If the Grammys bill themselves as Music’s Biggest Night, then Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys gala might just be Music’s Second Best Night. Held the day before industry A-listers receive and hand out the coveted golden gramophones, the event — which took place this year at the Sheraton New York Times Square — often features performances and speeches that rival those of the weekend’s main event. Here’s what you missed:
Grammys breakouts get the party started
Barry Manilow was the first performer of the evening, but the night didn’t really get going until two 2018 Grammys breakouts took the stage. Luis Fonsi performed two songs, including a worthy solo rendition of his smash “Despacito” — who needs the Biebz when you’ve got that much onstage charisma? — while rap trio Migos, celebrating the release of their new album Culture II, performed their chart-topping hit “Bad and Boujee” and commanded everyone in the ballroom to get on their feet. Asking a crowd to stand up is one thing when you’re playing for a bunch of a mortals; when your audience includes Beyoncé and Martha Stewart, it feels a little more gutsy. Imagine telling Beyoncé to do anything.
Broadway comes to the Grammys
For the first time in 15 years, the Grammys are taking place in New York City. To honor the ceremony’s 2018 home, Davis looked to Broadway for back-to-back performances. First, after Davis teased his upcoming solo album on Atlantic Records, EW Entertainer of the Year and Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt sang “Waving Through a Window” from the Tony-winning musical. Then Leslie Odom Jr. performed “The Room Where It Happens” from Hamilton, while thanking the rap legends in the room for inspiring some of the hip-hop musical’s material. With so many A-listers in one room mingling and meeting between tables, Davis’ gala pretty much is the room where it all happens.
Gladys Knight brings the house down
While Migos got the crowd on its feet by request, Gladys Knight didn’t have to ask when she took the stage to sing “Stand By Me,” prompting one of the night’s biggest singalongs. After she finished the number, Davis joined the soul legend on stage and joked that Beyoncé, JAY-Z, and Diddy probably wouldn’t allow her to leave if she didn’t perform “Midnight Train to Georgia,” her iconic 1973 hit with the Pips. “Thank you so much for standing,” she said as she walked off the stage — but judging by the standing ovation that was already taking place before the music even wrapped, everyone was happy to oblige.
Alicia Keys pays tribute to JAY-Z
Most artists performed their latest hits, but to honor JAY-Z, who received the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons designation, Davis recruited Alicia Keys for a surprise one-of-kind tribute. Playing the piano in a mostly acoustic set, Keys ran through a medley of hooks from the rapper’s biggest hits, from “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” to “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” and “Encore.” There was a lot to choose from: “I’m not done yet!” she quipped at one point when it looked like her set was winding down. “There’s a lot of records!” After she finished with (what else?) their “Empire State of Mind” collab, Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow introduced JAY-Z himself, who thanked Keys for her tribute and spoke about his complicated relationship with the Grammys — he boycotted the ceremony from 1998 to 2004 over its treatment of hip-hop — as he encouraged the Academy to recognize all kinds of music.
Jennifer Hudson honors Aretha Franklin
Not every artist has the voice to take on Aretha Franklin’s catalog, but Jennifer Hudson has that and more — like the Queen of Soul’s blessing to play her in an in-the-works biopic. In 2016, Franklin told People that she had given her stamp of approval to one particular actress. At his gala, Davis revealed that Franklin had hand-picked Hudson to bring her story to life on screen. He also confirmed that he and Hudson had been in the studio working on the her next album, before letting Hudon close out the evening with some Franklin classics. The singer seemed to be having the most fun of anyone in the room as she belted out “Think” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” telling the crowd at one point that it didn’t matter if they all took their coats and left — she’d just keep singing for herself.