Interscope's Dennis Dennehy (left) poses with Robin Thicke backstage at the Billboard Music Awards. (Photo: Jem Aswad)
It's one thing to be backstage at a show where extremely famous people are bustling in and out a few feet away from you - most of us in The Business are jaded enough not to be overawed by that. It's another thing to have it happening while giant fake clouds, grand pianos, hoop dancers, ninjas and people in horse costumes or riding fluorescent bicycles are racing past, usually at breakneck speed.
It's a bizarre scene, and trying to talk shop while it's happening is both challenging - "Look out! The stilt dancers are coming through!" - and really what it's all about. But some people had time to chat.
Wiz Khalifa with manager and Rostrum Records president Benjy Grinberg. (Photo: Adrian Van Anz)
During rehearsals we sat with Interscope's Dennis Dennehy and Nelly Furtado's longtime manager Chris Smith, who filled us in on her forthcoming album - her first English-language LP in six years -- which features songs from a very unusual combination of collaborators: Rodney Jerkins, Bob Rock, Tiësto, Salaam Remi and others we don't remember because we were already so filled with sympathy for the person who had to sequence the album. It's due in September - but the conversation stopped abruptly when Jordin Sparks started singing "I Will Always Love You." For the first of many times that day, people listened without saying a word and burst into applause at the end, usually gushing, "I had no idea she could sing like that."
Legendary Motown Records founder Berry Gordy gets down with son and LMFAO member RedFoo on the red carpet at the Billboard Music Awards. (Photo: Adrian Van Anz)
News of Robin Gibb's tragic death broke during the red-carpet arrivals, and after ducking inside to make some arrangements we returned to the carpet to see legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy posing in front of one of the Chevrolets on the carpet wearing some really bizarre glasses. He was soon joined by his son RedFoo of LMFAO, and it all suddenly made sense.
Stevie Wonder poses with Billboard.biz editor Jem Aswad backstage at the Billboard Music Awards. (Photo: Billboard)
During a quick run through one of the backstage hallways we saw our pal from back in the day Dyana Kass of Interscope, who filled us in on what's going to be an intense September for her: new albums from Nelly Furtado (see above), M.I.A. (produced by Switch) and, at long last, No Doubt. All of the tracks were produced by Mark "Spike" Stent except for one by Major Lazer.
Scooter Braun told Billboard earlier this year that he'd soon have three artists in the top 10 at the awards, and damned if he wasn't right. The small price he had to pay for that prescient prediction was being in absolute constant motion backstage - there he goes with Carly Rae Jepsen, here he comes 30 seconds later in the opposite direction with Justin Bieber, then he's with the Wanted. We saw more of the back of his head (sporting a very clean haircut) than his face.
Carly Rae Jepsen hangs out behind the scenes. (Photo: Adrian Van Anz)
Another arresting sight came when we unexpectedly saw a veritable murderers' row of Live Nation top brass hanging out backstage: Rob Light and Mitch Rose of CAA, Jack Rovner and Ken Levitan of Vector Management and the man at the top himself, Irving Azoff and his son Jeffrey of Azoff Music, and singer Bleona. While we were quizzing publicist Larry Solters about who exactly was where and connected how to whom, we mentioned the word "affiliated" and he said, "'Affiliated.' I like that word. Not 'owned by' or 'a subdivision of.' "
Irving was nice enough to send us a statement about the show afterward: "Richard Beckman and his Prometheus team have built the Billboard Music Awards into one of the industry's key events," he said. "The show attracts all the top tier and developing artists and is a great showcase for talent worldwide. It is no surprise to me that it won its demo for the night."
Live Nation Power Players (L-R): Mitch Rose (CAA); Jack Rovner (Vector Management); Ken Levitan (Vector Management); Irving Azoff (Chairman/CEO Live Nation, Frontline Management Group); Jeffrey Azoff (Azoff Music); Rob Light (CAA); and singer Bleona backstage. (Photo: Adrian Van Anz)
Later on we caught up with Cherry Tree's Martin Kierszenbaum, who talked at length about LMFAO's first headlining tour with fellow Cherry Tree-affiliated (catchy, eh?) artists Far East Movement along with Sidney Samson and Eva Simons. He also told us about a couple of new acts coming later this year that will expand the label's already-sprawling stylistic palette (we'll save that for the full Q&A later this week) and also brought some promising Robyn news: she's in the studio working on new material with Klaus Ahlund in between tours - a new EP is expected next year (not later this year as we originally published: Martin corrected us when we saw him at around 2 a.m. at Vanity in the Hard Rock).
CherryTree Records' Martin Kierszenbaum (left) backstage with Kev Nish from Far East Movement. (Photo: Jem Aswad)
Several monitors were placed in the backstage area and a few people were usually watching them, but just like during rehearsals, when Jordin Sparks began "I Will Always Love You," nearly everyone stopped what they were doing and watched. She'd tweeted earlier in the day about her nerves, but when she finished, everyone burst into rapturous applause -- by far the biggest backstage applause of the night.
Of course, artists were cycling in and out all night -- amid things like Usher's ninjas whooping as they raced to the stage and the stilt dancers practicing their moves -- but our two favorite moments were these: Just before the show started, Katy Perry and Zooey Deschanel -- who could not look more like sisters - had a quick catch-up chat on the ramp leading to the stage, while Katy's grandmother was wheeled up it to the stage en route to her seat. And later, what might have been the strangest sight of the night: Nelly Furtado's band and dancers engaging in their warm-up ritual: a kind of tribal chant and circling dance. "People never know what to make of that," manager Chris Smith laughed.
We'll have a report on Billboard Music Awards' off-the-hook afterparty soon (i.e. once we sleep it off…)
Modern Family co-stars and BBMA hosts Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen on the red carpet. (Photo: Adrian Van Anz)