Skip to main content

The 13 best televised musical performances of 2014

The 13 best televised musical performances of 2014


Your input is requested

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Today on Vox, my bestest friend Kelsey McKinney picked the 15 best songs of 2014. Earlier this month, my other bestest friend Chris Plante (I have a lot of bestest friends, I'm not picky) named "Never Catch Me" the best music video of the year.

While I agree with them, mostly, I'd like to take a moment to appreciate the performances of 2014. It's one of my favorite parts of late night and award shows — a chance for the musician to show off with no second takes or (extensive) post-production.

Consider this a small sampling of the year's best performances. If your favorite isn't on the list, then it's probably because we didn't see it — so let us know!

Daft Punk and Stevie Wonder at the Grammys

It's rare for Daft Punk to perform these days, but when they do, it's an all-out spectacle (cf. pyramids). For this year's Grammy Awards, Daft Punk waits a full two minutes into "Get Lucky" before revealing themselves, opting instead to dance in a dark mocked-up recording room while Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder play, crescendoing into a blend of electronic and '70s funk. Admittedly, I still find this song catchy.

Prince on Saturday Night Live

Note: Looks like NBC has nixed the breakout clip, so just skip ahead to the 26-minute mark and enjoy

Prince is another musical recluse, but this year he released two albums and celebrated the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain. So he gets eight minutes on Saturday Night Live to play a medley of whatever he wants, because he's Prince. It was one of the best SNL musical spots this year.

Kendrick Lamar on Saturday Night Live

... but while Prince was pretty much guaranteed to rock the house, Kendrick Lamar was surprising in how dramatic and powerful his two performances of the night were. Honorable mention goes to his untitled song debut during The Colbert Report's last week, but performance-wise, his showmanship (and contact lenses) on "i" was the best.

Beyoncé and Jay Z introduce the Grammys

Beyoncé wasn't eligible for the 2014 Grammy Awards since she literally surprised the world with her self-titled album not one month prior. Still, it was all anyone could talk about, so she basically had to start the show with "Drunk in Love," featuring her husband Jay Z.

Hatsune Miku on Letterman

Does a hologram count as a live performance? The musicians around her were actually playing, so we're including it here. Hatsune Miku's US television debut is a landmark moment for the Japanese superstar. Sure, she's 100 percent artificial, but you could also say she's completely honest and upfront about her artificiality. Besides, she could be the future of music.

Harry Potter raps on The Tonight Show

With both Late Night and now The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon has always found ways to integrate music into the whole show. And while a number of Verge staffers recommended Lip Sync Battle, I'm going with Daniel Radcliffe's cover of Blackalicious's "Alphabet Aerobics" because he's actually performing and... you know... it's Harry Potter.

Jon Batiste and Stay Human on The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert has big shoes to fill when he takes over for David Letterman as host of The Late Show next year — not just for the obvious reasons, but also because Letterman managed to book impressive musical talent. The Colbert Report seemed to ramp up its musical guests over the last several years. This Jon Batiste and Stay Human performance is one of the all-time best if for no other reason than because it breaks out of the studio and onto the streets. Honorable mention goes to Michael Fassbender wearing a giant cartoon head singing about love.

Future Islands on Letterman

Multiple Verge staffers brought up this Future Island performance. I told Chris Plante I'd just quote him on this one: "For me, it's the most important live performance on late night in a decade because it's the only time I've seen a.) a band actually perform like they do on stage b.) the lead singer dance like my father on Quaaludes and c.) make grumpy David Letterman care about anything beyond his paycheck."

J. Cole on Letterman

Look, this list was getting long and I really wanted to include Run the Jewels, but J. Cole's performance was so powerful that I had to include him. Sorry for the arbitrary cutoff, El-P and Killer Mike.

Taylor Swift at the Grammys

Vox Media has an official Taylor Swift chatroom to talk about all things Taylor, and unanimously they said her take on "All Too Well" at the Grammy Awards was best of the year. I really don't want to argue with them; it's a pretty popular chat room.

Billy Joel acapella with Jimmy Fallon

One more Jimmy Fallon moment for the list. Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon use an iPad app to sing incredible harmonized doo-wop. Honorable mention, though it's more entertaining than musical, goes to the years-in-the-making Will Ferrell vs. Chad Smith drum-off.

Stephen Colbert's all-star send-off

The final Colbert Report music performance, starring Stephen himself and countless celebrity guests of variable / questionable musical talent. It was the perfect send-off to the character's nine-year run.

T-Pain: NPR Music Tiny Desk concert

So far, this list has been centered around performances that debuted on TV, but have you heard T-Pain sing without autotune? It's really, really good.