The Wildest and Most Talked-About Grammys Moments Ever

From botched performances to history-making upsets.

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The Grammys are designed to recognize and reward excellence in the music industry, but as you'll see, they're not without controversy. From botched acceptance speeches to weird Grammys outfits and performances that went badly wrong, almost every Grammys ceremony has brought with it a moment that became a cultural flashpoint—for better and for worse.

Below, we're rounding up the weirdest, wildest, and most-discussed Grammys moments ever,

Offset & Cardi B's PDA

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Cardi B and Offset have never been shy about...anything relating to their on-again-off-again relationship. In 2023, they were decidedly on, touching tongues on the red carpet. It's a long line of PDA-centric red carpet moments that include, among other things, wardrobe malfunctions!

Eric Clapton Beats Nirvana

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Eric Clapton won a lot of Grammys in 1993, but what made some of the wins controversial was that his "Layla (Unplugged)," a song originally released in the '70s, defeated Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That plus a few other notable losses deemed the Grammys as out of touch.

Harry Styles' Speech

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During his award speech for album of the year (an upset over Beyoncé's Renaissance), Harry Styles said, in part, "This is so, so kind. This doesn’t happen to people like me very often." Fans, quickly honing in on the fact that the Grammys has historically awarded many white men, took umbrage.

Blue Ivy Shushes Her Parents

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It might be intimidating to have two parents as talented and famous as Beyoncé and Jay-Z. But it doesn't phase Blue Ivy; While her parents were clapping for presenters during the Grammys, she "shushed" them with a pushing-down hand gesture so they wouldn't interrupt Camila Cabello's speech. Iconic.

Kanye and Taylor Hug

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At an awards ceremony six years earlier, Kanye West had wrested the microphone from Taylor Swift to tell the audience that she shouldn't have won. Then, at the 2016 Grammys, the paired hugged, seemingly putting an end to their feud. (Spoiler alert: It was not.)

Doja Cat Almost Misses Her Win

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For their award for duo performance ("Kiss Me More"), SZA and Doja Cat were to take the stage. Poor SZA was on crutches and had to be helped take the stage. And Doja Cat, who had been in the bathroom, had to come rushing on stage a few minutes later. "Listen. I have never taken such a fast (pee) in my whole life. Thank you everybody!"

Adele Has Microphone Issues

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While Adele was performing “All I Ask” onstage in 2016, strange sounds kept interrupting her gorgeous vocals (and she looked visibly upset). She later shared on Twitter, "The piano mics fell on to the piano strings, that's what the guitar sound was,” adding, “It made it sound out of tune. S*** happens."

Christopher Cross' Grammy Sweeps

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You may not remember this singer, but at the 1984 Grammys Christopher Cross beat out a ton of more well-known performers to win Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. He beat out Frank Sinatra! (He would also go on to win an Oscar, but his following albums weren't as successful.)

M.I.A. Performs Pregnant

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M.I.A. didn't just perform pregnant: She performed on her due date. (As a formerly pregnant person, I applaud her decision as much as I am mystified by how she pulled it off.) She was also supposed to perform at the Oscars, but by then she had (unsurprisingly) given birth.

Elton and Eminem Perform

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At the 2001 ceremony, Elton John and Eminem performed "Stan." It was early in the rapper's career, whose lyrics were sometimes homophobic; When approached about the idea, John apparently was interested in order to help break down barriers. The performance is considered legendary (while still controversial), and the two hugged at the end of the performance.

Melissa Etheridge Performs Bald

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In 2005, while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, Melissa Etheridge took to the stage during a tribute to Janis Joplin—totally bald (and, as she reminisced later, too weak to move around). It was a huge news story, and support came pouring in for the singer.

Lady Gaga's Egg

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When you're Lady Gaga, it's hard to outdo yourself (hello meat dress!), but arriving to the Grammys in an egg held by latex-clad performers and only coming out onstage has to be up there. She later told British Vogue, “I was in the egg for three days…To be honest, at award shows, especially during this time, I didn’t like to talk to people."

Pink Does Some Serious Aerials

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By this point, Pink's aerial performances, featuring wire work and a ton of athleticism, are par for the course. But back in 2010 it was shocking. Being held up by wires and sometimes only a sheet (technical term: "aerial tissue"), Pink serenaded the crowd from high in the air. No surprise, people were as delighted as they were surprised.

Nicki Minaj's Exorcism

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No stranger to controversy, Nicki Minaj walked the red carpet with an actor dressed as, who else, the Pope. Once onstage to perform “Roman Holiday,” she performed with dancers dressed as monks and priests, then levitated above the stage during a mock-exorcism. The Catholic League, no surprise, was offended.

Helen Reddy Calls God a Woman

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Long before the Ariana Grande song, there was Helen Reddy. In her win for song "I Am Woman," she thanked then-husband Jeff Wald, "because he makes my success possible," and then thanked God, "because she makes everything possible." It was controversial!

The Grammys Tie

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The Grammys have had a few tied categories in its long history. But there's only been one for one of their most prestigious awards (Song of the Year): Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams’s “Evergreen” tied for the award with Joe Brooks’s “You Light up My Life.”

Neil Portnow's Comments About Women

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In 2018, post-ceremony during which only one woman received a solo award, Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy, told reporters “women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level” need to “step up.” Surprising almost no one, he faced backlash. He later said his comments were taken out of context and that he meant women face greater barriers and needed more support. "I regret that I wasn’t as articulate as I should have been."

The Weeknd Accuses the Grammys of Being Corrupt

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In 2020, after a successful After Hours album, The Weeknd received no Grammy nominations, and tweeted his displeasure. “The Grammys remain corrupt,” he tweeted, adding, “You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…” [He won again in 2022 as a featured artist on "Hurricane" for Best Melodic Rap Performance.]

Macklemore Beats Kendrick Lamar

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Macklemore (Ryan Haggerty) and Ryan Lewis won Best Rap Album (Kendrick Lamar was expected to win), and afterwards even Haggerty said he'd wanted Lamar to win. He shared the text he sent Lamar, which said, in part, "You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you. I was gonna say that during the speech. Then the music started playing during my speech, and I froze."

Annie Lennox's In Drag!

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Way before gender fluid dressing was more understood in our society, Annie Lennox took to the stage in 1984 to sing "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" dressed as a man. She later remembered that she scared the crap out of the stage manager (who was terrified because he couldn't find her to go on).

Frank Sinatra Is Cut Off

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At the 1994 ceremony, the guest of honor was none other than Frank Sinatra. But then, several minutes into his speech, CBS cut him off to go to commercial (oops). So Billy Joel, in the middle of his own performance, took a meaningful pause. And he held that pause for a while. It was a sneaky, subtle way to retaliate.

Aretha Franklin Makes an Impromptu Performance

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In 1998, it was a wild and kind of off-the-rails ceremony. But a shining moment from that night was Aretha Franklin, who stepped in after Luciano Pavarotti canceled last minute, to spontaneously sing in his place (and deliver one of the greatest performances ever, NBD).

ODP Storms the Stage

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In the same ceremony, Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol’ Dirty B****** rushed the stage, kissed presenter Erykah Badu, and protested that they'd lost Best Rap Album to Puff Daddy & the Family. All this, while someone else was being presented for Song of the Year. And he wouldn't be the only crasher—more on that later.

Jethro Tull Beats Metallica

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The first time the Grammys ceremony recognized Hard Rock/Metal, they chose to favor British rock band Jethro Tull (whom critics argued shouldn't even be in the category) over the masters of the genre, Metallica, who were nominated with one of their best albums. Both bands found it funny, but almost no one else did.

Shelby Lynne Wins Best New Artist

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After a fairly long career, country singer Shelby Lynne won "Best Newcomer," and even she noted that it was a surprising choice. Upon winning for her sixth(!) studio album, she took the stage and noted, “13 years and 6 albums to get here.” She beat out Brad Paisley!

50 Cent Interrupts Evanescence

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Before Kanye, there was 50 Cent. After losing the Best New Artist Grammy to Evanescence, he crashed their acceptance speech by circling the band, who had gathered at the podium, before being escorted off-stage. After receiving a Hollywood Walk of Fame star over 15 years later, he mentioned it again, so he's still mad about it?

Bob Dylan is Soy Bombed

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At the infamous 1998 Grammys, Bob Dylan's onstage performance was crashed…by a shirtless dude with the words "Soy Bomb" written on them. Michael Portnoy (a performance artist who was hired as a background extra and went rogue) later explained that it was meant as a "spontaneous explosion of the self." Okay!

Justin Timberlake Apologizes for the Super Bowl

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After a Super Bowl "snafu" in which Justin Timberlake revealed Janet Jackson's breast on stage, Timberlake came to the Grammys and gave this (underwhelming) apology after winning: "Listen, I know it's best a rough week on everybody…What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended."

Christina Beats Britney

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In 1999, both Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears were up for a Grammy for Best New Artist. It was the debate of the decade over who was more well-liked and, critically, who had the better vocals. The solution, in the case of the Grammys, was a win for Aguilera.

Queen Latifah Marries a Bunch of People

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Queen Latifah married 34 gay and straight couples while on stage (with stars including Macklemore and Madonna) at the 2014 Grammys. Macklemore sang “Same Love” and Madonna sang “Open Your Heart” while the rapper said the words to perform these legal unions.

J Lo Leads to Google Search

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When J Lo arrived to the 2000 Grammys in that dress (the green Versace that immediately established her as a superstar), it kind of literally broke the internet. Google had to invent their Image Search feature because simply everyone was looking for the photo.

Milli Vanilli

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If you're unfamiliar, Milli Vanilli was a hot singing duo in the '80s and '90s, even winning the 1990 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. But then, surprise! It turns out they were lip-syncing (and couldn't actually sing) they had to give the Grammy back. It's the first time that had ever happened.

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.