While organizers always push for a memorable Grammy Awards ceremony, some years — including 1996 — are more successful than others.
And although planning once-in-a-lifetime musical collaborations is one way to make that happen, sometimes artists will say or do something that shakes things up in a complete different way.
Before tonight’s ceremony delivers its share of viral vittles, intended or otherwise, TODAY.com is traveling back to Feb, 28, 1996, to rank the 11 most unforgettable moments.
11. Ellen DeGeneres kept things fun as host
According to author David Wild, DeGeneres promised/warned viewers, “This is not your father’s Grammys,” which, in some ways, wound up being true, as many of the night’s winners reflected the era (and, in some cases, only that era). More transcendent was DeGeneres herself, whose Grammy dance training — complete with “booty-slap” choreography — helped develop her patented moves for her subsequent talk show, premiering seven years later and still going strong in 2016.
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10. Hootie and the Blowfish won Best New Artist
In category that some fear is the kiss of death, Hootie and the Blowfish beat out Alanis Morissette (who won almost every other award she was up for that night), as well as Brandy, Joan Osborne and Shania Twain.
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9. Tupac Shakur presented with KISS
In another attempt to keep things new-school, Shakur announced, “Let’s shock the people!” That’s when KISS, in full costume and makeup, emerged to join the late West Coast rapper to announce the award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The winner: Hootie and the Blowfish for “Let Her Cry,” which beat out TLC’s “Waterfalls” and the Rembrandts’ “Friends” theme, “I’ll Be There for You.”
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8. Whitney Houston joined Ce Ce Winans and Shirley Caesar for a rousing gospel medley
Whether or not you’re a person of faith, it’s hard not to be moved by this all-star performance of “A City Called Heaven,” introduced and enhanced by the late, great Whitney Houston. Their performance brought the entire crowd to its feet.
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7. Joni Mitchell and her ex-husband Larry Klein charmingly made the most of a delightfully awkward situation
Mitchell said she and Klein “made this album in the state of divorce,” then laughed, “I promise I won’t finish your sentences” as she yielded the rest of her speech time to Klein. He noted, “I’d like to thank Joan who is, I think, the best songwriter around these days, and thank her for 10 years of instruction.”
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6. Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey perform the monster hit “One Sweet Day” but fail to win a Grammy
Despite its huge success (as it remains the longest-running No. 1 song on the Billboard Top 100 chart) and being Carey and Boyz II Men’s most successful single, the collaborators went home empty handed. Don’t feel too bad, though, as Carey has won five Grammys and Boyz II Men collected four of their own.
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5. Seal won two biggies and sang a soulful tribute
Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” snagged two major victories: Record of the Year and Song of the Year. He also won big with his beautiful tribute performance of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On” with fellow Grammy-winner Annie Lennox.
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4. Eddie Vedder didn’t know what to make his Best Hard Rock Performance win
The band’s lead singer told the audience, “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything. That’s just how I feel. There’s too many bands, and you’ve heard it all before. My dad would’ve liked it; my dad died before I got to know him. He would’ve liked it, so, that’s why I’m here. Thanks, I guess.” Some viewers found the sentiment rude and ungrateful; others cheered him for favoring art over hardware.
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3. TLC performed and won multiple awards, but made even bigger news backstage
Despite peaking as one of the best-selling girl-groups of all time, this was the night TLC announced, backstage, that they were bankrupt.
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2. Coolio wins for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” but has a few words for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody, “Amish Paradise”
More drama unraveled backstage when Coolio ripped Yankovic’s reinterpretation of his song. “I ain’t with that,” Coolio told the press after his win, according to Splitsider. “I think that my song was too serious. I really…don’t appreciate him desecrating the song like that…. His record company asked for my permission, and I said no. But they did it anyway.” A shocked Yankovic expressed confusion over the issue, but apologized anyway, and the two later patched things up.
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1. Album of the Year and Best Rock Album went to Alanis Morissette
At age 21, Morissette was youngest to claim Album of the Year honors until Taylor Swift achieved the same feat at age 20 in 2010. The two teamed up to perform “You Oughta Know” on Swift’s star-studded tour last year.
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Other notable moments from the 1996 ceremony:
- Almost two years after the death of Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s “Unplugged in New York” won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance.
- D’Angelo and Tony Rich delivered a simultaneous and hypnotically soulful medley of four of the legendary Steve Wonder’s greatest hits.
- Michael and Janet Jackson’s $7 million visual oeuvre for “Scream,” reportedly the most expensive music video ever made, won the Grammy for Best Short-Form Music Video.
Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.