The Grammys being staged in New York City for the first time in 15 years meant organizers had to “reinvent the wheel” not just for music’s biggest night but for a whole week’s worth of events that coincide with the awards show.
“[The] week is a little bit of a laboratory,” said Recording Academy President Neil Portnow while seated on a road case in a back hallway of Madison Square Garden, where the awards were mounted. “No matter what you’re doing, you have to start from scratch. And coming here, it’s not just Sunday night, it’s a whole week of events and coordinating that in the middle of a city like New York by itself has a lot of challenges and hurdles.”
Those challenges were most apparent during a week of party-hopping.
The Grammys are known for the events that happen in the days before any award is handed out on the telecast, and with musicians across genres ready to celebrate — and to the pleasure of attendees, perform together — there’s no shortage of events.
But trading in the pristine weather of L.A. for the unpredictability of New York City, along with the logistics, made the week of party-hopping an often chilly experience as events unfolded across busy Manhattan.
“Thank you to everyone who was out here early … standing in the cold,” Sza said during her late-night set last Wednesdayat the Mastercard House near the West Village.
The weeklong experiential activation saw headlining sets from the alternative-R&B singer-songwriter, Grammy-winners Portugal the Man, Dua Lipa and afternoon panels exploring the hip-hop diaspora and the genre’s influence as well as behind-the-scenes looks into music creation.
Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz were honored during the 11th celebration of the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing last Thursday night at the legendary Rainbow Room — which is nestled 65 floors above Rockefeller Center. The soiree also doubled as a birthday celebration for Keys, who was treated to birthday serenades all night.
Meanwhile, the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea was packed to the brim for Essence’s annual Black Women in Music party.
This year’s Essence event was all about paying homage to innovative rapper and producer Missy Elliott. Leikeli47 was the highlight of a musical tribute, tackling some of Elliott’s hits while backed by a crew of dancers that included a young girl dressed in a hot pink version of the rapper’s famous trash bag outfit. Grammy-nominated emcee Rapsody (the lone woman nominated for a rap album this year) also took to the stage. Before accepting the Visionary Award, Elliott was moved to tears by a surprise introduction from longtime friend and collaborator Janet Jackson.
“Some act, some choreograph, some write hit songs, some create whole new sounds, some women are able to make their mark in one of these fields, but there’s only one woman who has made her mark in all these fields. Not only have you made your mark, but she’s done so with boldness and courage,” Jackson said, while introducing Elliott.
“Creativity is a beautiful thing, and when creativity flows so freely from a musical genius, all we can do is express gratitude. I am so grateful for Missy’s beautiful soul. I am grateful for her creativity, her energy, grateful for her soaring inspiration,” Jackson continued. “I’m grateful for how she stood toe-to-toe with the guys, showing them that a woman can do it all, take charge, lead the way, innovate and create without fear … [and] grateful for how she’s cleared the way, the path, for new generations of young talent to follow.”
After taking a moment to compose herself, Elliott emerged and delivered an impassioned sermon about survival and resilience in a male-dominated industry: “I wouldn’t want to be any other color but black. I’m black and I’m proud. There’s something about our DNA that can’t be taught. It comes from a different place … I want all of you women in here to know that you’re beautiful. You’ve gotta believe in yourself, because there are going to be times that people tell you [that] you can’t do it or you don’t look the part. But I’m a walking testimony that you can,” Elliott said.
And the star-studded celebrations continued through the weekend.
Khalid held a brunch at Soho House and Irving Plaza was the epicenter for a week of concerts, with performances from Eminem, Childish Gambino and Dave Matthews Band.
One of the week’s best tickets was the annual Roots jam, which saw the beloved hip-hop band balance late-night marathon sessions featuring surprise guests with daytime events for the first time.
Friday night’s jam session saw the Roots cart out an impressive cadre of guest vocalists including Joi, Kindred the Family Soul, Freeway, Marsha Ambrosius, Goldlink, Jill Scott, Ledisi and Miley Cyrus, who was backed by the Roots for an exhilarating and soulful take of her pop smash “Party in the USA.”
At Spring Studios in Brooklyn on Saturday, Sir Lucian Grainge held court at his annual Universal Music Showcase, a brunch that has become one of the hottest tickets around. During the brunch, Nas was given the Spotlight Award by the mayor’s office for his accomplishments in the music industry and there were previews of films about the influence of the Apollo Theater, the first official documentary on the Velvet Underground and a look at the life of Luciano Pavarotti.
But the afternoon was really about performances. This year’s slate of Universal artists who performed included Luis Fonsi, Migos, Julia Michaels, 6LACK, Jessie Reyez and Logic with new artist winner Alessia Cara. Kacey Musgraves wowed the crowd by previewing songs from her upcoming third album, “Golden Hour,” and Reyez delivered a star-making performance that proved she’s one to watch.
“It’s always fun to do a little Latin music at 11 a.m.,” Fonsi joked while introducing his smash “Despacito.” “This song has been such an important song for us. I think its broken the language barrier in the world.”
Saturday night was Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy Gala — or as Katie Couric said, the only event hotter than “Springsteen on Broadway.” After the Grammys, Universal and Sony were some of the labels that kept the party going until Monday morning — but after a week packed with boozing and schmoozing across a freezing borough many of us opted for quiet dinners and warm blankets.
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