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It started, as feuds so often do, with a snub.
It was Jan. 6, 1997 — back in the days when the Grammys annually alternated between Los Angeles and New York — and the year's nominees were about to be announced at a news conference at Radio City Music Hall, where the awards would be held the following month. Country artist Clint Black was supposed to be one of the announcers, but he got sick, so somebody at the Recording Academy invited New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani to take his place. But for reasons that remain mysterious to this day, that invitation was retracted at the last minute; Giuliani got a phone call in the limo on the way to the news conference requesting that he not show up. The mayor was furious. "If they want to go back to L.A., they can," he fumed to reporters. "We could replace the Grammys in about a day."
And there it is, the story of how the music industry's biggest night — the most watched awards show after the Oscars, typically drawing 25 million to 30 million viewers — eventually got kicked out of New York and ended up at Staples Center in Los Angeles for the past 14 years. It was bad blood, long before Taylor Swift sang a word about it.
But no feud lasts forever, and this year the Grammys are finally returning to the Big Apple. The Jan. 28 show will take place at Madison Square Garden, broadcast (and streamed) live by CBS and hosted for the second year in a row by The Late Late Show's James Corden, with musical performances by Cardi B, Bruno Mars, U2, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, among others. "Most awards shows are processions of millionaires giving one another gold statues," says Corden, "but the Grammys are all about the performances, so as a host you try to stay out of it and add little moments of joy when you can."
There will undoubtedly be moments of other emotions as well. While this year's nominees are the most diverse ever — for the first time, all the lead artists up for record of the year are people of color — they're mostly men of color (Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Mars and Childish Gambino among them). Female artists are vastly underrepresented, a problem in a year when female voices have dominated the discussion throughout the rest of the entertainment world. Expect to hear something about that at the podium and on the red carpet. "We have always supported artists to speak their minds," says Academy chief Neil Portnow, clearing the decks for some stormy speeches. "That will be their personal decision and personal judgment as to what they want to say, or if they want to say anything at all."
No matter who says what, though, or on which coast they say it, the Grammys give the recording industry — which has recovered from the demise of CDs and with sales up 17 percent, thanks to increased streaming — its biggest spotlight. And that's why THR is taking this moment to introduce Music's Ruling Class of 2018: the 25 artists and producers who've moved the needle the past year. The magazine's editors weighed many factors — albums sold, streaming stats and tour receipts as reported by sister publication Billboard, plus critical response, business moves and, of course, Grammy nominations — to determine the following rankings, and also considered harder-to-measure qualities, like heat and buzz and the ability to drive the pop culture conversation just by dropping a song or posting a video. On these pages, you'll find the greatest collection of musical talent assembled since Clive Davis' 2017 pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Hilton (this year, it will take place at the Times Square Sheraton).
Profiles written by Seth Abramovitch, Ashley Lee, Andy Lewis, Alan Light, Ryan Parker, Mia Galuppo, Aziza Kasumov and Lou Vanhecke
This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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