Four storylines were in place in the weeks leading up to the 54th annual Grammy Awards, held on Feb. 12, 2012. Adele would be making her first appearance since throat surgery, Bruce Springsteen had a new song, Paul McCartney was MusiCares' Person of the Year, and the Beach Boys were reuniting for the first time in a couple of decades.
In the long run, however, it will be known as the year Whitney Houston died and more than 39 million people tuned in, according to Nielsen, the second-largest audience ever for a Grammy show.
This year the overwhelming storyline appears to be putting the focus on emerging talent. The nominations, especially in the general categories, are packed with newer artists. To Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich, that presents a great opportunity for the telecast to introduce Frank Ocean, the Black Keys and the Lumineers to the mainstream.
"I would hope that for every Beyoncé or Rihanna on our show that there is a lesser-known artist we can take to another level," he says. "We have an opportunity to present inherently interesting artists who have found a core audience and do something that appeals to a broader audience."
The impact of a performance or a win at the ceremony has reached the point where it's immediately felt. Despite the 2012 ceremony falling on the same day that Nielsen SoundScan's sales week ended, there were still 20 Grammy-related albums that had sales spikes for the week, including Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, the Civil Wars and best new artist winner Bon Iver.
The week after the show, Adele's 21 more than doubled its sales, Mars' Doo-Wops & Hooligans jumped 30-8 on the Billboard 200 and the Civil Wars, onscreen for all of 59 seconds, rose 41-10 with Barton Hollow selling 36,000 copies.
Mars was among the acts that impressed Ehrlich. "What he did was so broadly appealing he gained a whole new audience. Did we do that for Adele? Probably not. Unless an artist sweeps, [Grammy bumps] are much more related to the performance."
The Grammy bump is generally good for a week, but a few artists have seen solid growth throughout the year. Bon Iver's self-titled album has sold 120,00 copies since the telecast, 31,000 of which fell within the two sales periods that included the show. Skrillex's Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites has nearly doubled from its pre-Grammy tally of 254,000 sold.
Leading up to the 2013 event, as of Dec. 13, Ehrlich said he had about nine acts booked with at least another 11 to go. Deals with artists never include the exact nature of a performance and only once has a booking included a guarantee of the opening slot-the reunion of the Police at the 2007 show. Right now, he's unsure of how the show will open.
"It presents itself and then I make a deal," he said, noting that the decision is usually made about a month out. "When I heard Bruce's song ["We Take Care of Our Own"], I thought, 'This is a mobilizing number.'"
When it's unclear as to how the show should start, he goes over the list of who's booked and starts brainstorming. The most successful concept, he said, was the tribute to Aretha Franklin in 2011 with Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Yolanda Adams, Martina McBride and Florence Welch.
That tied into an element that Ehrlich sees as a responsibility of the Grammys. "Hopefully," he said, "you see artists you do know in a way that you haven't seen before."