faith that they can pull it off.

Hosted by Alicia Keys and featuring performances by Lizzo, Billie Eilish, and Ariana Grande, this year’s show will surely follow in the footsteps of all those that came before. It’s hard to narrow down the most iconic performances of the Grammys’ 70-plus-year history. The performances below are just a taste, but a good place to start to get you in the award-show mood.

1Lady Gaga, 2011

Lady Gaga “walked” the red carpet of the 2011 Grammys in a device that was a cross between a pod and an egg. She then “hatched” on stage to sing her song about self-acceptance.

2Adele, 2012

Adele’s triumphant return to the stage after her 2011 vocal cord surgery was a success not just on the stage, but off the stage as well, as she took home all six awards she was nominated for that night.

3Pink, 2010

This is the performance that cemented Pink as a tour de force in the pop world. Her stunning live vocals were no match for her sequined, nude bodysuit and Cirque Du Soleil-style aerial silk performance.

4Eminem and Elton John, 2001

Before the 2001 Grammys, rapper Eminem was branded as homophobic and otherwise problematic. Because of this, he decided to team up with music legend Elton John to sing the hook on his track about a fan gone too far.

5Jennifer Hudson, 2012

Whitney Houston tragically died the night before the 2012 Grammy Awards. With less than twenty-four hours’ notice, singer Jennifer Hudson stepped in to perform a beautiful tribute using Houston’s most iconic song.

6Carrie Underwood, 2013

Carrie Underwood is a country music superstar, and her performance was transcendent. The skirt of her custom-designed Theia dress showed projections of various images, including butterflies, during the performance.

7Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z, 2013

Justin Timberlake made his return to music and the Grammys after a six-year hiatus to sing his latest song, “Suit & Tie.” The overall performance felt like a throwback to the Rat Pack era.

8Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney, 2015

This performance had a lot of younger audience members confused because many of them praised West for “discovering” Paul McCartney, an artist who has more accolades than West has years of life.

9Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton, 2016

The groundbreaking musical was the first Grammy performance to be broadcast live from a Broadway theater. The cast later took home the Grammy for “Best Musical Theatre Album,” of course.

10Logic, Alessia Cara, and Khalid, 2018

Logic took the stage in 2018 to sing “1-800-273-8255.” Alisha Cara and Khalid later joined to provide their own renditions to the song. While Logic didn’t win a Grammy that evening, this performance will forever be known as one of the best, simply because of the message he provided at the end.

11Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Mary Lambert, Madonna, and Queen Latifah, 2014

Macklemore and his partner, Ryan Lewis, along with Mary Lambert, took to the Grammy stage to perform Macklemore’s song about same-sex marriage. Madonna joined in with a rendition of her 1986 song “Open Your Heart” and Queen Latifah officiated a group wedding of 33 couples. Casual.

12Ricky Martin, 1999

Relatively unknown as a solo artist (he was a member of the Latin boyband Menudo in the late ’80s), Martin became a global superstar with the performance of his World Cup anthem, which helped ushered in a new wave of Latin-music acts.

13Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, 2019

For the 2019 Grammy Awards, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper took the stage to sing Gaga’s original song “Shallow,” which was featured in their Oscar-nominated movie A Star is Born. While people speculated that something romantic was going on between the two, they quickly squashed the allegations, especially since Cooper was already in a romantic relationship with model Irina Shayk.

14Christina Aguilera, 2007

In a simple white suit backed by a majestic orchestra, Aguilera slayed James Brown’s hit song in a way that only a woman could.

15Kendrick Lamar, U2, and Dave Chappelle, 2016

Lamar’s powerful performance highlighted songs from his latest critically acclaimed album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Not only did U2 join the stage, but Dave Chappelle brought the house down with a quick appearance. This is a performance you’ll never forget.

16Beyoncé, 2017

It would be considered blasphemy if we didn’t include Beyoncé’s 2017 performance—after all, she literally looked like a goddess.