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Tweeting With the Devil: How the Grammys Launched a Misinformation Campaign in 140 Characters (Opinion)

David Lee Roth California Girls

Were Van Halen supposed to appear on Wednesday's Grammy Awards nominations special or the Beach Boys? Confusion risks tainting music's biggest night but THR has a solution.

It all began with a tweet. On Nov. 3, the official Grammy Awards Twitter, whose handle is @TheGRAMMYs, sent a message to its 208,000 followers which read:

Who do u predict the reuniting band will be @ #GRAMMYnoms? http://grm.my/vH7p3Y Does this hint make u wanna “Jump” & “Dance the Night Away”?

The 140-character missive came hours after a press release was issued by the Recording Academy announcing its annual one-hour nominations special (broadcast on CBS since 2008) and promising “a special live announcement from a truly iconic group regarding their historic band reunion set to take place on the GRAMMY stage on Feb. 12, 2012.”

In due haste, the media began speculating as to who the surprise act could be and it didn’t take long before Van Halen’s name came up with one industry website, Htifix.com, going so far as to put it out there. And it made perfect sense: at that moment -- and ever since, really -- they were the band with the most reunion buzz. Back together with frontman David Lee Roth, the legendary arena rockers were close to signing a recording contract with a new label (initially rumored to be with Columbia but landing at Interscope) after 40 years at Warner Bros., and releasing their first album together since the monstrous 1984. What better place to reveal a potential release date or a first televised performance than at a Grammys event?

So when the tweet appeared at 5:45pm on Nov. 3 with the most Van Halen-obvious hint imaginable and a link to the Hitfix story, it was all but a fait accompli that guitarist Eddie Van Halen, his bass-playing son Wolfgang, who took over for Michael Anthony in 2006, drummer Alex Van Halen and David Lee Roth would be present at Los Angeles' Nokia Theater on Nov. 30.

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Of course, nothing of the sort actually transpired during the televised special. There was no surprise announcement, nor was there an appearance by an “iconic band.” Instead, the nominations concert offered a few of the Grammys’ signature pairings -- Lady Gaga with Sugarland, Usher with Valerie Simpson -- along with a performance by country newcomers The Band Perry and a hip hop collective comprised of Grandmaster Flash, LL Cool J, Lupe Fiasco, Common, Melle Mel and Scorpio, who performed Furious Five’s 1982 classic “The Message.”

At a press conference immediately following the broadcast, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow was asked about the Van Halen no-show by Melinda Newman, the Hitfix editor who first wrote about the rumor and a former Billboard bureau chief. His response: “We talked about having something on the show tonight which was gonna be specifically about a reunion and sort of announcing it. What happened is very simple -- as you know, in the world of creativity everything is fluid so in the process of discussions that we have been having with an expectation that perhaps we would be at a point tonight where the artist involved and we would be moving forward and actually being ready to announce, they weren't quite at that point. So given that it's live television, we move on, we go to the next act, it's rock-n-roll and so on. That being said, we were genuine about the intention and we were genuine about discussions, so now the time frame moves a little further along and we'll see what happens on Feb. 12.”

A masterfully evasive commenter, in Portnow's non-speak, he never addresses Van Halen by name, continuing to perpetuate a rumor that his organization had basically already backed with that initial tweet. But the following morning, a different tale was told as Rolling Stone speculated and the Los Angeles Times reported that the band was never Van Halen, but rather the Beach Boys who have reunited its four surviving members, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston, for a 50th anniversary tour due to kick off in summer 2012. In a case of fortuitous timing, the band’s last semi-completed effort, Smile, recorded in 1966, was released by Capitol Records on Nov. 1 as The Smile Sessions, with the full backing of all four members.

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Indeed, the Beach Boys are a Grammys no-brainer, too, and Wilson has himself appeared at several Recording Academy events over the years. The songwriter and producer was even honored in 2004 as the Musicares Person of the Year, an official Grammy function and fundraiser that helps support musicians in need. So to make a Beach Boys announcement or even feature a performance on the Grammys also makes perfect sense.

According to the LA Times, talks with the Beach Boys fell apart 48 hours before the show, but that doesn’t negate the initial Grammys tweet, which, in essence, acted as a truncated press release that said Van Halen would be there. The sequence of events reinforces, yet again, Twitter's power and speed of broadcast.

All this secrecy and confusion brings to bear a nagging question: was this a flippant tweet or did the Grammys purposely launch a misinformation campaign to get the media and in turn viewers -- among them, scores of Van Halen fans -- to tune into their We Are Music nominations special? With ratings up 12%, it certainly worked, but if we’re all going to get used, shouldn’t the Grammys at least buy us breakfast in the morning?

Here’s what we know: nothing. A source within the Van Halen camp tells The Hollywood Reporter that the band were never scheduled to appear on the program and that this is a classic case of “the internet gone crazy.” But the insider was hard-pressed to explain the Grammys tweet, revealing that the band was equally miffed. The Grammys did not respond to THR’s request for further explanation of Portnow’s comments. Newman, who THR also reached out to, declined to comment.

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But now that we’ve all published, pontificated and perpetuated, who’s the winner of this pointless exercise? Van Halen, who received untold amounts of publicity during a time when they were negotiating a lucrative new recording contract -- and justifiably so since clearly the anticipation for a new Van Halen album, tour and all the accouterments that come with a grand-scale reunion have reached feverish proportions. Who loses? Van Halen’s fans who tuned into a 60-minute kudos fest and the closest they got to witnessing real rock and roll was when the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light was listed as an Album of the Year contender.

The Beach Boys lose, too, because if they do appear on the Grammys this year, their name and Van Halen’s will inevitably live side-by-side in subsequent press reports, taking away from the impact of the announcement.

And the Recording Academy doesn’t emerge from the hoopla unscathed, either. With the understanding that the organization has an awards show to promote and a buzz to build, should that come at the expense of honesty? If Academy executives knew that Van Halen was never in discussions to appear, isn’t it now time they reveal the truth in some capacity and put an end to the message board madness? Or simply be straight with someone? Anyone?  

Maybe marketing executive Steve Stoute had the right idea when he took the Grammys to task last year, spending $40,000 to place a full-page open letter in the New York Times. His gripe: that the Grammys were out-of-touch with popular music and used the names of superstar artists like Justin Bieber and Eminem (the former lost Best New Artist to Esperanza Spalding, the latter lost Album of the Year to Arcade Fire) to lure viewers to their broadcast and ultimately leave them disappointed. Sound familiar?

But all hope is not lost where the various players are concerned, we have a solution: “California Girls” as performed by the unlikely pairing of, yes, Van Halen and the Beach Boys, lest we forget that David Lee Roth scored a massive solo career hit with the Beach Boys’ 1965 hit, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his 1985 version (see video below). And for good measure, the Grammys can throw Katy Perry in the mix. Now that’s worth tuning in for.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin