Five Best Performances
1. Jennifer Hudson Grammy host L.L. Cool J had a hard enough job presiding over a celebration undercut by tragic circumstances, and he achieved a perfect, almost pastor-like tone from the get-go. But Miss Hudson's musical tribute to Whitney Houston - a subtly searing but still reverential rendering of the fallen legend's biggest hit, "I Will Always Love You" - went above and beyond.
2. Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt Two more reminders that there are heaven-sent voices left on earth, Keys and Raitt made the late Etta James' "A Sunday Kind of Love" soar. Raitt especially didn't even have to push her voice to deliver the goods.
3. The Beach Boys, Maroon 5, Foster the People The fear of suckdom going into this segment overwhelmed, as we envisioned horrifying mash-ups of "Pumped Up Kicks" and "Surfin' USA." But all kept it sweet and simple, from Adam Levine's earnest "Surfer Girl" to Foster the People's easy-breezy "Wouldn't It Be Nice" to the actual Beach Boys' reunion on "Good Vibrations." We do have to dock points for Mike Love's corny merch-booth cap.
4. Glen Campbell, Blake Shelton, the Band Perry Yep, another tribute. With so much attention paid to recreating the works of legacy acts, we thought for a minute we'd switched to a PBS pledge-drive concert. Campbell, who's saying goodbye to live performances after his Alzheimer's diagnosis, sounded terrific on "Rhinestone Cowboy," and his enthusiasm was equaled by Shelton ("Southern Nights") and the whipper-snappers in the Band Perry ("Gentle on My Mind").
5. Adele Undoubtedly the brightest star of the new Grammy generation, with her pre-show 60 Minutes interview and inevitable award sweep. Her lively performance of "Rolling in the Deep" played like a victory lap, complete with an overlong standing O. Take it all in, girlfriend.
Five Worst Performances
1. Chris Brown He broke out his increasingly tired dance trickery while lip-syncing to an Auto-Tuned track not once, but twice. A solo turn and neon-vomiting "collaboration" with David Guetta, Deadmau5 and Foo Fighters. [Grandpa voice] And the kids call this ... MUSIC?!
2. Rihanna, Coldplay Ri-Ri's voice sounded shaky as she opened the set with "We Found Love," and the situation only worsened when she and Chris Martin attempted to blend on "Princess of China." By the time the diva left the stage and Coldplay began to butcher its own single, "Paradise," we were trying to fast-forward live television. It still doesn't work. (Apple should get on that.)
3. Nicki Minaj You could almost hear her backstage, talking to her dressing room mirror: "Gaga only thinks her performances are psychotic. Bitch, I'm gonna take it to the mental ward tonight! Institutionalize everyone who's watching!" This imagined pep talk preceded what would become the most panned performance of the night (on Twitter, at least) - a mini off-Broadway take on Minaj's single, "Roman Holiday," which included a pointless mini-film, lots of bleeped rapping and way too much not-music.
4. Katy Perry Alanis Morissette called, and she wants her post-relationship anger back. Next time, just shoot something out of your tits.
5. Jason Aldean, Kelly Clarkson Nothing wrong with the actual performance of their power ballad, even though it sounds like the title song to some imaginary An Officer and a Gentleman sequel. It's just that they've performed it on, like, every awards show ever. Grammy night's supposed to be the time to surprise us. Couldn't they have covered "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma," or something?
Somewhere in between: Opener Bruce Springsteen brought wet-eyed intensity to his performance of his new single with the E Street Band, a patriot's anthem called "We Take Care of Our Own." ... Bruno Mars relied on old tapes of Elvis, James Brown and Andre 3000 when putting together his gold-lamé-tinged performance of "Runaway." ... The Civil Wars stole the thunda from unda Taylor Swift by introducing her song with a song of their own. ... Foo Fighters cut loose for the folks outside the venue during their first appearance of the night. They should have quit while they were ahead. ... Carrie Underwood and Tony Bennett slowed down "It Had To Be You" so much it sounded like a screw remix. ... Beatle royalty Paul McCartney hogged the spotlight throughout, first with a sleep-inducing "new American standard" capitalizing on Valentine's Day, and finally with a slightly rote closing segment featuring Abbey Road material and guitar-wielding guest stars.
And someone tell Gaga to keep her golden staff at home next time. She wasn't quite the queen of the night this time around.