If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past 15 years of Grammy performances, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected.
The award show has increasingly beefed up its affinity for oddball pairings, often making viewers clueless about what to expect when music’s biggest names take the stage. So while we mentally prepare for the surprises in store at this Sunday’s show, let’s look back at 12 of the most random Grammy collaborations.
Metallica and Lang Lang (2014)
Classical pianist Lang Lang kicked things off on a scorching note (like, literally… there were flames engulfing the stage) before the heavy metal rockers joined in, ripping through “One.” Sure, it was an oddball pairing, but their shared intensity and aggressive showmanship made for one hell of an electrifying performance.
Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons (2014)
How do you give the year’s most overplayed pop-rock song a much-needed jolt of energy? Easy: you let Kendrick Lamar splice it up and rip it to shreds while fusing it with a track of his own. That’s not to say K. Dot and his monstrous rapping on “m.A.A.d. City.” did all the work — Imagine Dragons head-banged in perfect universe during “Radioactive,” delivering a performance that’ll leave you exhausted just from re-watching it.
Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys (2013)
This collaboration was more head-scratching than shocking, with no apparent reason why Maroon 5’s “Daylight” ought to be paired with Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire.” Maybe the Grammy producers just wanted to avoid splurging on another set design? Whatever the reason, the two songs actually bled together in a semi-interesting way — and Keys and Adam Levine were more fun to watch together than they probably would’ve been alone.
David Guetta, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Foo Fighters, Deadmau5 (2012)
This outdoor tribute to EDM music began routinely enough, with Brown, Guetta, and Wayne delivering a straightforward rendition of their hit “I Can Only Imagine.” What made it surprising, though, was the Foos’ appearance. Frontman Dave Grohl had previously dissed electronic music on more than one occasion, but he apparently kicked his woes to the side for the night, roaring through “Rope” before Deadmau5 finished it off with a glow-in-the-dark light set.
Cee-Lo Green, Gwyneth Paltrow, Henson Company Puppets (2011)
What we have here is Cee-Lo Green resembling a bedazzled hybrid of a peacock and T-Pain. Things get weirder when you realize his backing band is a gang of Muppets, and then things get EXPONENTIALLY weirder when Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow descends from a staircase and butts in with the second verse. She had previously performed the song on an episode of “Glee,” and I’m still not entirely sure why that made her a fitting choice for the Grammys, but it happened. That part where she crawls on the piano in sky-high stilettos? It really, really happened.
Jamie Foxx, T-Pain, Slash, Doug E. Fresh (2010)
Jamie Foxx’s live rendition of “Blame It” had it all: faux-operatic vocalists, enough AutoTune to make T-Pain’s top hat-wearing head explode, a surprise cameo from Doug E. Fresh, and… a “November Rain” solo from Slash?! Just roll with it; this performance is actually pretty fun, bizarre excess and all.
Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus (2009)
Bet you forgot this happened, didn’t you? Considering how far they’ve come since (especially after both making the jump from country to pop), it’s a trip to see young Miley and Tay trading sugar-sweet verses and cheesy smiles with one another. Oh, how times have changed.
Jonas Brothers and Stevie Wonder (2009)
Back when the Jo Bros were Disney darlings with voices that had juuuust edged out puberty, they got perhaps the biggest boost of their career: a joint Grammys performance with THE Stevie Wonder. It’s a semi-cringey performance worth watching, if only to hear Nick Jonas go “C’MON STEVE-AY!”
Coldplay and Jay Z (2009)Embedded from player.vimeo.com.
Before Chris Martin bewildered audiences by duetting with Beyonce, he was scoring onstage cred with Mr. Beyonce. The Coldplay frontman crooned his way through the band’s piano-driven version of “Lost” before Hova hopped onstage with a verse of his own. Did it fit? Eh, not really, but it was cool to watch nonetheless.
Radiohead and Spirit of Troy (2009)
Thom Yorke and Co. delivered one of Grammys’ greatest and weirdest performances when they teamed up with the USC marching band. Their rousing rendition of “15 Step” was entirely unpredictable but a total blast to watch.
Linkin Park, Jay Z, and Paul McCartney (2006)
Collision Course, the collaborative rap/rock album from Jay Z and Linkin Park, will forever go down as one of music’s most unexpected projects. Their “Numb/Encore” mash-up was a huge radio hit, which didn’t make this genre-bending Grammys performance feel totally groundbreaking at the time. What DID set it over the top, though, was the addition of Sir Paul McCartney, who casually strolled onstage singing The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Why? I’m still not sure, but he and Chester Bennington managed some beautiful harmonies, hilariously punctuated by Jay’s “uh huh” and “that’s right” inflections.
Eminem and Elton John (2001)
At the time of this performance, Eminem was under fire for purportedly homophobic and misogynistic lyrics in his music. So when he took the stage and clasped hands with openly gay icon Elton John, it sent an important message to the world and, more importantly, to the gay community as a whole.