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“A lot of you here probably don’t know who we are.” So said Dan Reynolds, lead singer of Imagine Dragons, as he and his bandmates took the stage at Saturday night’s Pre-Grammy Gala, hosted by The Recording Academy and Clive Davis. He was probably right. Though the room was packed to the gills with music industry insiders, most would be hard-pressed to pick out the frontman in a lineup. But they sure do know his song.
It’s a decades long tradition at this party-to-rival-all-parties: new acts share top billing with veterans, while Grammy nominees — like Imagine Dragons, Lorde, Pharell Williams, Robin Thicke, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, among others — are toasted by the man himself, Sony Music’s chief creative officer and a legendary force in the music business.
At 81, Davis is impressively on top of his game when it comes to his annual soiree, reciting multiple chart and sales stats with ease, reminiscing vividly about events long in the past and name-checking everyone from Motown founder Berry Gordy to hitmaker Dr. Luke to Apple CEO Tim Cook. He’s also had a bit of practice keeping the celebration moving, to varying degrees of success. Saturday’s bash, which featured no fewer than 12 acts, found pace to be a bit of a problem, resulting in a flood of exits during the show’s first hour.
Most, however, were firmly planted in their Beverly Hilton ballroom seats for the first order of business: honoring Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge with the Salute to Industry Icons Award. And it’s a good thing, otherwise they would have missed a hilariously self-deprecating video during which the music exec is forced to solicit his own tribute clips from artists and peers (largely because Davis spent the entire budget on the party). Among the notables who make an appearance: WME’s Ari Emanuel, Taylor Swift, U2, Rod Stewart, Sting, Elton John and George Lucas.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter earlier in the night, Grainge, who holds the order of Commander of the British Empire, said he was “very honored by this acknowledgement,” adding, “when I started as a talent scout all those years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be here. I’m thrilled.”
It was a sentiment shared by a couple thousand who got to take in stellar mini-sets by Lionel Richie, Macklemore & Lewis, John Fogerty (joined by Foo Fighters for a pummeling “Fortunate Son” — Dave Grohl warned the tables in front, “It’s gonna be loud”), Miley Cyrus, Pharrell, Thicke, Lorde and Fantasia (see full set list below). They also got to gawk at a mind-blowing collection of celebrities, everyone from Swift, who was, as usual, on her feet and cutting a rug, to Rihanna, looking stunning in a mustard, low-cut dress, to Joni Mitchell, who may have been the non-performing talk of the night.
Here, 15 more highlights from the seen and heard bin.
1. Imagine Dragons played an acoustic version of their hit “Radioactive,” which highlights the natural harmonies of the four members’ voices. It’s a stark — and welcome — difference from the menacing radio version.
2. All eyes were on Mitchell who’s a rare sight at industry events. At one point, Lars Ulrich from Metallica made a beeline for the Canadian singer. Later, the Saskatoon native was seen smoking on the veranda while telling a friend, “Canada is lawless right now.”
3. Richie’s tribute to his longtime friend and supporter Grainge was a heartfelt one. “Lucian given me a foundation,” said the singer, before launching into favorites “Easy” and “All Night Long.”
4. Fun fact: the night’s house band was put together by American Idol musical director Rickey Minor and included an Idol alum doing background vocals: season-eight’s Allison Iraheta.
5. In a sweet father-daughter moment, Kelly Osbourne was spotted helping her dad Ozzy make his way through the labyrinth of tables by holding on tight.
6. Winner for the night’s most enthusiastic dancers: James Blunt, Cyndi Lauper and, of course, Swift, who twitched along to Lorde’s “Team”
7. Pharrell was arguably the man of the night (and the year), what with seven Grammy noms and what’s now a years-long, incredibly fruitful career. His two-song solo performance – of “Frontin’” and “Happy” – was just what the groove doctor ordered.
8. Beats Music founder Jimmy Iovine took a jab at competing streaming services (perhaps in response to this jab by Spotify’s Daniel Ek) by touting his just-launched music destination. “Where you get paid on every stream,” said Iovine.
9. With Mitchell sitting next to Robbie Robertson and Kris Kristofferson breaking bread at a table with Fogerty and veteran manager Elliott Roberts, it was a throwback to the days of Asylum and Geffen Records. Not to be overlooked: attendance by legendary Warner Bros. exec Mo Ostin.
10. “This time last year, we weren’t even invited to this party,” said Macklemore, who pointed out that as independent artists, they come “in the spirit of good music.”
11. Fun fact: The members of A Great Big World are graduates of NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
12. Alicia Keys, with husband Swizz Beats beaming at her side, received an A-list group sing of “Happy Birthday.” (And no doubt, somewhere in the room, an executive at Warner/Chappell was taking note.)
13. Grainge’s table was a virtual receiving line of major artists as everyone from Rihanna to Pharrell to Jamie Foxx stopped to kiss the proverbial ring.
14. Fogerty and family: huge Swift fans. The rocker confessed his love for her music from the stage the said, “You’re probably gonna win that big thing tomorrow.” Swift reacted as she always does: with a “Who, me?” befuddled look and her fingers crossed.
15. Cyrus wants more. Following a three-song set, that included a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” the pop star seemed hesitant to exit the stage, going so far as to plead, “Clive, can I please come back next year?”
Pre-GRAMMY Gala Performances:
Imagine Dragons “Radioactive”
Imagine Dragons “It’s Time”
Lionel Richie “Easy”
Lionel Richie “All Night Long”
Macklemore & Lewis “Thrift Shop”
Macklemore & Lewis “Can’t Hold Us”
A Great Big World “Say Something”
R. Kelly – Mandela Tribute
John Fogerty “Born on the Bayou”
John Fogerty “Center Field”
John Fogerty “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”
John Fogerty “Bad Moon Rising”
John Fogerty with Jennifer Hudson “Proud Mary”
John Fogerty with Foo Fighters “Fortunate Son”
Miley Cyrus “Get It Right”
Miley Cyrus “Jolene”
Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball”
Pharrell Williams “Frontin’” / “Happy”
Pharrell Williams with T.I. and Jennifer Hudson “I Can’t Describe”
Pharrell Williams with T.I. and Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines”
Fantasia “Stormy Weather”
Additional reporting by Emily Zemler
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