‘Doing anything this Sunday?’ asked my friend on Friday morning.
‘If not, how’d you like to go to the Grammy’s?’ That’s how it started. After a long pause that lasted, ooh, about a nanosecond, I went into hyperdrive. ‘You bet!!!’, I shrieked, and slammed down the phone.
Then came the panic – with no clue as to the dress code and no warning – what do I wear?? Jeans and a dinner jacket? NO, apparently – it really is a black tie event even for the baddest boys of rock’n’roll – and woe betide you if you forget it!
So frockless but optimistic, and with my favourite monster sky-high heels in my case, I booked the first flight out of New York the next day intending to solve the little matter of the dress when I got there.
I discovered in a fitting room at the Beverly Center that I was not alone: several of us were going to the ceremony less than 24 hours later. Some had lost their luggage, some who were simply undecided about their existing attire, but all of us began swapping dresses and tips for a stressful-but-successful hour. Not for the first time, Bloomingdales saved the day. Which was just as well at 9 o clock on a Saturday night…
Arriving in a black limo the next day was quite thrilling. Of course, it was the intense sunlight which dictated the shades-wearing…nothing to do with the fact that it was almost de rigueur. In fact, the exterior of the Staples Center, with long lines into the entrance, looked rather like a relaxed version of the President’s security corps awaiting some SERIOUS trouble.
And suddenly we were in! On the red carpet inside, gaggles of photographers surrounded Justin Bieber (who was invisible, in case you’re wondering) and Lady Gaga on a tray (she’d been in there for hours, bless her), and we made it to the seats in time to find out that there was no food for the next number of hours…
That’s when panic set in. As my long-suffering colleagues will attest… No Food = Hypoglycaemic Sarah monster – and that’s never good.
So when a lone snack seller wandered by just before the doors shut, I nearly mugged him – all for plastic-wrapped, foot-long, gummy strings flavoured with the sourest apple I’ve ever tasted in my life.
But why those, I hear you ask? Surely a pack of crisps/chips would’ve been more sensible? Alas, all there was to be had in his little tray were, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (which always give me a head melting sugar rush), sour apple strings or, er… nothing. So green worms it was.
Thus my unfortunate neighbours had to suffer me rustling under the seat every twenty minutes to withdraw the sticky elastic creatures from their yellow pack, to be followed by the spectacle of me stuffing my face and gurning* with the extreme acid like a particularly dedicated masochist. It looked like I’d lost my way en route to a rather druggy party.
And what an evening it was! I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed myself more at any ‘performing arts’ event. I expected something more like a rock festival gig or an uber talent show format, but in fact it was an extraordinary blend of everything from raw singing right through to extravagant musical-style set pieces. There was Lady Gaga’s eventual descent from her egg (that’s what the tray part was about), historic moments like seeing Mick Jagger in person – really, he MUST have a pact with the devil because even close up he looks and moves like someone half his age. It’s actually uncanny…perhaps there’s a picture in his attic… Oh, and the snake hips thing? It’s definitely true.
Imaginative film and theatrical moments splashed across an extravagant bank of screens: ‘The House That Built Me’ had a nostalgic series of old snapshots and super8 of Miranda Lambert growing up playing music in her old family home which felt like a genuinely touching insight into her life in music; yet minutes later Muse’s dancers raced around the stage like the cast of Mad Max on speed while the screens flashed and strobe lights flickered – at any moment I expected the Tardis to materialise and The Sweet to emerge in full silver platform booted regalia.
The most electric multimedia moment was undoubtedly seeing a flame-haired Rihanna standing in the middle of the room not twenty feet away from me, stunning and powerful in the flesh, with banks of screens burning flames across the entire stage behind her, out of which burst Eminem at full throttle. It felt like they were ripping their hearts out onstage for us with that song – terrifying and exhilarating…phew!
The eclectic range of music was so refreshing: from Bob Dylan singing with Mumford and Sons, a band that clearly idolise him; to the Aretha tribute that featured a collection of current stars including Christina Aguilera singing a medley of her hits, to the iconic Barbra Streisand doing a very simple and moving rendition of Evergreen (did you know she wrote that song? – incredible).
Cee Lo and Gwyneth Paltrow took the cake, however, in possibly the funniest and most enjoyable performance of the evening. Or any evening, for that matter. Set in a Tin Tin–like toy rocket landscape complete with Futurama-esque muppet backing singers, Cee-Lo was a huge camp version of Big Bird complete with gladiator breastplate and a riot of colourful plumage and she was, well, Gwyneth Paltrow in a black pantsuit and fluorescent socks on top of the piano. Everyone was on their feet instantly, bouncing around (yes even the suits were bobbing gently, it’s such an irresistible pop hit).
What impressed me most about the evening – apart from how doll-like J-Lo looks close up – is that here were a bunch of performers really doing it, every bit as good as you’d hope they would be. It’s something you rarely get at a live performance of one band, let alone dozens in one evening, with multiple highly technical stages, the film segments, the dance-pieces…even Katy Perry’s 20 foot train which rose up beneath her as she ascended on her swing to provide a screen for her wedding footage to be projected on. Again, it was a surprisingly intimate and charming moment in a grand arena.
I was lucky enough to meet the man behind it all, John Cossette, later in the evening, to be told that they need 26 stage managers to keep things rolling throughout the night. Looking at the picture now I’m amazed how relaxed he looked. That’ll be the years of practice, then. Despite the enormous scale of the show, it managed to be all-encompassing, accessible, intelligent and challenging. It was an evening that would give anyone back their faith in the power of music. Oh – and in superb planning!