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On the Scene: Backstage at the Grammys and EW's Grammy Party

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Herbiehancock_l

Herbiehancock_lAnother Grammy weekend behind us, PopWatchers, and, like the four that came before it, my 2008 experience was a combination of soaring highs and crushing lows. (My life is very much like Wide World of Sports.) And while I may not have been called on to live-blog the action or take a late-night limo ride with a rock star this year, there’s still plenty to tell, from a Friday night all-star country music jamboree (no bears involved, but it deserves its own post) to a long but ultimately sort of fulfilling afternoon in the Grammy press room to our very own EW party last night, co-hosted by L.A. Reid.

After the jump, a complete rundown of all the Sunday fun, plus more informative press room nuggets than you can shake a stick at. Here’s one to get you started: Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins are the writers of “Before He Cheats,” which won Best Country Song at yesterday’s pre-telecast awards ceremony. But before Chris could make it to the Staples Center this weekend, he first had to go see Ozzy Osbourne’s doctor and get “three shots in the ass” of some sort of superdrug in order to beat a deadly case of the flu. Furthermore, although they originally started writing “Before He Cheats” for Gretchen Wilson, Chris was confident that Carrie Underwood could handle the tune. Why? Because he watched her whole season of American Idol. Why? Because he used to be in a band with Bo Bice. IS YOUR MIND BLOWN YET?

The press room’s not the most thrilling of places, but it did pick up after the pre-telecast ended, all us reporters got our free tasty sandwiches, and folks started showing up to answer questions. Tom Araya, the bassist and singer (“singing” being relative) for Slayer, arrived after picking up Best Metal Performance for “Final Six,” and brought his two adorable children to the podium, at which point we learned that his 11-year-old daughter, Ariel, likes Rihanna, but does not wish for her father to perform Rihanna songs. She giggled a lot about that idea. She also informed us that her favorite Slayer song is “Raining Blood.” Next, Michael W. Smith admitted he didn’t expect Carrie Underwood to be at the convention center to pick up her Best Female Country Vocal award, but said no hard feelings and “I’ll apologize to her later.” (The two share a Nashville hometown at the moment.)

As the broadcast kicked off on the monitors scattered around the room, we marveled at Alicia Keys’ fauxhawk and the slight creepiness of her singing with a dead guy, then got a little confused at Tom Hanks’ presence to introduce the first of what felt like a thousand Beatles montages. Tom Hanks did not come back to talk to us, but Nas did, probably because he is really getting a kick out of walking around wearing a t-shirt with the N-word on it. Let’s just come right out and say it: Nas was wearing a giant black t-shirt that said “Nigger.” We have to get used to saying it — it’s the title of his new album, after all, and he really seems intent upon making us say it, which is why his swing through the press room, where everyone was very careful not to say it even though there was a man 10 feet away from them with the word emblazoned on his chest, was particularly enjoyable. “A lot of people don’t really get where it’s coming from,” he said about the curious titular choice. “So that is why I had to stick with the title. A lot of people experience racial s- — and they want to sweep it until the rug. As much as I’d like for this word to go away, the reality of it is so strong.” He then brought wife Kelis up to join him — she was wearing a sparkly tank top that also read “Nigger” — and she expressed some strong feelings on the topic as well, strong feelings that were immediately negated when someone in the back of the room used our last question to ask, “Nas, what’s your wife’s name?” (Later, at our EW party, Kelis told me she doesn’t mind. “I know who I am,” she said. Then some people tried to give me an N-word t-shirt of my own, but I’m blond, and don’t think I can really make that work.)

One frustrating aspect of the press room is that there tends to be someone up at the podium talking just as the best performances are taking place on the monitors. Luckily, no one interrupted Daft Punk’s killer spot — oh how I love you, robot men! — but I missed most of Fergie because the Time had joined us, Morris Day making a Prince joke because the mic was set up for a short person, and Jimmy Jam admitting that he didn’t really plan for their big reunion to kick off here. “Honestly, I thought we’d start at some little club somewhere, but we’ll settle for the Grammy stage,” said Mr. Jam, who now serves as the chairman of NARAS. Not wanting the Foo Fighters to suffer the same fate as Ms. Alicious, my co-worker Shirley Halperin and I decided to head outside to see their performance live and in person at the stage set up across the street. This was a very good idea, as we snuck into a spot sidestage and stood there in the cool air with searchlights streaking over our heads and watched the fierce rendition of “The Pretender” with a perfect view of Dave Grohl and one particularly enthused blond violinist pumping his fist in the air. (Still no idea what the hell Jason Bateman was doing there, although he was very entertaining.) After the number, Grohl walked off stage and right past us, stopping to give Shirley — who wrote our Foos feature last year — a big hug and grin, “I’m done working. Now it’s time to start drinking.” (One assumes the drinking really started in earnest after their Best Rock Album win. Someday I really want to shotgun beers with that dude.)

Back inside after that much-needed respite, we caught Feist having her Grammy moment, a quiet, sweet rendition of “1 2 3 4” that did not so much need dancers as it needed a choir or something. It was still great to have my indie people represented on the Grammy stage, no matter how tiny they may be, and I was in a good mood to welcome the winner of the real Grammy Moment, Anne Marie Calhoun, who considers herself “classically informed” but doesn’t want to play classical music when she grows up, and carries around a violin from 1899 that’s worth more than my car. She seemed like a pretty awesome gal, and I hope last night’s Foos performance is just the beginning. Seriously. Told you I was in a good mood.

My mood got even better once Amy Winehouse started performing, everyone in the room glued to the monitors to see what, exactly, was going to happen. Answer: not much to speak of, actually, things seem pretty normal, if nervous, in her world at the moment. But poor Brad Paisley had the misfortune of wandering in just as Winehouse was wrapping up the end of “Rehab” (yes yes yes), and then had the massive courtesy to take one look at the room of us wearing our headphones and staring at the TVs and say, “I shouldn’t be up here right now.” And then… he left! (“I got nothin’ to do,” he said softly, as he slunk away.) We all awoke from our Winehouse stupors and called him back, Brad Paisley, probably the biggest star to grace us in the room so far, and he was so gracious and polite and lovely. Big props to you, Brad, and congrats on winning your first Grammy! We are sorry we sort of stopped paying attention to you again when Winehouse won Song of the Year and bedlam broke out in London and her big eyes just got wider and wider and then she burst into hugs. It was one of the most amazing reactions we’d ever seen in any human being ever, you see. Please don’t take it personally, Brad.

P.S.: I asked Academy president Neil Portnow what was up with Cuba Gooding Jr. introducing Winehouse. Seemed kinda random. He explained the rationale as “We’re gonna be in a club [at 4 a.m.], Cuba will be awake, let’s have him do this for us.” Makes perfect sense.

Everything’s kind of a whirlwind after that, PopWatchers, from Jill Scott clearing up the “Where’s Lupe Fiasco?” question I’d had during the pre-show (he’s got pneumonia and flu!) to Josh Groban telling us he didn’t mind singing “The Prayer” again this year (he first performed it on the Grammys with Celine Dion when he was like still in the womb or something) because “We talk about our Grammy moment, our full circle moment. That was it for me.” By this time the reporters in the “somewhat surly press corp” (which was how our room monitor had dubbed us earlier) were desperate for something to help them tie their big-picture stories together, and Groban wasn’t much help, though he did have some smart words about how who gets the award is less important than what they do after they’ve got it.

T-Pain stopped in to let us all know he’d canceled his red eye thanks to a big win for “Good Life” as Best Rap Song, and that it would be “going down” at the Grafton later; John Fogerty said that while he was standing offstage about three feet from Tina Turner during “Proud Mary,” he felt no need to join in because “I can’t dance like that.” And then it was time to announce Album of the Year, and the room braced itself for whatever Kanye was going to do should Mr. Sullen Hoodie not win, and then Herbie Hancock’s name was called and the somewhat surly press corp made this amazing noise, like half-scream, half-groan, with a sprinkling of dropped laptops, and immediately started freaking out that Herbie (pictured) — who Vince Gill described as “a better musician than all of us put together” — had been back to visit us earlier in the day, and so he might not return. They shouldn’t have worried: He did come back, although he was clearly still in shock. “I didn’t even hear my name at first,” he said of his reaction to winning. There was a little griping about whether the last jazz album to win really was 43 years ago — and most people hadn’t heard of that album, Getz/Gilberto, anyway, causing our room monitor lady to sneer at us a bit. (Forgive me, as I was not yet with the alives in 1964.) It seems some folks thought Norah Jones’ win in 2003 for Come Away With Me should count, but Herbie cleared that up by saying he meant instrumental jazz, not singing. Yes!

And then that was about it. We were initially promised Carrie Underwood and Rihanna; we got neither. I eventually packed up and headed into the night to find the EW party, which many in the press room were humorously convinced was taking place at a “secret location” in the mountains. It wasn’t. It was on La Cienega. There was good food — crab cakes! — and I got to rub up against the surprisingly short Beyoncé and the amazingly nice Kelis/Nas family. I got to see Nicole Richie sporting a very pretty long batik print dress. We watched the premiere of Kanye West’s new “Flashing Lights” video, which involves a girl, some underwear, and a shovel. I also got punched in the neck by this one massive a–hole who was trying desperately to get into VIP, and when they tried to walk me in ahead of him — because I WORK at this MAGAZINE you —-! — he grabbed my drink, called me an unsavory name, and clotheslined me. It was awesome. Shortly thereafter, I took my leave. And went to bed. I know that’s a sad report from our party. There was definitely other stuff that happened, but I was probably standing outside VIP getting mauled while it did, and by that point, I’d been working for 12 hours and just wanted to go home.

Aaaaaand, that’s your Grammy wrap, P-Dubs! I’ll be back with the writeup of Dierks Bentley’s Friday night show later today, but in the meantime, here are your discussion topics: Were you massively shocked by Herbie Hancock, or are you in the camp that finds it perfectly logical, either because a) that album is awesome or b) Winehouse and Kanye were clearly going to split the vote? Which performance did you enjoy the most, and did anyone else have nightmares involving Cirque du Soleil last night? Are you with me in thinking the end of the telecast just got weird, and that medleys involving Little Richard — who now has the same hair as Amy Winehouse, by the way — are generally unsatisfying? Did you think this was a decent 50th anniversary celebration or did you eventually, like me, totally forget about that aspect of the show even though everything had “50” written on it? And what, exactly, is the appropriate response to a man who chooses to hit you, even if you are a girl AND wear glasses, two internationally-recognized signals for DO NOT HIT THIS PERSON?

addCredit(“Herbie Hancock: Kevin Winter/Getty Images”)

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