The Clive Davis-hosted pre-Grammy gala, which took place at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Saturday night, often felt more like an unusually starry high school reunion than an industry mixer. With only a single award to get through and coming after a week’s worth of Grammy Week events, the proceedings were focused entirely on musical performances and expressions of mutual admiration.
Inside the hotel’s main ballroom, Pharrell Williams could be spotted dancing in the aisles and singing along as Lionel Richie performed “All Night Long”; John Fogerty interrupted his set to tell album of the year nominee Taylor Swift “my daughter loves you, and I know you’re gonna win that thing tomorrow”; and Davis lead the entire ballroom in singing a round of “Happy Birthday” to Alicia Keys. Meanwhile, on the outside patio, Joni Mitchell dicussed Canadian politics, and two veteran hard rock guitar heroes giddily compared their respective electric weed-smoking gadgets as if they were talking shop on distortion pedals.
The evening kicked off with Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s presentation of the Grammys’ Salute to Industry Icons honor to Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge. In lieu of the “tribute video” common to such events, Grainge instead offered goofy footage of himself attempting to recruit U2, Rod Stewart, Swift, George Lucas and others to appear in his testimonial, only to be rejected again and again. (Also on the video: Ari Emanuel and Irving Azoff, the later of whom poked fun at their infamous email war of last year.)
Once onstage, however, Grainge spoke with thorough sincerity, saying, “Everything we do, we do for that one simple purpose: To bring music to the masses. And I will keep fighting on behalf of that mission, to the best of my abilities, for the rest of my life.”
Beginning the evening proper, Davis was introduced by Jimmy Iovine, who recalled landing his breakthrough album producing gig — for Patti Smith’s “Easter” — at Davis’ behest. Ever the salesman, Iovine couldn’t help but try to plug his newly launched Beats Music streaming venture, on which he noted, “you get paid for every stream, and you can applaud that…c’mon, applaud,” to very moderate applause.
As usual, Davis spent the evening as a combination of emcee and cheerleader, showering praise on various notables and rattling off certain guests’ accomplishments from the past year. Midway through, he took a moment to defend his loquaciousness, noting, “I promise I only talk until they tell me the next act is ready.”
Early performances included Richie and Imagine Dragons, followed by multiple Grammy nominee Macklemore. Fogerty played a set of comparatively generous length, joined by both Jennifer Hudson and the Foo Fighters, while R. Kelly performed a new song written in tribute to Nelson Mandela.
Miley Cyrus unearthed a cover of the Dolly Parton classic “Jolene” during her three song performance, which was followed by Pharrell Williams, who closed his mini-set by ceding the floor to T.I. and Robin Thicke for “Blurred Lines,” though Thicke opted to sing the song while wandering between tables, at one point pausing for some dirty dancing with an enthusiastic white-haired lass.
The number was rousing enough that Davis was forced to act the role of irritable headmaster, repeating “if you don’t sit down, we can’t continue with the show.” Once peace was regained, 17-year-old chanteuse Lorde ran through “Royals,” followed by Fantasia’s take on “Stormy Weather”. With the clock nearing 1 am, Davis closed the proceedings by nodding to the saddest event with which the event is now historically tied, displaying a vintage performance video of Whitney Houston on video screens throughout the ballroom.