Maybe there's something about knowing you're following Gaga that might lead some of the less-appreciated pop auteurs to make a serious play for the spotlight, but regardless of the motivation, the trio here absolutely killed it. The performance they turned in worked around the night's tendency toward ridiculously over-the-top performance to provide something so focused and stylistically coherent that it couldn't help but stand out. B.o.B's was fine, but as soon as Bruno Mars' period-piece intro came on and the cameras switched to black and white, you knew you were in for something special. His Motowny (or, uh, R. Kelly-ish) performance of "Grenade" breathed new life into a song it's hard not to be sick of by now, while making a little clearer his artistic ambitions.
But the highlight was Janelle Monae announcing herself with a vengeance to a national audience by absolutely tearing into "Cold War." If you've seen her before, it wasn't anything new, but to see her grow in status—from the Bowery Ballroom to opening for Prince at Madison Square Garden to the Grammys—has been to see her grow more and more assured, to revel more and more in the opportunities she's been given. She earned this moment and seized it with both hands.
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