Katy Perry Honored, Niall Horan & Big Sean Among Performers at Universal Artist Showcase
For its annual artist showcase on the day before the Grammy Awards, Universal Music Group focused on its stable of up-and-coming talent more than ever before -- with a few very notable exceptions.
Held on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 11) at the Ace Theatre in Los Angeles, the UMG showcase included performances by known entities like Rae Sremmurd, Niall Horan, Jessie J and Big Sean, along with rising acts like Bishop Briggs, Bea Miller, Jordan Smith and Aminé, all for a room full of music industry elite.
Midway through the show, UMG chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge and Capitol chairman/CEO Steve Barnett brought one of Universal's biggest artists to the stage, as Katy Perry was honored with a plaque commemorating 10 years with the Universal family during a surprise appearance.
"I'm happy to be back. … I'm hopefully offering some morsels of truth within three-minute-and-30-second pop songs," Perry, who released the politically conscious new single "Chained to the Rhythm" on Friday, told the crowd. The pop superstar also recalled how multiple labels tried to mold her into a cookie-cutter pop artist early in her career, and how Capitol wanted her to shine on her own merits, something she said she had "so much respect" for.
Earlier in the showcase, Grainge praised the "energy, commitment, passion and generosity" of the day's performers, which started off with Jessie J performing a cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" alongside virtuoso pianist Lang Lang. Horan soon arrived to perform his debut solo single "This Town," and Machine Gun Kelly was joined by Pia Mia, filling in for Camila Cabello on a raucous performance of his Top 10 hit "Bad Things."
After last year's UMG showcase included sets by the Weeknd, Halsey and DNCE, the 2017 ceremony was all about music discovery, with Glassnote signee Aurora channeling Björk, The Record Company evoking the Allmans with their twangy rock and Bea Miller dancing barefoot and displaying a newfound ferocity days after her 18th birthday.
"I am about to release new music I've been working on for over a year," Miller told Billboard backstage prior to the showcase. "Lyircally, a lot of the music is very personal and in-depth about some of my problems. Musically, it's very diverse. It's hard for me to pick just one thing to sound like." Miller said that she is not attending the Grammys on Sunday night at the Staples Center: "I never want to go to the show unless I'm nominated or performing. That's my rule. It makes it more special."
Later in the showcase, Lil Yachty hopped onstage with Desiigner, who naturally raised the energy of the crowd with his No. 1 hit "Panda"; Aminé stalked the stage in a blue pullover during "Caroline," and Bishop Briggs delivered one of the most memorable two-song sets, showcasing her sterling vocals and rhythmic pop sound.
"These past couple months, I've been writing every day, and I'm really excited about the new additions to the project that I'm creating," says Briggs, whose debut album is due in 2017. Although it doesn't have a release date, the singer says she'd love for it to coincide with her tour kickoff in April -- or her Coachella performance during the same month. "I've never been there before, because I could never afford it!" Briggs said with a laugh. "Now it's like, 'Oh you know, just playing the day that Beyonce is playing, no big deal.'"
One other exciting tidbit from the showcase had nothing to do with potential Top 40 fare: musical legend Berry Gordy was on-hand to announce the relaunch of Polygram Entertainment and the production of the upcoming Motown documentary, The Story of Motown. Gordy received a warm round of applause from the crowd, and was beaming while previewing some of the doc's footage, which included clips of Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and Smokey Robinson.
"Lucky things," Gordy said, "always seem to happen in my fairytale life."