A room full of music industry heavyweights gathered for Universal Music Group’s pre-Grammy showcase, held at New York’s Spring Studios on Jan 27 and featuring performances by Luis Fonsi, Julia Michaels, Migos, Kacey Musgraves, 6LACK, Jessie Reyez and Logic with Alessia Cara.
The purpose of the annual event is to highlight the company’s recent successes and present priority acts for the coming year. In attendance are several hundred employees of the world’s biggest music company along with artists and members of the music press. The by-invitation-only event has become a staple for the Saturday before the Grammys.
This year, in honor of the Grammys taking place in New York, the showcase also celebrated a native son, Nas, who received the Spotlight Award honoring his career accomplishments. Accepting the honor presented by Julie Menin, Commissioner of NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, the Queens rapper praised the strides forward taking place in the music industry and that “artists are getting paid again.” Said Nas: “This is love. I’m happy to see everybody in this room doing their thing. I’m happy to see the record business, the music business back in this state.”
That sentiment was echoed by UMG chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge, who cited investment in “emerging markets, new business models and new technologies, as well as in local music and local culture in every region in the world” as paving the way to a brighter future in the industry.
“We never lost faith, because we never lost sight of one simple fact,” said Grainge. “The thing that really drives us is music, and our love of music. For us, it’s simply not a job, it’s a mission, it’s like a reflex. A mission motivated by our love of music and our love of working with talent.”
Opening the showcase, Fonsi made a strong argument for “Despicito,” which could take home Grammy Awards in the category of song and record of the year. The song was certified Diamond by the RIAA earlier in the day.
“It’s an important song for us,” Fonsi said. “I think it’s broken the language barrier in the world.”
Michaels got the crowd on its feet, fiercely entertaining the executives in attendance with a lively version of “Uh Huh” before performing the “song that got me here”— “Issues,” also nominated for song of the year. She thanked her label Republic Records and executive Charlie Walk for their support and guidance.
6lack (pronounced “Black”) is also nominated for a Grammy in the best rap/song performance category as well as best rap/song, and thanked the label for accompanying him on his journey to music’s biggest night, while offering advice to future artists. “Don’t try to do it for any particular outcome,” he said. “Do it because you want to do it, and everything else is icing on the cake.”
Other highlights included Musgraves – a two-time Grammy winner — treating the audience to new selections from her forthcoming album “Golden Hour,” including “Space Cowboy.” Logic brought the event to a rousing conclusion with “1-800-273-8255” with fellow nominee Alessia Cara. Migos also treated the audience to performances of “Motorsport” and “Stir Fry” off their just released record, “Culture II.” And newcomer Jessie Reyez was well-received, earning a standing ovation from the crowd.
The event was attended by label heads from across UMG including Mike Dungan of Universal Music Group Nashville, Steve Barnett of Capitol Music Group, Paul Rosenberg of Def Jam, Monte and Avery Lipman of Republic, Island’s David Massey, Ethopia Habtemariam from Motown and Scott Borchetta of Big Machine, among others. Broadway composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Phantom of the Opera”), pictured below, Lang Lang, Sam Smith, James Bay and BJ The Chicago Kid were among the guests in the audience.
In addition to the musical repertoire, UMG also highlighted its film projects which include a new documentary about the Apollo Theater, directed by Academy Award Winner Roger Ross Williams (“Music By Prudence”), a film on the Velvet Underground by Todd Haynes and a biopic of the late Italian opera singer Luciano Pavorotti, produced by Nigel Sinclair and directed by Ron Howard.
Additional attendees included: Michele Anthony (EVP, UMG), Boyd Muir (CFO and EVP, UMG), Jeff Harleston (General Counsel and EVP of Business & Legal, UMG), David Joseph (Chairman & CEO, Universal Music UK and Ireland), Jody Gerson (Chairman & CEO, UMPG), Michelle Jubelirer (COO, CMG), Danny Bennett (President & CEO, Verve), Steve Berman (co-chairman, IGA), Christine Vachon, Daniel Ek (CEO Spotify) and Irving Azoff (CEO MSG Entertainment).