Live performances are often beautiful, provocative, inspiring, shocking, but they are very rarely scary. That’s a shame, because some of the rare horror-streaking live performances that graced the many stages of pop culture were also some of the most artful and boundary-pushing – not to mention entertaining.
Who could forget Nicki Minaj’s completely crazy but brilliant ones Exorcism-a “Roman Holiday” themed performance at the 2012 Grammy Awards, which started with his manic rap on a Catholic priest and ended with his levitation above the stage? Or the breathtaking and bloody performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” at the 2009 VMAs, which certainly made me believe in high school that I had seen a live homicide take place on stage? Understandably, both performances were received in an extremely controversial manner immediately afterward, but time has proven that they are both masterful works of art. Or at least camp, and abundant creativity.
Now that it’s Halloween season, NYLON is revisiting the live performances that scared us the most – and naturally blood, coffins, skeletons and religious imagery abound. Below we’ve rounded up 13 of the scariest musical performances of all time – from Nicki Minaj’s Grammys. exorcism, to Travis Scott flying on a gigantic evil bird, to Billie Eilish summoning the Babadook.
Lady Gaga, “Paparazzi” at the 2009 VMAs
There are many elements of Lady Gaga’s iconic 2009 VMA performance on “Paparazzi” that are downright creepy – her jerky dance moves, the sudden appearance of blood, her blind gaze as he hangs from a rope. – but it’s what the performance reflects to us about celebrity culture that’s really a disturbing part. Or, maybe it’s just that look.
Nicki Minaj, Roman’s exorcism at the 2012 Grammy Awards
You the pinnacle of spooky live performances, that of Nicki Minaj Exorcism-The 2012 Grammy-themed masterpiece featured a Catholic priest, a horror movie cutscene, and Minaj levitating above the stage. It’s one of those performances that you can only believe after seeing it.
Halsey, “I’m not a woman, I’m a God” Live
What to say: musicians love their fake blood! Halsey is at least rusty in color and slimy like the real thing.
Kim Petras, “There will be blood” at the shrine in 2019
OK – we admit that most of this performance is actually quite glamorous and chic, but Kim Petras who scrolls the room inside a coffin for two whole minutes deserves points.
Travis Scott, “The Butterfly Effect” at MTV EMA 2017
What could be scarier than your favorite rapper literally swooping down on you on a gigantic, evil-eyed animatronic bird ?! Lots of things, actually, but it still sounds pretty nasty.
Katy Perry, “Dark Horse” at the 2014 Grammys with Juicy J
Before #WitchTok, the culture had Katy Perry in full Hecate cosplay for her classic Halloween-themed performance of “Dark Horse.” Bring back that time!
Madonna, “Live for Love” at the 2015 BRIT Awards
Madonna’s supporting dancers all wear Lucifer-style horns, but the most terrifying part of the whole performance is the painful fall she goes through for a minute. Frightening !
Lady Gaga, “Marry The Night” at the 54th Grammy Nominations Concert
Of course, we had to include Lady Gaga twice. Here is her makeup as a skeleton, unintentionally proving that everything Halloween is also very camp.
Post Malone, “Hollywood’s Bleeding” at the 2021 Grammys
Post Malone is dressed as a distressed punk vampire hunter, but it’s his horde of backup dancers – who look like more gruesome versions of Professor Quirrell from Harry potter – which really make us shiver.
J Balvin, “Rojo” at the Latin Grammy Awards 2020
Taking a page from Lady Gaga’s book, J Balvin illustrated her bloody live performance for her boisterous love song “Rojo”.
The Weeknd, “Save Your Tears / In Your Eyes” at the 2020 American Music Awards
Has anyone seen Good night mom?
Billie Eilish, “bury a friend” live
Besides Billie Eilish folds completely upside down Exorcism-style, there is also a shadow resembling Babadook in this spooky performance.
Tyler, the creator, “EARFQUAKE / NEW MAGIC WAND” at the 2020 Grammy Awards
This performance is more thriller than scary, but the houses are set on fire and Tyler, the creator falls backwards into (presumably) hell so it’s still on the scary mark.