"You have to remember, there are... how many categories?" multiple-Grammy winner Cyndi Lauper says, attempting to describe her experience as the 2014 host of the annual Grammy pretelecast ceremony, during which the 70 or so awards not broadcast on the televised main show are presented. "Only so many will make it to TV, but for everyone nominated, it's an exciting time. That's why the pretelecast is really great, and over the last few years, it has really become a well-attended and respected event -- which wasn't always the case."
Indeed, much of the general public probably is unaware of the early-afternoon ceremony, but The Recording Academy gradually has been elevating its profile: The event now has its own separate venue -- Los Angeles' state-of-the-art Nokia Theater, on the same campus as the Staples Center, where the main ceremony is held -- along with amped-up production values and performances from non-mainstream nominees such as, in 2014, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Hiatus Kaiyote, La Santa Cecilia and Roomful of Teeth. And on Feb. 8, The Recording Academy will launch the pretelecast as its own rebranded, renamed entity: the 57th annual Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony -- or, as it has been nicknamed, "The Premiere" -- streamed in full on Grammy.com.
"We enlisted a firm that specializes in naming events, and we all agreed the pretelecast's new name is far more elegant -- and accurate," says longtime Recording Academy president Neil Portnow. "As it's used in film, 'premiere' indicates something exciting, a first look -- and it's also a coming out. What we're doing is both: It's not possible to give out all the awards in the telecast's three-and-a-half-hour time frame -- but all Grammys are of equal value and importance, and everything we do has to meet the highest standards."
While Portnow admits that, in the past, the earlier ceremony was something of a "stepchild," says Lauper, "The number of people watching online has grown exponentially, and I can tell you firsthand the production values are getting better and better."
Not only does the pretelecast give an early indication of the evening's big winners -- in 2012, Foo Fighters had four trophies before the main show had even started -- it's a time when many legendary performers get a long-overdue moment in the sun. "You get to see some of the coolest artists, in categories like blues or gospel or Broadway recording, which I was nominated for last year," says Lauper. "The highlight for me as host was handing out the best blues album Grammy to my dear pal Charlie Musselwhite, when he won with Ben Harper [for their 2013 collaboration Get Up!]. Charlie had been nominated many, many times and never got a Grammy, so to hand him that trophy and finally recognize one of America's greatest musical gifts was awesome."
Each year, more people become aware that the show really starts at around 1 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday. "For us musicians, as soon as that first category is announced -- it's the Grammys!" says Lauper. "I'm not nominated this year, but believe me, I will be in the audience for the pretelecast."
This story first appeared in the Dec. 26 issue of Billboard.