Sunday night's Grammy Awards was all about two women: Adele and Whitney Houston. The former was the night's big winner, emerging victorious in all six of the categories she competed in, including the Big Three: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. And Houston's death on Saturday permeated the event's entire proceedings. The music industry's big night opened with a prayer in honor of the late singer, and mourning stars honored her memory throughout the ceremony. Here are six of the performances from Grammy night that critics are buzzing about:
1. Adele — "Rolling in the Deep"
Much of the night was spent building up to Adele's highly-anticipated performance of "Rolling in the Deep," her first since undergoing throat surgery in November. There were concerns about how she would perform, says Dan Fienberg at HitFix. "The answer? Flawlessly." Her vocals were more powerful than ever, the arrangement refreshingly spare. Adele even managed to revitalize a song that had become maddeningly ubiquitous. She followed up by winning the night's biggest award: Album of the Year. As she tearfully kissed her boyfriend; joked that her record was inspired by a "rubbish relationship;" and adorably realized during her speech, "Oh my God, snot," she proved that her personality is as "infectious" as her songs, says Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. In more ways than one, it was Adele's night.
2. Jennifer Hudson — "I Will Always Love You"
Jennifer Hudson reportedly had trouble staying composed during rehearsals of her tribute to Whitney Houston, a stirring rendition of "I Will Always Love You," says Gregory Ellwood at HitFix. It's understandable, considering the pressure of singing that mammoth song in salute of an icon just a day after her passing. But Hudson "delivered a rendition to move even the coldest hearts." The Oscar-winner wisely side-stepped a big crescendo and sappy orchestration, opting for a spare arrangement that allowed her to belt it out, says Williams at Salon. It was, simply put, "beautiful." If there's one thing to complain about, says Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic, it's the there wasn't more attention given to Houston. Hudson's performance "will be talked about for a long time," but many viewers wanted more.
3. Bruce Springsteen — "We Take Care of Our Own"
The Boss and his E Street Band were dressed in all black opening the ceremony with a "rousing run" of their new song, "We Take Care of Our Own," a "choice that felt especially poignant in light of the events of the previous 24 hours," says Ray Rahman at Entertainment Weekly. It was a perfect, appropriate to kick off the evening, says Williams. "It was soulful, spirited, and just the right touch of mournful." Beyond that, says Tamar Anitai at MTV, the performance confirmed that "Bruce Springsteen does not age."
4. Bruno Mars — "Runaway Baby"
"Get off your rich asses and lets have fun!" Bruno Mars instructed the Grammy audience during his high-energy, '50s pop homage performance of "Runaway Baby." The singer was backed by a full horn section — all donning matching shiny gold blazers and bow ties — and expertly channeled James Brown's loose-limbed, suave dance moves. It was a breakout moment for Mars, says Daniel Montgomery at Gold Derby. His "doo-wop showmanship" was the "surprise highlight of the night." Agrees Chris Eggerton at HitFix: "It was nearly flawless."
5. The Band Perry, Blake Shelton, and Glen Campbell — Tribute Medley
Of the two tribute medleys staged on Sunday night, The Band Perry and Blake Shelton's performance with country legend Glen Campbell easily trumped the awkward collaboration of Maroon 5, Foster the People, and the Beach Boys, says Randall Roberts at the Los Angeles Times. It was one of the ceremony's few moments that "cut through the sarcasm and earned only sincerity," says Fienberg. Things started off slowly with The Band Perry's rendition of "Gentle On My Mind," built up with Shelton's take on "Southern Nights," but really hit its stride when Campbell hit the stage for sing-a-long rendition of "Rhinestone Cowboy" that was "by far the greatest exhibition of bad-ass, rock-and-roll indomitability of the night," says Williams.
6. Nicki Minaj — "Roman Holiday"
Perhaps no performance was more divisive than Nicki Minaj's gothic, theatrical, campy, and all-out-odd rendition of her new single "Roman Holiday." "It was like watching a low-budget spin-off of The Exorcist turned into an off-off Broadway musical that's canceled after opening night," says Idolator. But not everyone panned the flashy performance. "Minaj christened herself pop's new weirdo," says James Reed at The Boston Globe. Without Lady Gaga and Madonna adding their unique brand of spectacle to Sunday's show, her "elaborate multimedia performance… was brash, jolting, and downright bizarre."