The Grammys You Didn’t See

Pollstar’s intrepid reporter gets a media pass for the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. Needless to say, he was a bit overwhelmed by it all.

Photo: AP Photo
Accepts the award for best rap album as Nicki Minaj and look on at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

When I got an email request a few months ago to send in a media request for the Grammys, I didn’t really think I’d get a response. So when the request got accepted, I had to decide what to do. Could there be something at the Grammys that I could report on? I racked my brain for a week before I came up with the answer:

No. There was nothing to report on.

They gave me a choice of the red carpet and the media room. Well, red carpets are for artists, right? I figured a media room would be where people hang out, chill, talk, maybe walk up to a reporter.

“You know what that is, right?” a buddy in LA asked me on Instant Messenger.

I gave my theory.

“Uh. No,” she wrote. “You’re in this little room, with a television. It’s nowhere near the Staples Center.”

Fine. We’ll work this out when we get there. Seriously, I’m there for the potential trade shots. Work ain’t gonna pay for it; why should it? No guarantee. I made the request; I foot the bill (this hotel room in Chinatown is off the chain!).

Photo: AP Photo
Performs onstage during the pre-telecast at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

It got off to a good start. The Grammys don’t start until 5 p.m., but some media need to be near the Staples Center by 10:30 a.m. Others, like me, by noon to get a good parking spot. The hundreds of pre-show Grammy awards start getting handed out around 1 p.m.

So it’s off to the media room, which is on one of the far corners of Staples, near the Wayne Gretzky statue (it was said several times). On the way, there is a violent argument between a security exec and his superior with the exec screaming, “Fine! I’m out of here!” and proceeds to get into a golf cart and drives off, somehow, really fast.

The media center is divided into several rooms, with the print media being considered the least likely to achieve artist visitations. Hey, it’s print. It’s not the Twitter room. The room is tight with tables and chairs. Everyone has a laptop (I knew there was something I forgot). Oh, and no photos are allowed. It’s the one room where the artists shouldn’t need to double-check their makeup. Print media. The ape room.

So the media is in this room from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., watching video screens, getting handouts and getting served a pretty decent box lunch. Every once in a while a pre-show Grammy winner, like the best modern dance album producer or whatever, comes to the microphone. In a room this size, there is always someone who has a question. Checking out the tags on the tables, there is Vibe, Music Connection, Forbes ..and “Grammy Bloggers” whatever that is. One of them is sitting right next to me, pecking away.

And peeking over the shoulders, you could see names on the laptop screens like Ben Sisario. As in the New York Times. THAT Ben Sisario.

A few people visit, like Herbie Hancock, but for the most part, it’s watching television screens. Seems like it could be done at home, with a closed-circuit broadcast of the pre-show. Kathy Griffin is one of the pre-show presenters and, because it’s not being broadcast, she’s dropping F-bombs all over the place, and zipping through dozens of awards.

Photo: AP Photo
On stage during the pre-telecast at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, half the room is on Facebook. I need a break. Who can blame me? I must have been in there like 10, 12 minutes. Outside is one of the people Griffin just presented a Grammy to – a Japanese woman, in full kimono – looking lost, and none of the people in red coats can speak Japanese. She’s a Grammy winner but has nowhere to go. Nearby, for no reason, is Clarence Clemons and a buddy, unnoticed, just chilling in the perfect LA weather.

On the corner is the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t want to recognize them but it’s surreal to see them in real life. They’re singing, “You’re going straight to hell on a crazy train” in harmony. It’s done pretty well. Meanwhile, some fat guy with a white beard is holding up a Jesus Saves sign and is closer to the railings. “The Grammy party in HELL has been canceled,” he says, making it up as he goes along, “because of FIRE!” It makes no sense. Now THAT I cannot tolerate.

About 4 p.m. two women walk up, thinking I’m a Grammy employee because of my lanyard. The girl who is talking to me wants to know if they have time to go back to their hotel room. I give the best answer I can then look over and realize the other girl is actually an older man wearing a dress. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, but am saying there was a LOT wrong with the kabuki makeup scheme.

I return to the media room around 4:45; show starts at 5 p.m. On the screen is a producer, on stage, telling everyone to take their seats. And, before you know it, you’re watching the Grammys on TV. It’s that opening tribute to Aretha Franklin. The only difference is, no ads. You just see a screen that says the Grammys on it, and you hear the audience as it waits through the break. There is no tape delay so you really do hear Lady Gaga and Win Butler say “shit.”

Photo: AP Photo
Esperanza Spalding and Bobby McFerrin perform during the Grammy pre-telecast in Los Angeles.

The Black Keys drop by; they turn the sound down on the TV.

They leave; a fan gets turned on in the back of the room and half the reporters turn and look at it. Noisy. But nobody does anything. One actually says, “I am about to turn it off MYSELF!”

Do it dude. It’s pretty simple. American technology. Chinese. Whatever.

The show rolls on for a while. Some reporters are really reporting; some are absorbed with their Twitter accounts. Train shows up and is charming. Then, maybe an hour later, John Legend shows up and couldn’t be nicer.

Two reporters in front of me hold up their tape recorders.

That’s right: Tape recorders. Those little dictation versions. I, on the other hand, go back to my Facebook app on my iPhone. That’s the kind of salary Pollstar provides me.

And I’m losing my marbles with the questions. Here are a few I heard (I am not exaggerating):

1. “With your win, are you even more excited about making music?”
2. “What are you doing after the show?”
3. “What are you doing for Valentines day?”
4. “People used to dismiss you. But you keep coming back better than ever. How do you ….. “ (who cares)

Yes, you’re a reporter. You should ask questions. But if I knew the trick was to ask, “How do you feel about your win,” I’d have got into this reporting stuff a long time ago. And the dude next to me has a camera. An SLR 35 mm with a lens from the Super Bowl and its snapping away. I thought they weren’t allowed? This goes on all night until someone tells him to stop. Which he doesn’t.

Photo: AP Photo
Patrick Carney, left, and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys arrive at the Grammy Awards.

There are two genuine moments in the room. Esperanza Spalding’s win as new artist caused a wave of surprise. Arcade Fire’s big win had the same reaction, but with the added “that’s cool” sound. And one got the impression that the “wins” equaled visits, so if there was any rooting, it was for stuff like Justin Bieber or Eminem.

Michael Morrison from “Glee” drops by, actually saying that he heard we were not getting a lot of visits so he wanted to help. He is asked if he has a Valentine’s Day date and if he would like one.

Finally there is a wave of visits. Which makes sense because most artists waited in the audience until the end. Miranda Lambert shows up ( “Why didn’t you thank Blake?” “I forgot!”). Ray LaMontagne (“Who are your musical influences?” – no. really. Someone actually asked that.)

Usher pops by and is immediately asked about Spalding’s win over Bieber. “Of all the question, you had to ask me that first!” he teases.

Bieber suddenly arrives and jumps on Usher’s back. Bieber really looks young and still seems unfazed by all of this. He talks to Usher. “You’re going to Paris after this? I’m going to London. The Brits. I’ll take a plane over to Paris and we can, you know, hang out!”

Skylar Grey shows up and someone asks her if she will ever collaborate with Dr. Dre, or something like that. Yes, she answers. She already has. She contributed to a song on his album. A song that she just PERFORMED WITH HIM ONSTAGE AT THE GRAMMYS called “I Need A Doctor.” OK, the reporter asks. Did you contribute any OTHER songs (nice save, guy. Not.).

Photo: AP Photo
Poses backstage at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Esperanza Spalding drops by. She takes her win over Bieber in stride. But most of all, she’s stunning. She is asked about winning over Bieber and she notes that everybody is friends. And he sells more CDs. “And we both have GREAT hair.”

The writers of “New York State of Mind” drop by. They’ve never met Jay-Z nor Alicia Keys.

Long wait. Lady Gaga is out, but some talk of Lady Antebellum. I decide to bail. That’s when Lady Antebellum shows up in the hallway. I go back in, just in time to hear a question about how excited they are. All I want to do is ask Charles Kelley if he remembers playing on my executive golf putting green back at the Fresno office. Probably not, considering he looked right through me out in the hallway. Probably absorbed with something. I bail as Arcade Fire walks in. It’s time to go back to Chinatown and write this up.

Good news though. The Grammys are being shown again on cable. One good thing came out of this: I’ll finally impress a chick. Right? Yes. Right. Totally right.