NEW YORK — Kendrick Lamar kicked off the Grammy Awards with a powerful and poignant performance featuring video screens displaying a waving American flag behind him, as background dancers dressed as army soldiers marched and moved behind.
He was joined Sunday by U2’s Bono and The Edge, and also Dave Chappelle — who told jokes in between Lamar’s performance — at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Lamar performed “XXX” from his album “DAMN.” At one point, Lamar’s background dancers, dressed in red, were shot down as he rapped lyrics, later coming back to life as fire burst to end the six-minute performance.
“I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America,” Chappelle said.
Lamar and Bruno Mars walked into Grammy Awards with three wins each, putting them as favorites for top awards like album and record of the year.
Lamar beat out Jay-Z for the three awards he won. Either artist could make history and become the first rapper to win record of the year and the third to win album of the year. And the Grammys are almost guaranteeing that this year will be historic: Four of the five album of the year nominees are rap and R&B-based albums from black or Latino artists. The other big awards of the night — song and record of the year — also are dominated by hip-hop, R&B and Latin music.
“Kendrick’s performance will be, I think, like nothing that’s been done at the Grammys before,” said James Corden, who is returning to host the show for a second straight year. “It’s incredible and actually it made us rethink the whole thing that we were going to do in the show.”
Other performers include Fonsi and Yankee, Mars with Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Pink, Gambino, Emmylou Harris and Chris Stapleton, Elton John and Miley Cyrus, Sam Smith, Little Big Town, Rihanna with DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller, Sting and SZA, which is the most nominated female act with five.
The night also will feature some serious moments. Earlier this week, key music executives called on artists and employees to wear a white rose at the Grammys in support of Time’s Up and #MeToo, the movements against sexual abuse and harassment. Singers Halsey and Dua Lipa, as well as Grammy-nominated rapper Rapsody, were some of the first to say they would wear white roses.
The Grammys will air live from Madison Square Garden at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.