Grammy week in Los Angeles is a wild, strange piñata of parties, but there’s really only one soirée where you can see the likes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and “Trap Queen” rapper Fetty Wap nibble on roast chicken at adjacent banquet tables while Courtney Love, Sylvester Stallone, Chris Rock, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson socialize in the aisles, Gwen Stefani perches giggling on Blake Shelton’s lap, and estranged bandmates Harry Styles and Zayn Malik pose separately for photos but do not (sorry, One Direction dreamers) take the stage.
The man who has brought this annual event together for four decades now is Clive Davis, the legendary 83-year-old record mogul and raconteur. And he did, as he does every year, take care to point out the many friends and artists in the room — a black-tie tangle of EGOTs, industry icons, and tech billionaires — and describe their accomplishments. Those introductions can make for a very extended evening, but they’re actually just interstitials for the performances, which this year included Beck and the surviving members of Nirvana paying tribute to David Bowie with a standout “Man Who Sold the World”; Earth, Wind and Fire running down funk classics like “September” and “Shining Star” in honor of late leader Maurice White; Carly Simon cooing “You’re So Vain”; Melissa Etheridge honoring the Eagles’ Glenn Frey with a husky “Take It to the Limit”; and a grinning Barry Manilow, recently recovered from an undisclosed health scare, singing duet with the videotaped ghost of Judy Garland on “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.” Before the end of the evening, the crowd would get Fetty’s “Trap Queen” too, plus performances from Best New Artist nominee Tori Kelly and Andra Day, who is up tonight for Best R&B Album, and a reprise Bowie finale with Adam Lambert and Jack Antonoff strutting through “Let’s Dance.”
Late-night host James Corden came out early for a few quick riffs, recalling how no music publicist would let him near their clients to ask them to participate in a little segment called Carpool Karaoke when he attended the party last year. (“There are more people in this room right now than subscribers to Tidal,” he later teased.) But the night’s main honoree was Irving Azoff, one of the music business’s most powerful managers (the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Bon Jovi, Guns ’n Roses, Christina Aguilera, Maroon 5). He grew visibly emotional recalling his early days with Glenn Frey and joking that managers knew what they were good for — recommending restaurants, dry cleaners, starter jets, and divorce lawyers to their starry clients — then got serious talking about creators’ rights to be fairly compensated for their work in the face of streaming and other digital issues: “It begins and ends with artists, period,” he said. “We’ve been a fractured business with different companies and rights holders prioritizing only their own interests… We need to put aside differences and focus on industry solutions where everyone is taken care of.” Like a good a manager, he knew his audience: His speech drew some of the biggest applause of the night.