The Clive Davis Pre-GRAMMY Gala is one of the hottest tickets of the year. Beyond the star-studded guest list, the party is know for its stellar performances. This year I was lucky enough to be able to cover the event after campaigning that the honoree for the evening- David Geffen– is an important rock figure.
I arrived at the Beverly Hilton as the sun went down. The limos vastly outnumbered the cars as I walked to the front of this familiar hotel. Beyond staying here before, I used to volunteer at the Golden Boot Awards – the Oscars for Westerns- as a teenager, held in the very room this party would take place in. The old Western stars used to get quite offended if I didn’t know who they were. Tonight would be much different- it was hard to find a face I didn’t recognize.
There didn’t appear to be a media check in, so I waited in line for the regular check in with a bunch of music industry executive types. It was quickly determined that this was not the right place for me. Luckily I saw a familiar face, where it became a event security versus GRAMMY workers issue that resulted in me not being able to be anywhere near the red carpet for reporting. In fact, I couldn’t even be in the room where the party would occur, but would be sequestered to the media center.
So I sat in the lobby until fellow GRAMMY.com community blogger Soulbounce arrived. I saw Neil Young and David Crosby waiting in the same line that I did at one point. I could hear the roar of the press on the red carpet whenever someone particularly famous came through. And then security got so tight in there that if you breathed in the wrong direction you got a tongue lashing.
I’ve never done the whole media center thing before, but it turned out to be a very interesting experience. For one, you need to bring your own food and drink. And it’s freezing in there. Also, I listened to the AP and Reuters type people upload and edit their photos from the carpet, while shouting out nicknames for the celebs. On the other hand, once the show got started, it was nice to be able to see it on the big screen instead of squint from the back of the room like I did at last year’s Person of the Year event. But at the end of the night, I asked Soulbounce, “can we say we actually saw these artists perform?”. We made the executive decision- YES. It was weirdly voyeuristic, but a search on YouTube, which you will see what that yielded below, will show that it is hard to find footage from this event. So yeah, I was there-ish.
The evening was kicked off by a speech from producer David Foster, who’s biting humor paved the way for many more f-bombs to be dropped during the evening by people you wouldn’t expect them to come from. Clive Davis then took the podium with an introductory speech, which partially acknowledged the state of the industry but with a very optimistic tone.
The first performance of the evening was by the very buzzed about Mumford & Sons. It surprised me that this was about as rock as it got for the evening, considering Geffen signed bands like Aerosmith, Guns ‘n Roses, Nirvana, and Sonic Youth.
Next up was Janelle Monae, who didn’t have the best performance of the night due to what appeared to be monitor issues and that her hair came undone from her trademark lady pompadour.
Mary J. Blige performed a couple of songs which mellowed out the energy. I never go to see solo vocalists, so it was an adjustment for me to just have one person to focus on.
A video montage surveyed Geffen’s work, and this was followed up by a speech from his ex-girlfriend, Cher. She seemed to really speak from the heart- going from “I have no idea what this fucking award is about” to giving a solid testament of his character.
If I told you that the best thing I saw all GRAMMY weekend was R Kelly, would you stop reading? Well, it’s true. He marched from the back of the ballroom to the front of the stage like a prize fighter, followed by a large entourage. When he got to the stage to sing, I may have rolled my eyes. But what followed was a 15 minute montage of his songs….and it was spectacular. Not just because R. Kelly has a great voice- most people know that. Not just because he’s a public figure who’s been through some really embarrassing stuff and appears to be redeeming himself. Not just because my high school and college club days were peppered with his oh-so-catchy and over-the-top-hilarious songs made me nostalgic. Nope. It was the very thing that always makes or breaks a great performance- how the crowd reacted, and how he reacted off of that. It was like right in that very room these A-listers were admitting that they are closet R. Kelly fans; that it’s cool to like him again. The camera would pan to show Miley Cyrus getting down, the banjo player from Mumford & Sons practically losing that yellow trucker hat while throwing his hands in the air. Brandy singing along to every note and the guy that’s not Will.I.Am from BEP bobbing his head. Katy Perry…I don’t know what she was doing because every time they showed her I was looking for Russell Brand. At the end of the montage, R. Kelly grabbed a bottle of champagne from the crowd and drank from the bottle. For whatever reason, the whole thing made me think of how it felt to come of age in 1997-2001, when everybody was spending money and making money and everything seemed to have this gold coating on it. You know my generation may be the only one to see the economy at both it’s highest and lowest? It’ll kinda mess with your head. But anyway, R. Kelly was fun- even from the media center- and when it was over you could feel the crowd wanting him to just keep going.
Next an extremely lithe Jennifer Hudson reminded us that she is our generation’s big voice. This was followed by Cee-Lo’s latest hit- the way it was meant to be sung. Apparently he was going to cancel due to losing his voice but miraculously pulled through and still sounded fine for the GRAMMY performance the following day.
The final performance was the highly anticipated Whitney Houston. Now, I grew up with the Whitney hits, and sadly have watched her demise. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I found her banter before she sang to be a little mumbly, and her singing did not shine as much as it should have. When Dionne Warwick joined her to sing ‘That’s What Friends Are For’, they sounded beautiful together. But I’m afraid that the moment that will always stick with me is when Clive Davis went to end the party, and Whitney and Dionne’s mics were still on, and it caught their parting words which included Warwick asking what Houston was doing now, with Houston replying that she was going to go get a ‘sammich’.
And with that, the glamorous party ended, and I passed the long line of limos in my car to retreat to my hotel room to eat room service in my party dress in bed.