Like the Oscars, the Grammy Awards are seen by millions around the world, but even with dozens of unblinking CBS television cameras around the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles, much is missed by the viewers at home. For the thousands inside the building on Monday night, there were some memorable 2016 Grammy moments to see and hear when the cameras were off.
A live national TV broadcast can inspire a lot of emotion from cast and crew: excitement, pride and panic. In the few minutes before the Grammy Awards broadcast began Monday night, fans in the audience witnessed some of the moving parts within the mind of longtime executive producer Ken Ehrlich, as he opened the show with his traditional greeting to the live audience. “I’m out here for a couple of moments. I have a couple of things to tell you,” he explained as audience members slowly moved to their seats, blocking aisles near the main stage. He thanked the writers and crew behind the scenes, the talent and presenters, but kept an eye on the aisles. “We need everyone sitting down. Anybody listening? Please sit down. This aisle needs to be clear in two minutes!”
As the countdown clock visibly inched closer to the 5 p.m. West Coast showtime, he took comfort in the presence of his veteran TV crew, and wanted to share credit for the night. “I want to introduce you to our director, Lou,” Ehrlich said, but he heard only silence in response. “Lou, are you there? Don’t scare me, Lou.”
It was a bittersweet Grammy moment for the Eagles as they performed “Take It Easy,” their 1972 debut single, with co-author Jackson Browne sitting in on lead vocal for the late Glenn Frey. They performed it as a tribute to the fallen Eagle, who died last month at age 67, and also had founding guitarist Bernie Leadon back in the band. The song ended, the lights went down, and the show cut to a commercial. What TV viewers didn’t see was Ehrlich calling the Eagles back to the stage. “Thirty-nine years ago, you guys won Record of the Year for ‘Hotel California.’ We’re here because a certain manager said, ‘They’re going to be at Lucy’s, and if they win, they’ll come,'” Ehrlich recalled. “But you didn’t come, so now 39 years later, it’s our honor to present you with your Grammy. Hotel California is probably one of the greatest albums ever made.”
As ticket holders entered Staples Center for the broadcast portion of the Grammy Awards ceremony, they were handed two items: a 240-page program and a mysterious white plastic bracelet. Its purpose became clear at the beginning of the show as Taylor Swift stepped onstage to perform “Out of the Woods.” All around the arena, the bracelets lit up and flashed multiple colors during the song, creating a starry field of lights in the dark arena. When the song ended and LL Cool J took over the show, the bracelets had served their purpose and were never used again. With no way to flip the bright lights back on, many fans abandoned the white plastic give-aways on the floor when leaving their seats three hours later.
No-Shows: She Said, He Said
Two hugely popular female artists set to appear on this year’s Grammys never made it onstage during the broadcast: Rihanna and Ms. Lauryn Hill. Most fans at home and inside Staples Center had no idea, or just how close they came to appearing. Less than an hour before showtime, Rihanna informed producers she was too sick to perform “Kiss It Better” as scheduled, and the song was cut from the program. Hill was set to make a surprise appearance with the Weeknd during “In the Night.” Earlier in the day, she performed at the dress rehearsal, then never returned.
A statement from Hill’s camp followed: “The Grammys announced a performance by Ms. Lauryn Hill prematurely and without approval. Ms. Hill had concerts all weekend, leaving no time to prepare, and was uncertain she would even be able to make it to L.A. in time to rehearse for the event. Any performance that could have happened was never confirmed, and should not have been advertised as such.”
In a rare public disagreement with a major artist, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow declared at a backstage press conference: “None of that statement is accurate. We did not announce her. She made the dress rehearsal and did not show up for the actual performance.” He said Hill was supposed to be a surprise and was invited by the Weeknd to join on his second song. “That’s what we rehearsed, and that’s what we expected to happen.”
Time Not on Her Side
Even winners of a major category like Best Song should understand that the clock is ticking the moment their names are read. This year’s winning songwriters were Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge, who made it up to the stage quickly, and Sheeran gave a short speech that included thanks to his parents, who have flown into L.A. for every one of his Grammy nods. He then happily passed the mic to Wadge as she put her hand to chest to begin her thank-yous. Not one word was heard because her microphone was cut and the big screen filled with the face of Glenn Frey from a vintage interview, and the Eagles began “Take It Easy.” The groans heard around the country were loudest inside the arena.
Adele’s Sour Note
Around the country, the Adele faithful were aghast at a sound glitch early in her otherwise elegant performance of “All I Ask,” which unfolded on the round satellite stage in the center of the arena. According to Portnow, the brief buzzing noises heard across the planet were caused by a microphone falling inside the grand piano beside her. “We have the A-plus [sound] team, so 99.9 percent of the time it’s flawless. We rarely have technical issues, but we did,” the Grammy president said. “It was certainly unexpected. To Adele’s credit, she killed it. She did a fantastic job, the pro that she is.” Surprisingly, fans inside Staples never heard the problem. The sound was as epic as it was supposed to be.
For better or worse, the Grammys bend less to the trends of the moment than other awards shows, so equal time generally is given to pop, hip-hop and rock regardless of where they reside in the zeitgeist. For every searing Kendrick Lamar on Monday, there was an Alabama Shakes or Lady Gaga. When it was announced that Motörhead’s late frontman Lemmy Kilmister would be remembered with a Grammy performance by hard-rock supergroup the Hollywood Vampires, any prospective attendee should have known that it might get loud. Just how loud is understood only to those who felt the onslaught inside the arena: Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp and two members of Guns N’ Roses shook the stage like no other, as mushroom-shaped flames billowed behind them. Lemmy would have appreciated the gesture.
A Renewed Artist
This year’s Best New Artist award went to Meghan Trainor, known for her playfully retro 2014 dance-pop single “All About That Bass.” Picking up her award, Trainor was overcome with emotion during her thank-yous. “My heart was exploding,” she explained at a backstage press conference. Her thoughts at that moment included: “Don’t forget anyone, don’t have snot running down your face, don’t cry too much, don’t cry too hard. Don’t forget your parents and the people you really want to thank.”
She had begun as a teen singing artist who loved the ukulele before transitioning into songwriting, followed by a late return to center stage with her 2015 album, Title. It was legendary label exec L.A. Reid who saw something more in the quirky girl with the uke. “L.A. Reid saw me as an artist, even when I auditioned with a backwards hat, a hoodie and cheetah pants, and I shouldn’t have. I played ‘All About That Bass’ on my ukulele and he saw greatness, and you could see it on his face.”