Grammys 2011: On the scene
Partially designed as a live concert for 28,000 fans, the Grammy Awards are truly made for their much larger TV audience.
So when it comes to the annual kudos-fest, what you see on your screen at home is largely what you get inside the show at the Staples Center in downtown L.A., too. There isn’t much fanfare during the commercial breaks or off-screen activities happening, and — since the Staples Center is so huge — it’s overwhelming to zero in on what little delights could be happening around the arena.
But, I was there last night, and since I was, I thought I’d share with you the few little tidbits that you might not have seen on your own televisions, like which classic Grammy performances they played for the Staples audience during the commercial breaks, and how the crowd reacted to various performances and moments. Here’s the tick-tock of the night from inside:
4:51 p.m.: Grammys executive producer Ken Ehrlich appears on stage and tells the crowd to get to their seats. Then came the first reference to Whitney Houston: “We’re carrying heavy hearts because of Whitney Houston,” Ehrlich says. “We should hear it for Whitney,” he adds, encouraging the audience to make some noise for the fallen diva. Of the coming tribute to Houston, he offers: “We wanted to be respectful, we didn’t want to overdo it.” And of the show in general, he teases: “We have a show that goes from the Beach Boys to Nicki Minaj.” Indeed!
5:00 p.m.: The entire Staples Center goes pitch black, except for the light from cell phones, which audience members have out and ready to snap a photo or two (illegally, I might add!) of Bruce’s opening.
5:16 p.m.: The commercial breaks feature videos of classic Grammy performances, and the first break — rather fittingly — specifically highlights Springsteen’s 2003 performance of the Clash’s “London Calling” with Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, Joe Strummer, and Steven Van Zandt.
5:20 p.m.: The handful of times Whitney Houston’s name is mentioned, she gets cheers, of course. But the name to get almost even bigger cheers? Etta James, when Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt appear on stage to honor her.
5:23 p.m.: Adele wins her first award of the night, for Best Solo Pop Performance. Huge screams ensue. (Go, Adele!)
5:25 p.m.: Chris Brown is on stage for his medley, and — this isn’t too shocking — few in the house get to their feet, despite the complexity of the performance. Are folks in the Recording Academy and fans still not ready to forgive?
5:29 p.m.: Commercial break classic performance video: “Stan,” by Eminem and Elton John in 2001.
5:36 p.m.: Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson’s tech-problem-plagued rendition of “Don’t You Wanna Stay” doesn’t engage the crowd much, but most folks still politely clap afterward anyway.
5:42 p.m.: Commercial break classic performance video: “Purple Rain” medley by Prince and Beyoncé. During the break, Ehrlich comes back to the stage and lets the crowd know that the next performance — by the Foo Fighters — will be outside of the Staples Center and piped into the arena on video screens. “Is this the best Grammys you’ve ever been to?” he asks.
5:46 p.m.: The aforementioned Foo Fighters session doesn’t play the greatest inside the stadium, but it’s probably hard for the crowd to get excited about a performance on video when everything else has been live. (It’s a hard-knock life to be in the audience of the Grammys, right?)
5:51 p.m.: Commercial break classic performance video: “Cry Baby”/”Piece of My Heart” by Melissa Etheridge and Joss Stone in 2005. Ehrlich comes back out to prep the crowd for the coming performance by Coldplay, which requires all 28,000 members of the audience to don bracelets we were given when walking into the arena. “Do you have your bracelets?” he asked. “Make some noise!”
5:56 p.m.: The crowd goes wild with the first few lyrics of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” The Coldplay light-up bracelet trick goes off without a hitch when the band performs “Paradise” — it actually makes the arena seem rather starry and magical. (Producers controlled the timing when the bracelets lit up, in case you were wondering. One-time use only!)
6:07 p.m.: Commercial break classic performance video: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” by Mick Jagger in 2011.
6:11 p.m.: Surprisingly, the Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl gives one of the most stirring speeches of the night and gets the crowd more amped up than anyone else.
6:25 p.m.: Commercial break classic performance video: “Georgia on My Mind” by Alicia Keys, Quincy Jones, and Jamie Foxx in 2005.
6:29 p.m.: Stevie Wonder plays his harmonica, proving that you don’t need flash and sizzle to thoroughly entertain 28,000 people in an arena.
6:35 p.m.: Chris Brown wins for Best R&B Album. It’s obvious that the only screams for his win are coming from paid folks in the pits on the stage.
6:38 p.m.: The Civil Wars’ joke about Paul McCartney and the like being their “opening acts” goes over really well in the arena, injecting some much-needed laughs into an otherwise rather somber ceremony.
6:45 p.m.: Commercial-break classic performance video: “Nessun Dorma” by Aretha Franklin in 1998.
6:52 p.m.: Kate Beckinsale garners more much-needed laughs for her comment about Katy Perry being able to shoot fireworks from her boobs.
7:00 p.m.: Commercial break classic performance video: “Glitter in the Air” by Pink in 2010. The tricky, famed performance, however, gets cuts off just when Pink is heading into the beautiful, water-soaked gymnastics portion. The crowd is none too happy about that.
7:04 p.m.: We’re all just as excited as Gwyneth Paltrow when she introduces Adele, who performs in public for the first time in months. And, as you saw on TV, Adele absolutely kills it.
7:11 p.m.: Commercial-break classic performance video: “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige in 2002.
7:15 p.m.: In the theater, the Glen Campbell tribute plays a little slow for the audience — until, that is, the force known as Glen Campbell himself shows up on the stage and livens things up. The crowd is into it, big time.
7:25 p.m.: Commercial-break classic performance: “Love the Way You Lie” by Rihanna and Eminem in 2011.
7:37 p.m.: The MusiCares portion of the show is a little deadly for us in the theater. Probably for all you out there watching on TV, too.
7:43 p.m.: Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston get the biggest applause during the “In Memoriam” reel. Meanwhile, Jennifer Hudson’s stirring rendition of “I Will Always Love You” quiets everyone in the arena. It’s agreed by most everyone in the crowd that that was the perfect tribute for Whitney Houston.
7:46 p.m.: Commercial-break classic performance video: “Poker Face”/”Speechless”/”Your Song” by Lady Gaga and Elton John in 2010.
7:50 p.m.: The David Guetta/Foo Fighters/Chris Brown/Deadmau5 collaboration is a little flat in Staples, considering all the action is happening outside again and just being beamed inside. It looks crazy on the screens!
7:59 p.m.: Commercial-break classic performance video: “Forget You” by Cee Lo and Gwyneth Paltrow. The crowd is really into this wacky rendition.
8:04 p.m.: Nicki Minaj’s eccentric performance happens and seems to befuddle most of the people inside Staples. It’s interesting, to say the least.
8:10 p.m.: Adele wins Record of the Year again, sending the crowd into spirals once again.
8:12 p.m.: Commercial-break classic performance video: “Ramblin’ Man” by Tim McGraw in 2005.
8:19 p.m.: Adele wins again and everyone in Staples is on their feet!
8:22 p.m.: Paul McCartney takes the stage — yet again — and, because the last award had already been handed out, some folks start heading out of the arena. But truly, most stayed: You can’t just leave when a Beatle is performing, right?
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky