The Greatest Show on Earth

The Grammys take Los Angeles.

Grammy Statuettes. Country Music Hall of Fame. Nashville, TN. (photo: Prayitno)

Featuring a staggering 21 musical performances- all live, thanks to what industry insiders call the “Milli Vanilli Rule”- plus enough sound and light equipment to sink a small battleship, the 62nd annual celebrity extravaganza known as the Grammys is taking place tonight in Los Angeles to much fanfare.

Though if you’ve ever been in L.A. for the Grammys, you know it is more like L.A. is taking place tonight at the Staples Center, where preparations for the Grammys have left streets downtown inaccessible for blocks.

The red carpet is ready, security has never been tighter and early interviews were already getting underway first thing this morning.

Flocks of people decked out in evening wear have been gradually making their way from various points in the city since the sun came up, making for the veritable mountain of tents, chandeliers, soundstage equipment and personal assistants that is the Grammys.

As the rehearsals began in earnest, news of the tragic death of retired NBA star and L.A. basketball legend Kobe Bryant began circulating. Sadness and shock marred the red carpet afternoon as friends and fans of the much-beloved L.A. Lakers player expressed disbelief and passed the news on to friends.

As Bryant’s jersey was moved into greater prominence over the Staples Center court on which he spent so many phenomenal years distinguishing himself, emotions were running high on an otherwise happy occasion.

There have even been calls to cancel the Grammys in order to allow Bryant’s many L.A. fans a chance to mourn him in the Staples Center house he helped build in homage to L.A.’s storied franchise.

Yet in spite of the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash yesterday, this year’s Grammy’s promises be, as each successive year of the storied awards-night has been, bigger and more jaw-dropping than ever.

Celebrities and celebrity stand-ins walked the red carpet gauntlet this afternoon, performing those critical last-minute walk-throughs, mic checks and tests of audio-visual systems so vast and complicated as to require their own army of sound and video techs.

This year’s celebration of all things music isn’t without controversy.

The first female CEO of the Grammys- hired only six months ago- resigned 10 days ago, throwing the industry into an uproar. Publicly accusing the academy of being a “toxic old boys club” and lambasting the voting process as “corrupt”, former Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan has been giving candid interviews all week.

Los Angeles has been abuzz about Dugan’s accusations, with many celebrities and their agents feeling at a loss as to how to respond to questions about the controversy. Some artists, notably Taylor Swift, have refused to perform as a result of the kerfuffle.

In a complaint filed with EEOC, Dugan asserts that her predecessor, former CEO Neil Portnow, was accused of rape and that the Recording Academy’s general counsel, Joel Katz, sexually harassed Dugan herself. Both men deny the accusations.

Dugan also criticized the organization for ongoing conflicts of interest regarding the nomination process, which the Academy has also denied.

The nomination process has been a sore subject with many artists and industry insiders for over a decade. Not all music categories are equally honored or even represented. The academy’s notorious lack of consideration for seminal rap and R & B albums sticks in the craw of some major artists, including Sean “Diddy” Combs and and the talent houses that represent them.

The genre of rap didn’t even have its own selection committee until 2018.

Yet, even with the controversy surrounding the Grammys, and the likely unfairness of the selection process, this evening is still a chance to come together. We are reminded, through the talent and hard work of literally thousands of people, just how much the natural resource of talent has shaped the landscape of our society.

The Grammys is much more than bougie celebrities in $40,000 Armani Prive holding forth on carbon footprints and fossil fuels; it is a chance for us all to put our politics and differences of opinion aside for a night to focus on what unites rather than what divides:

The incredible power of music and the unmatched spectacle of Hollywood royalty on display.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)