Even for the GRAMMY Awards, which takes pride in each unique performance on its world-renowned stage — performances that have collectively come to be known as GRAMMY Moments — the 57th telecast topped expectations. The show featured an impressive 23 performances, many offering teamings that were not only inspired, but resulted in illuminating versions of deeply powerful songs.
If you thought Sam Smith's multiple GRAMMY-winning "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)" was an aching heartbreak of a song, you may have been emotionally drained after Mary J. Blige joined Smith to add tent-revival urgency.
Katy Perry's "By The Grace Of God" already defies many of the California gurl's best-known pop hits, but following a personal plea from President Barack Obama to stop domestic violence and the real-life tale of abuse from survivor and activist Brooke Axtell, its unexpected impact brought the house to its feet.
And so went this year's telecast, performance after performance proving that GRAMMY Moments live well beyond the moment of their creation.
First-time GRAMMY performers AC/DC opened the show with fireworks and firepower, with singer Brian Johnson and guitarist Angus Young igniting the stage — and the playfully devil-horned audience — with "Rock Or Bust" and the classic "Highway To Hell."
But it was the next performance of "Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart" by Ariana Grande that arguably served as the true tone setter of the night, a poignant moment of soul-stirring singing that was as moving as it was entertaining.
Brits Jessie J and the ever-vibrant Tom Jones followed with a similarly breathtaking "You've Lost That Loving Feelin'" in tribute to the iconic song's co-writers, 2015 Recording Academy Trustees Award recipients Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Miranda Lambert then interjected a touch of rock-inflected hoedown energy, wheeling out her upbeat "Little Red Wagon" with attitude and energy to spare, tapping into her firecracker charisma.
Kanye West returned to the show's tacit theme of emotional message music with "Only One." Shadowy under a single spotlight, West bared it all with his ode to daughter North West, sung from the perspective of his late mother, and aimed at healing and happiness.
An ageless Madonna, still enviably contorting through Pilates-required dance numbers, debuted her new "Living For Love" with a bullfighting theme and a matador's determination and finesse.
Pulling out all the stops, Ed Sheeran, John Mayer, Herbie Hancock, and Questlove teamed for Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud." Despite such a group of heavyweights, they retained the song’s graceful rumination on enduring love.
The quartet then gave way to Jeff Lynne's ELO. GRAMMY winner Lynne led the band through an ELO signature, "Evil Woman," before joining with Sheeran for a rousing "Mr. Blue Sky."
Adam Levine reunited with former "The Voice" judge Gwen Stefani for Maroon 5's ballad "My Heart Is Open," with each bringing their formidable chops to the plea for love.
Last year, the GRAMMYs brought 33 couples to the stage for a mass musical marriage ceremony. This year, Irish singer/songwriter Hozier took the crowd to church with his GRAMMY-nominated hit. As "Take Me To Church" built to its climax, singer Annie Lennox joined to add an exclamation point, then segued into her cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You," as she did just that to the GRAMMY audience.
By now, Pharrell Williams has built a cottage industry around his inescapable hit "Happy." For his GRAMMY performance, joined by composer Hans Zimmer on guitar and pianist Lang Lang's otherworldly finger play, Williams' turned in a dark and satisfying take on the song.
After Perry's stirring "By The Grace Of God," Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga hit the stage like the second coming of ultimate lounge-act couple Louis Prima and Keely Smith. The pair was clearly having authentic fun onstage, at times truly "Cheek To Cheek."
Backed only by teen harpist Melody Tai, Usher performed a sweet version of Stevie Wonder's "Magic" in anticipation of "Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life — An All-Star GRAMMY Salute," a two-hour special that aired on CBS Feb. 16. Truly whetting appetites for that show, Wonder emerged from the shadows at the end of the song for an excitedly received harmonica solo.
The GRAMMYs took a trip to Nashville, Tenn., next for Eric Church's "Give Me Back My Hometown." Then it was just left of Nashville for Best New Artist nominee Brandy Clark's teaming with Dwight Yoakam for her "Hold My Hand," to which Yoakam contributed haunting background vocals.
The camera then shifted quietly to three silhouetted figures, in what is quickly becoming an iconic pose, for a debut performance of "FourFiveSeconds," Rihanna's new single with Paul McCartney and West. The trio represented almost unprecedented star power and the song was captivatingly striking in its stark presentation.
After Smith (who emerged as the night's top winner with four GRAMMYs) and Blige's roof-raising performance of "Stay With Me," Colombian singer/songwriter Juanes hit the stage for a performance of his reggae-tinged "Juntos," en español.
Actress Kristen Wiig served as the face of Sia for the latter's performance of "Chandelier," miming a comic version of the song's GRAMMY-nominated music video with young dancer Maddie Ziegler, while Sia earnestly sang from a corner of the set, in her customary back-to-the-audience stance.
Album Of The Year winner Beck teamed with Coldplay's Chris Martin for a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-inspired version of his acoustic gem "Heart Is A Drum." Though backed only by acoustic instruments, the song's tale of heartbreak and acceptance had an electric impact.
"We live in complicated times," said Gwyneth Paltrow in introducing Beyoncé's take on the gospel standard "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," "and now more than ever we need understanding and to acknowledge the feelings of others.”
Looking angelic in a white dress that gave the appearance of wings, Bey took the crowd to church literally, as Hozier had done metaphorically earlier.
The 57th GRAMMY Awards closed poignantly with John Legend and Common's stunning Selma theme, "Glory." The performance not only came two weeks prior to their Oscar turn, but taken together with Beyoncé’s preceding tour de force vocal performance, the finale drew a connection in the battle for equal rights from the '60s to the present — capping the night's powerful message about music's ability to stir people to greater awareness and action.