On the eve of the Grammy Awards, the music industry’s glitterati were jazzed for the chance to resume the tradition of coming together for a night of tributes, shout-outs and impressive displays talent. Here are a few things we learned from Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday evening.
- Swiss Beatz does a spot-on Davis impression
- Atlantic Records’ Julie Greenwald is a “bad-ass bitch,” in Cardi B’s estimation.
- Elvis Costello considers Nick Lowe “his hero.”
- Joni Mitchell digs the sound of Latto’s “Big Energy.”
- It’s still a ton of fun to sing along with Frankie Valli, especially when he’s backed by four Italian rockers with swagger to spare.
- Atlantic Records’ Craig Kallman spent his childhood studying the fine print of album credits, searching for “mythic” names such as Ahmet Ertegun, Mo Ostin and, of course, Clive Davis.
“This is mind-blowing experience for me,” Kallman told the crowd as he and Greenwald were saluted with the Industry Icons award, recognizing their success as the leaders of Atlantic Records and their long respective runs in music.
Greenwald, who was introduced with Bronx flair by Cardi B, also brought an aw-shucks attitude in accepting the kudos.
“Not bad for a Jewish girl from the Catskills,” Greenwald said, recalling her early years working for Lyor Cohen at Rush Management and Def Jam Records.
“It was us against the world, bringing rap to the mainstream,” she said.
Greenwald also used her platform to urge the room to fight the growing instances of prosecutors using rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials. (California passed legislation banning the practice last fall.)
“It’s unimaginable but I assure you it’s happening,” Greenwald said, calling it “a threat to freedom of expression.”
Greenwald and Kallman were feted as part of the larger Atlantic Records 75th anniversary celebration. Singer Lauren Daigle impressed with a spirited rendition of “Son of a Preacher Man,” the 1968 Atlantic-released smash by Dusty Springfield.
The evening opened with a surprise appearance by Kevin Costner, who referenced his experience working with Whitney Houston and Davis on the 1992 film “The Bodyguard.” Despite the jubilant mood in the Hilton’s International Ballroom, the specter of Houston’s death in Feb. 2012 at the hotel, hours before Davis’ party began that year, was felt throughout the night.
“Your fingerprints in her life are clean, my friend,” Costner told Davis from the stage. “You were a miracle in her life. Thank you for being her bodyguard.”
Jennifer Hudson also paid respects to Houston with a stirring performance of “Greatest Love of All.”
The first performance slot went to Måneskin, one of this year’s Grammy nominees for best new artist. The rock band from Rome roared onto the stage with “I Wanna Be Your Slave,” followed by “Beggin’,” a cover of the 1967 Four Seasons hit. Davis then called Four Seasons’ frontman Valli up on stage for a spirited run through his first solo hit, 1967’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
Davis has presided over the gathering that Costner called “the party of parties” since 1976. As is his custom, he narrated the evening from the stage in between performances by Lizzo, Sheryl Crow (who delivered a tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie) and Elvis Costello, who was joined by Juanes for several tunes, including a rousing rendition of Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
Swiss Beatz took the stage to remind the crowd that hip-hop “started as a rebellious act” that now makes a lot of money for the executives in the room. He also gently teased Davis with an impression of his low, gravely voice.
Rappers Lil Wayne and Lil Baby then pumped up the volume as the night drew to a close. Myles Frost, the Tony-winning star of the Michael Jackson Broadway musical “MJ,” closed out the night.
Many attendees and performers made reference to the joy of being able to gather in-person after two years of pandemic conditions. But nobody captured that excitement like Latto, who sparkled in a bodysuit as she strutted across the stage with her hit “Big Energy.”
“I can’t believe I’m here,” she told the crowd with a broad smile.
Of course, the Clive Davis party, lovingly dubbed “Clive-Aid” by Dave Grohl in years past, is all about the schmooze and this room was no less heavy as titans of industry, politicians, actors and A-list artists converged for dinner and drinks. Early on in the night, H.E.R. and Miranda Lambert were spotted chatting and posing for photos. Olivia Rodrigo also made the rounds, stopping to talk to iHeartRadio’s John Sykes, who also serves as chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Elsewhere, Apple CEO Tim Cook was a big draw for industry guests. Seated with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe and head Oliver Schusser — and adjacent to Larry Jackson, who recently left the tech giant to venture out on his own — Nile Rodgers and Merck Mercuriadis, partners on Hipgnosis songs, made a beeline for the big A and caused a momentary international traffic jam when Brits, like Sony Music Group CEO Rob Stringer, and Swedes (hitmaker extraordinaire Max Martin) collided. Another global sensation, Maneskin, had guests clamoring for quick hellos, and Nanci Pelosi, a regular at the Clive Davis fete, obliged selfie requests.
Eye-popping looks were aplenty, with Machine Gun Kelly helping Megan Fox navigate the ballroom stairs in a stunning red gown, and Lil Nas X making his presence known in a purple suit sans shirt. Also unexpected: Avril Lavigne wore a gown-length black skirt in what might be a first for the singer whose staples are of the safety pins and Doc Martens variety, and knocked it out of the park.
As is tradition, Davis shouts out VIPs in the crowd throughout the night which allows others in the room to see where they are seated. Brandi Carlile had a table up front, and when she stood to wave to the room, mega fan Olivia Rodrigo did all but bow down to the Grammy-nominated singer. But some opted for old school tactics, like Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who was handing out printed postcards promoting his new band, 3rd Secret, a collaboration with drummer Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam) and guitarist Kim Thayil (Soundgarden).
(Shirley Halperin contributed to this report.)