Seemingly every genre was represented at Warner Music Group’s pre-Grammy party on Thursday night, which attracted couples (Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross, Ava Max and Cirkut) making a date night out of it, hip-hop heavyweights (Ty Dolla $ign and Wiz Khalifa, who blew clouds of fragrant smoke at photographers in the press room) plus Bebe Rexha and Charlie Puth. Even Nashville was in the house — Variety’s manager of the year, Jason Owen, who escorted his clients Dan + Shay (seen below with Blake Shelton).
There was no shortage of international flavor, either: Nigerian superstar Burna Boy (below) warmed up the crowd for Lizzo. Hipster billionaire Len Blavatnik, who spared no expense on the decor, was spotted grooving to Lizzo from a VIP riser. Warner’s London-based SVP of Global Events, Jason Morais, spent eight months preparing to transform the Hollywood Athletic Club into “Yves Saint Laurent’s garden in Morocco — that was a big inspiration,” he told Variety of the seventies-centric decor. “Len loves to see things like this — he loves all different areas of fashion and design,” Morais added of his boss. Guests were literally lining up for a few seconds in the “Kaleido-booth” — a trippy mirrored room where they posed for social media pics — which added a distinctly modern touch.
But the night’s biggest draw? Lizzo, of course, who succinctly summed up the 2020 Grammys during her four-song set of “Good as Hell,” “Truth Hurts,” “Tempo” and “Cuz I Love You.” “Real f–king music that moves people is back, bitch,” she proclaimed. As critics always point out, she’s that rare rapper who plays an instrument, and inevitably Lizzo capped the show by whipping out her flute. It’s not only become her signature move on stage but also a symbol of her musicianship.
“When we were kids and we’d watch the Grammys, it was all performers playing instruments,” recalled Jay Buchanan, frontman of Long Beach-based rockers Rival Sons, who are up for two awards. “Things are different now but there are some artists performing who actually do that and I’m thankful.”
“Two nominations for the Rival Sons is a recognition for rock and roll,” Buchanan told Variety. “But if you look at the other nominations, what they say is rock and roll often doesn’t sound like rock and roll at all.” Added guitarist Scott Holiday: “It’s crazy: We’re in a category with Brittany Howard, Danger Mouse and Karen O. — but we are in different worlds.”
Aerosmith nostalgia notwithstanding, this pair of white male musicians identify as marginalized voices in industry. “I’d like to see rock and roll on the regular simulcast next year,” said Buchanan. “Rock and roll ruled for a long long time but even Rome fell. We’re seeing Hip-Hop and R&B have their day and that’s cool — I’m a fan. But rock and roll should have a seat at the table.”
Part of the problem? Celebs who aren’t even artists stealing their identity. “Everyone appropriates the term ‘rock star’ when it has nothing to do with rock,” said Buchanan. Nearby, as if on cue, Rob Gronkowski — formerly a tight end for the New England Patriots — demonstrated that he has moves like Jagger for Entertainment Tonight’s cameras.
“I think athletes are rock stars,” his girlfriend, the model and actress Camille Kostek, told Variety.
“Yeah, I feel it’s getting to that point,” said Gronk. “I love listening to music. I love dancing.”
“But I’ve been dating this athlete for awhile and it’s hard to say that he’s a style icon,” admitted Kostek. “He loves to rock his Nike gear.”
Other WMG executives in attendance included: Steve Cooper, Max Lousada, Stu Bergen, Eliah Seton and Oana Ruxandra; Warner Chappell Music’s Guy Moot and Carianne Marshall; Warner Records’ Aaron Bay-Schuck and Tom Corson; Atlantic Records’ Craig Kallman and Julie Greenwald; Elektra’s Gregg Nadel and Mike Easterlin; and Warner Music Nashville’s John Esposito. Among the managers spotted in the house were Dan Dymtrow, Mikaela Puth and Frank Ho