Lady Gaga has paid a psychedelic tribute on the Grammys stage to late British rock visionary David Bowie with a multimedia song-and-dance performance that sought to capture the boundary-pushing essence of a kindred pop music spirit.

Bowie, a forerunner of Gaga's brand of provocative, gender-bending performance imagery, died of cancer at age 69 on January 10, just two days after the release of what became his critically acclaimed final studio album, Blackstar.

Gaga, 29, a six-time Grammy winner who, like Bowie, is known for frequent self-reinvention, arrived on the red carpet dressed in an outfit that channelled Bowie's signature androgynous look, sporting a bright, blue embellished jacket-dress and bright orange hair.

On stage she charted Bowie's half-century career with a medley touching on 10 of his hits - Space Oddity, Changes, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City, Rebel Rebel, Fashion, Fame, Under Pressure, Let's Dance and Heroes.

The song-dance number was punctuated by a torrent of flashing multi-coloured lights and images projected on a large screen behind her, including a close-up of her face adorned in Aladdin Sane makeup - a nod to one of Bowie's personas - with a spider crawling over her nose.

Visual effects during Gaga's tribute to David Bowie included signature lightening bolt and spider images.
Visual effects during Gaga's tribute to David Bowie included signature lightening bolt and spider images.

Gaga received a standing ovation from the audience inside the Staples Centre in downtown Los Angeles following her performance, which was also heavily praised on social media.

The singer said paying tribute to Bowie at the Grammys is probably the most challenging thing she's done in career because the icon influenced her greatly and helped shape her identity.

Days before the performance, she said in an interview with The Associated Press that performing in his honor was a bittersweet way to say goodbye to one of her inspirations.

"When I was 19 years old ... I started to live my life like him. I began to consume art and fashion and art history and a combination of those things, performance technique ... and I only hung out with people that were artists and that was the way that he was and I learned that from him," she said.

"What I'm trying to say is there's people that love David Bowie, and then there's David Bowie fans, and there's Bowie kids, who live like him ...and I can't express to you, I don't know who I'd be if I didn't have (him as) a figure in my life. I don't know what my identity would be."

Bowie died of cancer at age 69 on January 10. Gaga said she never met Bowie, but that they "were pen pals."

The world loves you David.

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The pop star was already set to perform at the Grammys, but asked to sing in tribute of Bowie after he died. And days before the Grammys, she got a large tattoo of Bowie's face on the side of her body.

"I've been wanting to get one for a long time. I was thinking about how there's a lot of my fans that have Lady Gaga tattoos, some of them are really covered, and I always thought it was so badass the way that they were so committed to my music," she said.

"I have a lot of ink already on my body, different sort of artistic prayers and thoughts and things that mean something to me, but I always wanted to get a tattoo of somebody that changed my life. And he really did."

Earlier in the show, another late pop talent, Eagles co-founder, guitarist and songwriter Glenn Frey, was saluted by surviving members of his band who joined Jackson Browne for a performance of one of the Eagles' biggest hits, Take It Easy.

Eagles frontman the late Glenn Frey was saluted by surviving members of his band during a performance of Take it Easy.
Eagles frontman the late Glenn Frey was saluted by surviving members of his band during a performance of Take it Easy.

Frey, who co-founded the Eagles with Don Henley in 1971 in Los Angeles, died at age 67 in January of complications from a number of ailments, including pneumonia.

Browne, who co-wrote the song, stood in for Frey on lead vocals, with the Eagles' familiar backing harmonies and laid-back instrumental accompaniment from Henley, along with Joe Walsh, Timothy B Schmit and Bernie Leadon.

In other musical homages to the fallen of pop music, Stevie Wonder joined the a cappella group Pentatonix for a tribute to Maurice White, late founder of the R&B funk band Earth, Wind & Fire, with a performance of the title track off the band's hit album, That's the Way of the World.

Bonnie Raitt teamed up with Chris Stapleton and Gary Clark Jr on The Thrill Is Gone in salute of the late blues icon B B King.

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And The Hollywood Vampires, the music supergroup comprised of actor Jonny Depp, Alice Cooper and Joe Perry, rocked the house down with their tribute to late rock legend Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister.

They honoured Lemmy, who died in late December from cancer at the age of 70, with a high-energy performance of song Ace of Spades.