With Smith appearing like a devilish ringleader and Petras locked in a cage in front of a backline of fire, the explosive performance took cues from the song’s sultry music video, which was staged in an underground sex club and featured porn stars and characters from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The duo’s performance was introduced by Madonna, who coyly asked, “Are you ready for a little controversy?” She then added, “If they call you shocking, scandalous, troublesome, problematic, provocative, or dangerous, you are definitely onto something,” and gave thanks to all artists like Smith and Petras who are “rebels forging a new path and taking the heat for all of it … Here are two incredibly talented artists that have risen above the noise, doubt, and critics into something truly unholy.”
After the performance, host Trevor Noah pretended to be on the phone trying to calm down his mom. “It wasn’t the actual devil,” he joked. “They were just dressed like the devil.”
“Unholy” made history earlier in the ceremony when it won best pop duo/group performance, making Petras the first openly transgender Grammy winner. Petras took pause to reflect on that accomplishment while also thanking late producer/collaborator SOPHIE. “Your inspiration will forever be in my music,” Petras shared. The night also marked Petras’ Grammys debut performance and nomination.
“Unholy” appears on Smith’s fourth studio album, Gloria, and is their ninth song to top the U.K. singles chart. Smith and Petras most recently performed the song together on Saturday Night Live on Jan. 21.