Every year, the Grammys dishes out awards to the year’s biggest artists, and heralds the most important musical offerings of the past 12 months.
However, what get us most excited are the A-list performances, as huge names from the world of music 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 a plethora to choose from, we’ve picked 30 of the performances that have stuck with us over the years, and here they are from the earliest to the most recent…
For many Grammys viewers, this 1986 performance will have been their first time hearing the unmistakeable and incomparable live vocals of Whitney Houston.
Not the best performance she’d give in her lifetime, of course, but a definite sign of promising things to come.
Some pop icons’ performances are remembered for their elaborate sets, outrageous costumes or surprising guest stars.
All the King Of Pop needed, though, was a beat to dance to, and he could still bring the house down, as this amazing rendition of ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ proved.
Eric Clapton’s live performance of ‘Tears In Heaven’ could have even the most stoic of viewers in tears, and that’s before taking into account the incredibly emotional back story of losing his four-year-old son.
That night, ‘Tears In Heaven’ was also named Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year, while Eric Clapton was awarded Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
What is there to say?
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.
The story goes that the late 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?
A performance of the World Cup song that helped kick-start a resurgence of Latin American in mainstream music.
Leather trousers and a sweatshirt isn’t a combination that anyone could pull off, but Ricky Martin just about managed it.
‘Ray Of Light’ helped kickstart Madonna’s career after a few years of projects that had been met with a lukewarm reception.
After the critical acclaim and huge chart success of her seventh studio album, the cherry on top was winning her first ever Grammy and delivering this stunning and surprisingly sombre performance on the night.
A combination of two people that no one saw coming, Eminem and Elton John made headlines the world over when the ‘Your Song’ singer stepped in to replace Dido’s parts on ‘Stan’.
The performance was considered by many to be a response to critics who panned Eminem’s homophobic lyrics, particularly as the two stood together in solidarity at the end.
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.
Frank Micelotta via Getty Images
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.
And what a performance it was, as this image alone will attest.
The fact of the matter is that Kanye West is probably better known these days for his outrageous behaviour than his musical offerings or impressive performances.
That’s a bit of a shame really, as 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.
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’.
It had been a tough time for the Dixie Chicks 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’.
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 or amazing 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, 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.
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.
Kanye was struck by tragedy just months before his emotional performance at the Grammys, when his beloved mother, Donda, died during surgery.
To commemorate her life, he performed a sombre version of his 2005 track, ‘Hey Mama’, though he wrote the song years earlier, as a thank you to all his mother had done for him in her life.
What happens when you round up the world’s biggest rappers, and throw them all on stage together? Oh, and one of them is nearly nine months pregnant?
Well… this, actually.
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. Giant sets. Multiple songs. Amazing outfit. Casually performing with a musical legend, proving just a couple of years into her career that they were already contemporaries.
We’d have to say yes.
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.
Throughout her career, 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 clear that someone was going to have to perform 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.
Undeniably one of the most shocking shows ever to 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.
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. We needn’t have worried.
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, 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.
At a time when the debate around gay marriage was still raging on in America, Macklemore decided to use his slot at the Grammys to make a bold statement.
During his song ‘Same Love’, 33 couples of all different sexualities tied the knot (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.
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.
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.
And talking about making a political 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, his was the performance that had everyone talking that year.
Just watch it to see what we mean.
Lady Gaga managed to squeeze in a whopping 10 of 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 his son – argued that Gaga’s performance was more about her than the man she was honouring.
While 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 nine-minute performance celebrated motherhood, serving as the perfect closer to her stunning ‘Lemonade’ era.
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.”
The 2018 Grammys will take place on Sunday 28 January at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They’ll be shown on 29 January on 4Music here in the UK.