It’s hard to remember a time when music award shows were more about the nominees than the performers. Over the years, so many ceremonies have popped up — with an increasing number of performances to keep viewers engaged over an hours-long telecast — that memories of winners and losers easily fade, leaving only recollections of who owned stage on the night in question. Do you remember Kendrick Lamar winning best male hip-hop artist at the 2015 BET Awards? Doubtful, but you probably haven’t forgotten him bellowing “Alright” from the top of a cop car while the stage seemingly exploded beneath him. Can you name the video of the year winner at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards?
Relive the greatest musical moments of award-show history in our list below, and hope that after Sunday night, a couple performers from this year’s Grammys — a pregnant Beyonce? A reunited Tribe Called Quest? A now-or-never Sturgill Simpson? — make a convincing case to elbow their way in.
Not exactly the most hi-octane of displays — just a frog on a log, probably not even singing live — but easily as endearing as any performance with a fire pit or post-modern video montage has ever been.
If you think we need more than half a year’s distance to declare Beyonce’s Lemonade melange the pinnacle of the award-show performance, maybe ask presenter Serena Williams how long she thinks tennis fans should wait after her latest major win before declaring her the GOAT. Fact is, Bey’s 18-minute performance was so far ahead of the pack that comparing her to the rest of award show history feels like sizing public-access TV against Game of Thrones; the scale is just so wildly different that the comparison does no one any favors.