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Ranking the 2014 Grammy Performances from Best to Worst

And so, the Grammys again. Since half the awards are given out before the ceremony even takes place, the abiding sources of interest these days are a) the outfits and b) the performances. As far as 2014 goes, the relevant points of interest on the former point were Pharrell’s hat (which, inevitably, already has its own Twitter account) and Kacey Musgraves’ curious dress. And the performances… well, as ever, they ranged from the almost sublime to the utterly ridiculous. Here’s our rundown of each any every one, starting with the best and working through to the ones that sent you to the fridge for several more beers.

Kendrick Lamar

Yes, there’s something thoroughly unpalatable about the fact that it appears someone at the Grammys insisted that the only way Kendrick Lamar would be allowed to play would be with fucking Imagine Dragons. Happily, though, the band largely had the good sense to stay out of Lamar’s way, and his verses pretty much shat all over anything anyone else did tonight. Look what happens when you let actual talented, relevant interesting artists play! Maybe next year they’ll let him perform on his own, without the six random white guys! But probably not!

Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Nile Rodgers

Things we learned: Pharrell is a man of many talents, but he can’t sing on key. Happily, Stevie Wonder can, which makes it rather a shame that he didn’t get to spend all the time on lead vocals here — but still, while a collaboration like this can never really be more than the sum of its parts, it was thoroughly enjoyable having Wonder and Rodgers on stage together. It even made the gazillionth time you’ve heard “Get Lucky” somewhat more palatable! (And, oh yeah, Daft Punk were there doing something, too.)

Beyoncé and Jay Z

If watching Beyoncé do a weird sort of Rihanna/Chicago cosplay is your thing, this was entirely fine. She’s a great performer, Jay Z came out to tell the world that, yes, her breasteses are still his breakfast, and everyone was happy. Someone will play the video of this at Blue Ivy’s 21st and everyone will giggle. The end.

Lorde

The most amusing thing about this was that Lorde was essentially ridiculing a pretty significant proportion of the people in this room. The least amusing thing about this was that her presence here rather gave lie to the entire premise of “Royals,” because if you’re playing the Grammys, the whole “We will never be royals” thing doesn’t really fly anymore. Welcome to the establishment, Ella. No doubt a horde of professional fixers will be along to advise you on refining those endearingly weird scratchy-cat dance moves any minute now.

Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, etc.

“Country” has become such a broad rubric in 2014 that there is virtually no resemblance between this and the pish that passed as country during the rest of this ceremony. It’s rather lovely to see three genuinely great songwriters getting to share the stage at the Grammys, even if they had to do so against a curiously clichéd country house backdrop. Just think: if Townes Van Zandt had lived, he might have been up there too.

Taylor Swift

Also on the (somewhat) country front, this was fine, in a quintessentially big American power ballad-y kind of way. Swift is generally a more palatable prospect when she’s not singing her identikit pop songs, “All Too Well” is one of her better tunes, and the performance appeared genuinely heartfelt (that head-banging!). Epic death stare at the end, too.

Metallica and Lang Lang

C’mon, “One” is a great song. Even the, um, adventurous idea of pairing them with Chinese pianist Lang Lang worked rather well. Throw enough of these weird collaborations at the wall and one of them will stick, eh?

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr

Historical significance aside, though, why the hell did they play a random latter-day McCartney song?

Pink and the One from Fun. Who Isn’t Dating Lena Dunham

Aerobatics/choreography/other House of Yes antics: A+. Song: D. Presence of fun. bro: F. Mustache of fun. bro: Z-.

John Legend

It’s pretty much an indication of proceedings that by the time you’ve gotten about an hour into the ceremony, your expectations are at a level where “not actively offensive” comes as a relief. Legend has a beautiful voice, and is a genuinely talented musician. His music is as wet as a lemonade sandwich, but whatever. Small mercies.

Chicago and Robin Thicke

Look, I don’t particularly like Chicago, but there’s something vaguely insulting about the implicit idea here: that they’re not important/well-known enough to perform without a relevant pop star singing into a gold microphone. And the performance of “Blurred Lines” was a Thing That Should Not Be. Dear god. Between this and the embarrassing Kendrick Lamar spectacle, heads should roll at Grammy Central. They won’t, of course.

Keith Urban and Gary Clark Jr

Dudes with guitars jammin’ for the benefit of other dudes with guitars. Meh.

Sara Bareilles and Carole King

See above, except women with pianos.

Ringo Starr

People tend to get upset when you say nasty things about Ringo Starr, but can we all agree that his talents lie more in his drumming than in his qualities as a frontman? This sounded like something you’d hear on a largely forgotten ’70s-era Neil Diamond record.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and, um, Madonna

Oh, if only it’d been the Angel Haze version of “Same Love.” As for the rest of it… I mean, what is there to say about Queen Latifah marrying 34 couples while Madonna wielded a cane like some sort of slightly terrifying fairy godmother? Good to see there were lots of straight people and church imagery to make it palatable for middle America, eh?

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Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, and Lindsey Buckingham

Yes, I watched until the end. Did you? Well, if you ever wanted to see Josh Homme and Trent Reznor soundtrack the Grammys’ credits while sponsors’ announcements play and Lindsey Buckingham stands around looking confused, hey, you missed out!

Kacey Musgraves

In fairness, she was on a hiding to nothing following Kendrick Lamar, but this was the most beige sort of pop country. And what the hell was with the neon cacti, anyway?

Katy Perry and Juicy J

The song was utterly nondescript, so let’s talk about the general air of sub-Siouxsie/Corpse Bride goth that surrounded this performance. Shout out the Nazgûl!

Hunter Hayes

True fact: inspirational songs are the single worst thing in the universe, especially when performed by people like this… person. As if the song wasn’t enough, it was performed against a montage of asinine, allegedly uplifting quotes from John Lennon, Steve Jobs, Johnny Depp, and, um, Lady Gaga. (“There is no difference between the bully and the victim,” quoth Gaga. Um, yes there is.) Can we just skip to the bit where this kid is drag-racing Lamborghinis and throwing eggs at his neighbors already?

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