Kendrick Lamar is a man of contradictions. For every self-reminder to "sit down, be humble" he instructs, Kendrick goes out there and gives yet another exhilarating live performance seemingly trying to top his last.
The most recent case in point: Sunday night (January 28) at the Grammys, when he opened the show with a militaristic, bracing, unexpected medley performance that also featured appearances from U2 and Dave Chappelle.
As he began delivering the rapid bars of his song "XXX." with laser focus, Kendrick stood in a variation of his Kung Fu Kenny getup, surrounded by dancers dressed as soldiers marching in place.
The message "this is a satire by Kendrick Lamar" appeared on the big screen behind him before he was joined by U2's Bono and The Edge for the song's melodic hook. (The Kendrick/U2 connection dates back to DAMN.'s arrival last April, when Bono sang the hook on "XXX." That part was later repurposed by U2 on their new album, Songs of Experience, as the chorus to the song "American Soul." Naturally, Kendrick also featured on that track.)
After, the soldiers released their energy, organizing behind him, flipping and dancing behind him as K.Dot spat as hard as he could.
And then, perhaps a bit unexpectedly, entered Chappelle (who previously talked to Lamar in a July 2017 conversation for Interview magazine) as a Greek chorus of sorts. "I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America," he said, "is a black man being honest in America." Then, it was back to Kendrick.
There were a lot more flames, of course, and a dancer who also hit a big drum in the middle of the stage. And by the end, Kendrick was the last man standing on the stage after the rest of his cohorts had all been "shot" down around him.
It was easy to see it as a callback to Kendrick's literally flaming medley of "DNA." and "HUMBLE." that opened the 2017 VMAs, where he performed in front of a steel wall on fire, and the video for "HUMBLE.," where his head is also on fire.
But on the Grammys stage, Kendrick's presence had become something else entirely. It's now the standard by which every awards-show performance should be measured.