“This man is my idol,” added Timbaland, who rattled off a stunning list of achievements by the EGOT winner, who has 27 Grammys and over 2,900 recorded songs to his name. “He left us with a documentary that I call my music Bible. Q, you the best who ever, ever did it.”
When Jones finally took the stage following a performance by his protégé Jacob Collier (who was accompanied by a string quartet on a free-flowing cover of Jones’ “Human Nature”) as well as a musical tribute by Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Taylor McFerran, YBN Cordae, and Ty Dolla $ign, he didn’t hold back in expressing his gratitude.
“Y'all making my soul smile. Thank you! Unbelievable,” said the 85-year-old. True to the spirit of the evening, the venerable multi-hyphenate went on to discuss the importance of celebrating the oft-unheralded craftspeople working behind the scenes.
“If it all starts with a great song, that's the secret. The song is the secret. The singer is the messenger,” he continued. “The maker of the song ... they can make a star out of the worst singer on the planet, a good song can, a great song. And even Sinatra and Aretha and Michael Jackson could not save a bad song.”
Before exiting the stage, Jones went on to offer some pointed advice to the assemblage of up-and-comers in the room about remaining humble in the face of career triumph.
“I firmly believe that you must have ... grace with your success,” he continued. “Don’t have a number one record and think you're better than everybody.”
Fittingly, Jones’s acceptance speech was by far the longest of the evening, which honored a slew of the industry’s most successful songwriters, producers, and engineers (as voted on by other behind-the-scenes players representing the top streamed songs over the past year). That included Secret Genius: Songwriter of the Year winner Ali Tamposi, who, like many who took the stage, couldn’t help but make note of Jones’s outsized presence.
“To be in the presence of Quincy Jones is just, this is beyond my wildest dreams,” she said. (It’s worth noting that Tamposi’s speech was briefly interrupted by an unidentified man in the audience yelling “You’re hot!”, which -- whether a “friendly” taunt or not -- was a tone-deaf addition to a night that saw the night’s marquee award go to a woman.)
That aside, the show was livened considerably by this year’s host Ne-Yo, who proved to be a loose, engaging presence onstage. The singer-songwriter also made arguably the night’s sole political statement while addressing his conspicuous leg cast.
“So my foot is broke, y’all,” he said during a break in the action, before joking: “Dude walked past me and said ‘Make America great again,’ and I kicked him ... so hard that I actually broke my foot.”
With a few exceptions, this year was again characterized by relative brevity in terms of acceptance speeches. The most evident examples included Secret Genius: Pop winner Benny Blanco, who referenced the living legend in his midst by stating simply, “Quincy Jones is here. Peace, guys!” before abruptly exiting the stage.
Elsewhere, Secret Genius: Rock winner Jake Sinclair managed only, “This is my nightmare. I’d like to thank Spotify,” before swiftly taking leave of the spotlight.
Other honorees, like Secret Genius: Producer of the Year winner Murda Beatz, took a decidedly more somber tone. “I'd like to shout out my mom, shout out of my friends, RIP my pops, and RIP my dogs that passed away this year,” said Beatz (née Shane Lee Lindstrom), who produced Drake’s Billboard No. 1 single “Nice for What.” “This is for them.”
This year’s show -- which also featured performances by Bebe Rexha (who performed “I’m a Mess” alongside songwriter Justin Tranter and producer Jussifer), Becky G (“Sin Pijama”/“Majores” with songwriters Mario Caseres and Yamil Marrufo), and Daniel Caesar (“Get You” with producers Matthew Burnett and Jordan Evans) -- was again put on as part of Spotify's Secret Genius program, which launched last June as a way of honoring influential behind-the-scenes players.
“[There are] so many architects behind the scenes of these songs that we grow to love, and we just give all the props to the artists,” Keith Urban, who won Entertainer of the Year at this week’s CMAs, told Billboard before the show. “And there's so many people behind the scenes.”
Tranter similarly weighed in on the importance of honoring those unseen hit-makers.
“It's so beautiful to be a part of an event where songwriters and producers are being honored,” Tranter told Billboard before the show. “The community that we have behind the scenes is so supportive and beautiful, that it's kinda cool to have an event like this where the world can see how we all know each other, how we all hang out with each other, how we all make music together.”
Along with Tamposi, Beatz, Blanco, Sinclair, and Smokescreen, the night’s winners also included Tank God -- who won both Secret Genius: Breakthrough of the Year and Secret Genius: Hip-Hop for producing Post Malone’s No. 1 single “Rockstar” -- as well as Ludwig Göransson, who took home Secret Genius: Social Message for producing Childish Gambino’s Billboard No. 1 single “This Is America.”
“I just want to say thank you to Donald Glover,” said Göransson, whose last name was mangled by apologetic presenter Kelly Rowland. “We’ve been working together for about 10 years now, and we started writing this song about three-and-a-half years ago. And as a producer, it's such a pleasure to be working with an artist that is just not doing music, but just moves everyone with so many different mediums.”
Elsewhere, Bruno Mars producers The Stereotypes took home the award for Secret Genius: R&B (“That’s What I Like,” “Finesse”); DJ Swivel won Secret Genius: Dance (“Love Yourself: Tear”); Andrés Torres and Mauricio Rengifo received Secret Genius: Latin (“Despacito,” “Echame La Culpa”); David Garcia took home Secret Genius: Country (“Cry Pretty,” “Let You Down”); and Manny Marroquin won Secret Genius: Mixing Engineer (“Happier,” “No Brainer”). Secret Genius: Engineer, meanwhile, went to Kesha Lee ("This Is America,” "Bad and Boujee”), whose award was preceded by presenter Marcella Araica discussing Spotify’s recently-announced EQL Directory, a database for woman and gender non-conforming audio professionals.
“As a woman in a male-dominated world, I have definitely been challenged,” said Araica, who continued of the database: “The program allows for any person around the world to add their name to the directory visible to those looking to hire a more inclusive creative team.”
Araica wasn’t the only one praising Spotify Friday night. Earlier in the evening, Quincy Jones tribute performer YBN Cordae made note of the streaming platform’s growing influence. “Spotify, it's the new radio,” he told Billboard. “Spotify is everything. It's a dope platform for even independent artists to put their music out there and be reached to like billions of people.”
Tranter was slightly less effusive. “I mean, the radio's still pretty f---ing powerful and still pays songwriters the most, so we appreciate that,” said Tranter, who praised the recent passage of the Music Modernization Act, which will eventually lead to songwriters, producers, and artists receiving higher royalties from digital and streaming services.
“But Spotify's really important. It really cracked the code on how people want to listen to music in the future. So I think Spotify deserves all the respect and all the clout that it gets because it really did figure out how to make this work in 2000-something.”
That said, the night's main attraction was decidedly a classic.
“People call themselves producers way too fast these days,” Urban told us before the show. “It's nice to see the real deal, and I'm glad they're honoring Quincy tonight.”