This year’s Grammys were supposed to be a return to normal. Then came The Slap

When stage hands rolled a huge copy of what appeared to be Lil Nas X’s head in place, the black and white faces of dozens of pop stars looked at from cardboard signs arranged, two to a bistro table, on the floor of the MGM Grand Garden Arena here.

With Billie Eilish just an outstretched arm from Lady Gaga and Carrie Underwood within the grumbling distance of Jon Batiste, the cozy set-up for Sunday night’s long-delayed 64th Grammy Awards promises plenty of celebrity hobbobbing missing from last year’s masked and distanced version of music. most important award ceremony.

“This show is about community, about seeing people we love and seeing them celebrated among their peers,” said Jesse Collins, one of Grammy’s executive producers, during a technical rehearsal this week.

But just days after Will Smith hit Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars, and started talking globally about the dangers of live television, it’s not hard to see the Grammys’ close and personal mood as a potential guilt – if also, perhaps, as a draw for viewers eager to witness another wild and unpredictable event.

“It’s true that one of the things that people love about live TV is that you do not know what will happen,” said another executive of the show’s executive, Ben Winston. “You do not know who will win a prize. You do not know who will win the Super Bowl. And you do not know what will happen when a lot of people are in a room together.”

None of the Grammy organizers would characterize The Slap, as it is already known, as a good thing for their show.

“I would hate to be a beneficiary of something like that,” said Jack Sussman, who oversees live events for CBS, which will broadcast the Grammys. When he saw the Oscars on ABC last weekend, Sussman said: “I was just so happy that I was not in [production] truck when it happened. “

Added Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, who presents the Grammys: “Nothing was nice about what happened.”

But when it comes to attracting an audience, the Grammys can undoubtedly use all the help they can get. Last year’s broadcast, the first under Winston’s control after four decades with Ken Ehrlich at the helm, won rave reviews but reached a historic low of Nielsen ratings, with just 8.8 million viewers – a 53% drop from 2020.

And even if it agrees with a picture of all the awards ceremonies – with the exception of this year’s Oscars, whose ratings increased by more than 50% from 2021’s lowest figures ever – the Grammys face special challenges ahead of Sunday’s ceremony.

Kanye West is up for this year’s album with “Donda”, although he is not supposed to appear in the Grammys broadcast.

(Evan Agostini / Invision / AP)

Kanye West, always a reliable driving force for attention, was prevented from appearing in the program due to threats he recently made on social media. A planned appearance by Foo Fighters was canceled after the band’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins, suddenly died on tour last week. Positive covid test results for two members of BTS have questioned the performance of the hugely popular boy band.

And so is the fact that the Grammys are taking place for the first time in Las Vegas, two months after the show was to take place on January 31 at its long-running home Arena in downtown Los Angeles. At the time, the academy said it had no choice but to postpone the event in the middle of an outbreak of the Omicron virus variant.

“I just hope people are familiar with the program,” said Winston, a British television veteran best known to Americans for turning James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” into a viral sensation. (Other members of the Grammys brain trust include executive producer Raj Kapoor, who acts as showrunner, and co-executive producer Jeannae Rouzan-Clay.) “People always think the Grammys are at the end of January, so my concern is that they know it. is this weekend ”- a message that CBS has hammered on TV spots during the NCAA basketball tournament.

A woman in a purple dress sings and plays guitar on stage.

Olivia Rodrigo will perform at the American Music Awards 2021 at LA’s Microsoft Theater on November 21, 2021.

(Kevin Winter / Getty Images for MRC)

To arouse interest, the show has performances planned by, among others, Eilish, Gaga, Underwood, Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X, Silk Sonic, Brandi Carlile and Chris Stapleton, as well as a tribute to Stephen Sondheim, who died in November. Trevor Noah from “The Daily Show” will be the host. Presenters will include Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa, Joni Mitchell (this year’s recipient of the academy’s MusiCares Person of the Year award) and Questlove, whose “Summer of Soul” was named Best Documentary at the Oscars right after Smith’s fight with Rock.

Batiste, a jazz and R&B composer who is also the bandleader in “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”, is the night’s most nominated act, with 11 nods. But younger viewers may be more inclined to line up to see if 19-year-old Rodrigo wraps up Grammy’s four biggest awards – album, record and song of the year, along with best new artist – because of his fantastic power ballad “Driver’s License.” (If she did, she would follow Eilish, who managed the feat in 2020.) An obstacle in Rodrigo’s path: 95-year-old Tony Bennett, whose collection of Cole Porter songs with Lady Gaga is current for this year’s album. Other high-profile artists vying for that prize are Eilish, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Doja Cat.

Regarding a potential appearance on Sunday of Bennett, who has Alzheimer’s disease, Kapoor said the producers are in touch with his team “daily”.

“We would roll out the red carpet if he could come,” Winston added. “But we are not safe at the moment.” (On Thursday, a poster with Bennett’s photo was among those in the nominees’ seating group.)

Apart from Bennett, this year’s artists are young crooked compared to the Grammys of Ehrlich’s time, when oldtimers like Sting and the Eagles seemed to take up as much time as any current hitmaker. Kapoor said that the producers simply reflect the nominations, which increasingly go to younger acts – in itself a change for Grammys, which for several years was criticized for rewarding established acts at the expense of pop innovators.

At the 2021 ceremony, the academy shut down Weeknd’s best-selling album “After Hours” from even a single nod; the group later reviewed its voting process to eliminate secretive “nomination review committees” of insiders that many (including Weeknd) suspected of falsifying the vote. The academy has about 11,000 eligible members, a pool of professionals from the recording industry that it has worked to diversify by age, race and gender.

“We’ve also gone from doing too many tribute performances so you have to find out why,” Winston said. The Grammys have traditionally said “Oh, it’s the 75th anniversary of this”, or “It’s been 20 years since this happened”, and that’s an excuse to do something. Our taste is that it might be better to show up something newer or something that people interact with.

“But we have not made a conscious decision that we do not want anyone over 45 on the program.”

Asked to develop the decision to block a performance of 44-year-old West – who now walks past Ye and later this month will lead the Coachella Festival – Mason said: “I do not want to comment on who we do not. Invite to the show. I think that it is bad taste to talk about it because there are many different reasons why artists may or may not perform. ” The academy has a famous rocky relationship with hip-hop artists, who say that Grammy voters do not appreciate or understand the culture, this year Drake asked that his album “Certified Lover Boy” be withdrawn from the award ceremony, probably as a form of protest.

Does Mason worry about not having Ye is a lost grade?

A man stands at a transparent podium.

Harvey Mason Jr., chairman of the board of the Recording Academy, said there was nothing the organization could have done to hold the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles this year.

(Bryan Bedder / Getty Images)

“With every artist, there are amazing things that come with them, and you always weigh everything,” he said. The rapper and producer, who has five Grammy nominations (including this year’s album for his “Donda”), is “definitely, definitely invited” to participate in the show, Mason added.

Although the broadcast itself will be back to pre-pandemic dimensions, with elaborate sets and a live arena audience at the MGM Grand, the so-called Grammy Week of events surrounding the ceremony is smaller this year due to the show’s move to Las Vegas. Key parties such as Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy gala and an annual brunch hosted by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation do not happen; Spotify, which is throwing a popular party to celebrate this year’s best new artist nominee, is still having its party, minus the usual live performances.

Bill Werde, director of the Bandier Program for Music and the Entertainment Industries at Syracuse University, typically travels to the Grammys in LA to network with “next-generation leaders in the music industry.” But this year he stays at home.

“That layer of the music industry – the people just under the CEOs of big companies – many of them will not go to Vegas,” he said, “so it’s a much less interesting proposal for someone like me.”

Mason, who pointed out that events such as Friday’s MusiCares dinner in honor of Mitchell have sold out, said: “There was nothing we could have done” to keep the Grammys in LA, given the show’s demands for a seat.

“People say, ‘Crypto must have been available. The forum must have been available. You only need two or three nights,'” Winston said. “We load two weeks before, so if you are looking for a room, you can take two full weeks in the middle [NBA and NHL] seasons and touring bands – no one sits and says “Oh, this arena is empty.”

“For us, it would have been cheaper to be in LA; it would have been closer to the industry, says Mason. “There are many things that would have been to our advantage if we could have stayed in LA” Among them: selling the expensive luxury boxes on Crypto to deep music bizzers; The MGM Arena has no boxes.

Winston also defended the delay from January. “Omicron just flew,” he said. “I knew no one who did not have it.” Then he added, “There were artists who did not want to be as great with their performance. They did not want to do it with so much ambition when everything might go an hour before the show if they test positive.”

Postponing “was not a public relations decision,” Mason said. “We were in the middle of a massive outbreak in LA. We were worried about hospital beds; we got reports from our CDC people who said it was very risky to continue with the show.”

Now, with the COVID numbers declining, “I think people want this feeling of community back,” Collins said.

Kapoor was at the Oscars and said that – at least before The Slap – “you could feel how different it felt in the room. It was actually so much joy that people could interact.”

That joy, Winston said, is what he hopes viewers will get from the Grammy Awards – provided, of course, that they care about watching.

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