I Was Music
This past Sunday, I was fortunate enough to attend The Grammy Awards, an Important and Very Long Music Show that celebrates today’s most popular recording artists and the guys named Ludwig who work with them. Before you ask - no, I did not walk home with one of the ceremony’s coveted “Golden StrangeTubes.” And before you ask again - no, I also was not nominated, nor have I ever contributed to the music industry in any capacity beyond listening to a lot of it through a rotating series of sweat-drenched headphones.
(This is normally where I would dive into a 10,000-word screed against the maniacal headphone industry and their historic lack of support for the Perpetually Sweaty, but I’ll save that for a future post.)
Nonetheless, thanks to my girlfriend Lauren’s incredibly demanding short-term job at the recording academy, I found my effortless-consumer self striding awkwardly into the Wetzel’s Pretzel’s-adorned halls of LA’s Staples Center on the night of the big event. There, over the course of several Deluxe Edition Double LPs, I shared a (very big) room with music royalty as we watched the most famous 8-to-10 percent of 2018’s Grammy winners (plus Ludwig) accept their awards.
If this all comes across as cynical, don’t be fooled - the Grammys, as a complete experience, are definitely worthwhile. If you ever get the opportunity to go - whether as an artist, a seat-filler, a rich person, a media employee or one of Alicia Keys’ many piano wranglers - I certainly recommend the concert itself. However, even the most magical of evenings can have its drawbacks, so here are some of the BEST and WORST aspects of my experience as an Anonymous Audience Member:
BEST: Nobody cares about you.
I don’t know the story behind Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation of the Fantastic Four, but I have to assume it went something like this:
JACK: What if one of them becomes invisible. Bad guys can’t see her.
STAN: Gee-whiz, that sure would be neat. Fantastic, even.
JACK: Yes. It would be. Let’s discuss further over a malt, or a different thing people consume communally in 1960.
Well, the comic book trailblazers were right: being invisible is fantastic. And in the normal world, when you spend upwards of four hours in an enclosed space with Drake, Michelle Obama, Dolly Parton and dozens of other famous people, you get a taste of what could be accomplished with such a power. During Janelle Monae’s set, for instance, I’m fully convinced I could have eaten an entire lasagna with my bare hands without anyone in the arena noticing me. I was really hungry, too.
WORST: I was really hungry.
One thing to note about the Wetzel’s Pretzel’s - they were closed by 4:30. Along with every other eatery/drinkery/pretzelery in the Staples Center, half an hour before the start of the show. I realize this is a common complaint about awards shows, televised shows, music festivals and pretty much every other type of captive gathering in this country, but I believe that both the performers and the viewers at home would be treated to a much more enthusiastic live audience if at least something was offered. After all, isn’t that what these broadcasts are about? Watching how much fun the audience is having between the speeches and commercial breaks? Seeing a guy who thinks he’s invisible eating a lasagna twenty rows behind Shawn Mendes? We have to do better.
BEST: I bought a suit that actually fits.
Shoutout to Tyrell at Men’s Warehouse on Wilshire in West LA. Unless he gave me a bad deal, in which case…why, Tyrell? Why? You were extremely nice. You told me I looked great. And this is how you treat me? A loyal first-time customer? After everything we experienced together?
This is really bumming me out. I’m just gonna assume I got a good deal on the suit. Thanks, Tyrell.
WORST: I may have paid too much for the suit.
I don’t wear suits very often, and the show is over, so if I’m going to get my money’s worth from this thing I need to either fully commit to Mad Men cosplay or change my career path. This is more work than I had anticipated when I made the purchase.
BEST: Dolly Parton is a national treasure.
Listen up, fellow millennials: there’s a person named Dolly Parton, and you probably know her music, but did you also know she kicks major ass and is fucking awesome? I can’t remember when I first learned about Dolly’s work, but once you get a glimpse of the altruism beneath her bubbly Country Barbie Doll exterior, she becomes all the more impressive as an artist and entertainment legend.
Here is a taste of some of the phenomenal things about Dolly:
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has sent out over 100 million books to children around the world in an effort to improve literacy among underprivileged youth.
She has been married to her husband Dean, a retired road-paving business owner from Nashville, for over 50 years. They don’t have any kids but they do have a goddaughter named Miley Cyrus.
Her Dollywood Foundation has partnered with the Red Cross, PETA and other charities to help revitalize several struggling communities in the South, focusing on critical issues like labor rights and health care.
I don’t have time to go through everything, so just check this out.
This only scratches the surface of the person Dolly has been for her entire life and career, and if you’re unfamiliar with her legacy I encourage you to familiarize yourself. “9 to 5” might be a more relevant anthem than ever in the year 2019, and it was genuinely inspiring to watch Dolly rock the Grammy stage after such a storied and positive career.
WORST: The show itself did not have alcohol.
Like I said, once 4:30 hit and the fancily-clad masses started dispersing to their respective seats, the booze stopped flowing. And by booze, I mean the same cocktail/house wine/Bud Light/IPA-of-choice combo you can find at any sporting event, only instead of blacked out men in oversized jerseys they’re being sipped by Korean pop groups and suave 70-year-old dudes with cartilage piercings.
Cutting the alcohol is probably a smart decision, considering the concert airs during primetime on CBS and impressionable children love copying what they see during primetime on CBS. But as a gangly 28-year-old white guy whose dance moves are best described as “an injured dad listening to Post Malone thinking it’s Imagine Dragons,” I always appreciate a little overpriced liquid courage when attending a concert.
Besides, it’s not like anyone would do something that crazy during the broadcast, right?
BEST/WORST: I’m pretty sure someone in the crowd ran after Cardi B and got tased during a commercial break.
This was wild. Cardi had just accepted her award for Best Rap Album (debatable, but it’s a good album and she shared the award with Mac Miller so I’ll let it slide), and the lights on stage dimmed as they normally do during commercial breaks. I didn’t see exactly what happened (too busy annoying Lauren with Clipse facts after getting a glimpse of Pusha T), but it looked like the person rushed up on stage, got swarmed by security, and ended up on their back, probably feeling pretty damn cool.
To give some credit, this maniac was apparently one of the few in the building who took advantage of the 3:30-4:30pm drinking window. Just would’ve been smart to soak some of that up with a pretzel.
BEST: Alicia “Keys” Keys.
She played so many keys. Two pianos worth of keys. And came across as a genuinely funny, relaxed person. Very cool. A little too cool, actually. Plus she’s an insanely talented musician. Wait, what the fuck? This doesn’t seem fair. And she’s married to Swizz Beatz? That guy makes amazing beats. Their home must be littered with beats, and pianos, and scraps of paper with funny quips about Bob Newhart on them. This is bullshit.
Okay fine, when she made a crowd full of Los Angeleans cheer for “Empire State of Mind,” that was a pretty good bit. She’s still in my good graces. For now.
BEST: The after party had delicious food, an open bar and TLC.
The after party we were miraculously invited to may have been the highlight of the whole thing. The buffet was quick and delicious, two-thirds of TLC and En Vogue performed (RIP Left Eye), and watching the hired dancers in Medieval garb try to conform to the hip-hop/R&B/EDM playlist the DJ had chosen was better entertainment than almost anything I’d seen at the show.
Well, there it is. My unfiltered, brutally honest take on what it was like to participate in Music’s Biggest Night without having participated in a single one of Music’s Working Nights. There were of course a lot of performances I enjoyed that I didn’t get the chance to mention - HER, Janelle Monae and Travis Scott were all awesome too. I had also never realized Post Malone could actually sing before this, but his weird mash-up with Red Hot Chili Peppers felt unnecessary.
At the end of the night I felt lucky to be able to check so many legendary performers off my Seen Live list. The motto of the Grammys is “We Are Music,” and I can proudly say that for roughly five hours on a rainy LA Sunday, I was music too.