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Kendrick Lamar Opened the Grammys With a Bang

The rapper, whose April 2017 album ‘Damn.’ was nominated for seven awards on Sunday, put on a breathtaking, powerful performance


There’s still almost an entire awards season’s worth of sheeny fabrics and awkward reaction shots ahead of us. But I can still say with 99.99999 percent certainty that we’re not going to improve upon Kendrick Lamar’s opening performance at Sunday’s Grammys. It was explosive, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.

Like, as in, it was the sort of stuff that makes people call their loved ones and TYPE IN ALL CAPS on Twitter:

You know that one scene in Crank: High Voltage where Jason Statham, as Chev Chelios, grabs a transformer box and turns into a stories-tall monster? That’s me, right now. I am Chev, and this performance was my transformer box.

As paratroopers stomped out the rhythm of “XXX.” from Kendrick’s April 2017 album Damn.—which was up for seven statues on Sunday night—giant American flags waved on the monitors in the background. Then the troop of background dancers parted, and Kendrick stepped forward to peel off the first verse, a 401-word barrage of doubt, fear, and disillusion that doubles back on itself an impossible number of times. It was arresting. It was exhilarating.

And then Bono showed up out of nowhere, as he does, to lilt through the bridge, a sample of “American Soul”:

It’s not a place
This country is to me a sound of drum and bass
You close your eyes to look around

None of this is especially important—neither was Dave Chappelle’s cameo, which provided some pointed context to Lamar’s performance. (“The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America,” he said. “Sorry for the interruption.”)

What we need to talk about is the final set—verses from “DNA.” and “King’s Dead,” from the Black Panther soundtrack—wherein Kendrick’s background dancers donned head-to-toe red sweatsuits:

To say definitively what any of this means would be irresponsible at this point, but if his national championship game halftime performance was somewhat apolitical, this was extremely not that. As Lamar fired off each of his last few lines, a gunshot popped in the distance, and one by one the background dancers fell.

Good luck thinking about anything but that visual for the rest of the evening.