It’s the musician’s first Grammy performance since 2002, when he sang “New York State of Mind” with Tony Bennett
Billy Joel took the Grammy stage for the first time in 22 years to live debut his new single “Turn the Lights Back On,” which he dropped Thursday night.
Wearing sunglasses, Joel played the song on piano alongside his longtime touring band and a string section. It was the culmination of an emotional evening that also saw Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell make stunning returns. “That’s right, ya’ll!” Trevor Noah told the crowd when it was over. “One of the greats!”
“Turn the Lights Back On” is Billy Joel’s first new song since 2007’s “Christmas in Fallujah.” (The Grammys kept wrongly insisting “Turn Your Lights Back On” is Joel’s first single in 31 years. He also released “All My Life” in 2007. The 31-year gap refers to River of Dreams, his most recent album of original pop songs.) “Turn The Lights Back On” was produced by Justin Bieber/Ariana Grande songwriter Freddy Wexler, who co-wrote the song along with Joel, Wayne Hector, and Arthur Bacon.
The romantic ballad is ostensibly about a couple trying to rekindle their romance, but it can also be read as Joel speaking to his audience after years of denying them new material. “I’m late,” Joel sings. “But I’m here right now/And I’m trying to find the magic/That we lost somehow/Maybe I was blind/But I see you now.”
He wrapped up the night by breaking out his 1980 classic “You May Be Right,” which is his standard set closer on the road.
Joel last played at the Grammys back in 2022 when he performed “New York State of Mind” with Tony Bennett. Prior to that, he played “River of Dreams” at the 1994 ceremony. That was the year Grammy producers cut Frank Sinatra off mid-speech and went to commercial. Joel stopped the song midway through to mock them for disrespecting the icon. “Valuable advertising time going by,” he said to roars of laughter from the audience. “Valuable advertising time going on. Dollars, dollars, dollars…”
Joel is going to spend much of the year playing baseball stadiums across America, with Stevie Nicks, Sting, and Rod Stewart taking turns as the opening act. He’s also wrapping up his decade-long monthly residency at Madison Square Garden. The final MSG show will take place on July 25.