The Grammys are going big again after last year’s smaller, more intimate presentation inside and outside the Los Angeles Convention Center. “We are back in an arena space with a full audience, so our scale has once again grown,” says Raj Kapoor, who is one of the show’s executive producers for the second year in a row – and showrunner for the first time.
“I think so many artists that we’re working with this year want to celebrate that breath of normalcy again,” Kapoor says. “They want to have their Grammy moment. Last year, we had so many restrictions and this year, they’ve been relaxed.”
This year’s show, set for Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, will feature performances by BTS, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Silk Sonic, J Balvin and more. Trevor Noah is hosting for the second year.
Real life has complicated two key bookings. Tony Bennett, who is 95 and living with Alzheimer’s disease, may or may not be able to attend and perform. And Foo Fighters’ previously announced performance is uncertain in the wake of the sudden death on Friday of the band’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins.
Asked on Monday if Foo Fighters would appear, Jack Sussman, EVP, specials, CBS, said, “I hope so. I don’t know. I think we need to give them a little time to deal with the tragedy that has impacted their family and listen to them and come up with something to honor Taylor’s memory that is appropriate and that they feel good about.”
About Bennett, Kapoor said in a separate interview, “He has an open invitation to our show and we are hopeful he will be coming. I can’t guarantee anything. He was one of the people that we extended an offer to as soon as the nominations came out and we talk to them every couple of days.”
There have been media reports that Kanye West was invited to perform but that the invitation was withdrawn in the wake of West’s highly charged social media posts. “I really don’t want to speak to or about Kanye,” Sussman says. “But the fact of the matter is: Don’t believe everything you read – and believe some of what you read.”
The show will also include a spot that Sussman promises will be “emotional and engaging” that commemorates the ongoing war in Ukraine. “I think we have to acknowledge what’s going on in the world today,” Sussman says.
Noah had hosted four awards shows in his native South Africa, but the 2021 Grammys was his first American awards show.
Noah says he agreed to do the show again based on his “really great working relationship” with Ben Winston, who was showrunner last year and remains one of the show’s executive producers (along with Kapoor and Jesse Collins). “That’s why I said yes to the Grammys. Because I can only do so much as a host. The biggest misconception that people can have is that this is my show. The Grammys is about the Grammys. It’s about the artists, the awards, the show. I’m not trying to make it about me. So I need to work with somebody who has a clear vision and understanding [of] who I am and also who knows how to implement what we’re all trying to do. Working with Ben is a pleasure in that regard.”
Sussman and Kapoor both say they wanted Noah to return as host. “We loved what Trevor brought to the show,” Kapoor says. “His reverence, his love for music, his ability to interface with artists. I think it was unanimous that we all wanted him back.”
“Last year, Trevor was hosting the show in the middle of the COVID pandemic, and we had to call an audible,” Sussman says. “He had to host in a very different way than you would normally host the Grammy Awards. And for an artist that’s as talented and confident a host as Trevor is, it’s always good to have a crowd in front of you when you’re doing your business. We wanted to bring him back, and honestly, I would take Trevor Noah into a live TV foxhole any day of the week. There’s nobody better in that moment in time when you need someone to walk out and be a true MC for the evening in an engaging, entertaining, insightful and intellectual way.”
Sussman has been a key executive at CBS since 1998, a period in which the Recording Academy has had four CEOs (Michael Greene, Neil Portnow, Deborah Dugan and Harvey Mason jr.) and the Grammy Awards telecast has had three showrunners (Ken Ehrlich, Winston and now Kapoor). “Working on this show has been one of the highlights of my career,” Kapoor says. “I’ve watched it evolve over the years. The show has grown as music has changed and the television viewing audience has changed.
“But ultimately what has [been] the constant is the idea that we are celebrating the year in music. Were bringing artists to the biggest audience possible in a given moment in time and we’re celebrating it all under one roof on one night. That’s the beauty of the Grammys. You gotta walk out on that stage in front of your peers in front of millions of people worldwide and deliver the goods.
“You have the highest caliber of artists at that given moment in time under one roof, and they’re right there sitting in front of you. That forces you to up your game. So, when somebody walks out on stage and blows your mind, and you’re coming in behind them, you better be ready. … Artists want to shine in that moment and look like they belong on that stage and they all usually do. Because that moment in time can change your professional life.”
Kapoor says the show will be incorporating some lessons learned at last year’s widely praised, more intimate show. “We’ve made efforts to have a better relationship between the performers onstage and the audience. Normally when we’ve been at Staples Center, now Crypto.com Arena, we have rows of seats. We’ve actually done very small kind of table seating for our nominees this year and they’re actually really close to the stage, so there is no mosh pit. The stage has been lowered. It’s just over 4 feet high. We used to be at like 7 and a half feet high. The relationship between the performer and the audience is much more intimate.”
Just as the 2021 Grammys put a spotlight on music venues that had been hard hit by the pandemic, this year’s show will spotlight the touring community. “The music touring community was hit hard for almost 1 and a half years with a huge amount of people that were out of work,” Kapoor says. “Only recently, shows have been back on the road. That is one of the stories that we plan on honoring this year.”
“Grammy Moments” were Ehrlich’s signature show element in his remarkable 40-year run as the show’s producer or executive producer. Many Grammy moments were collaborations of artists who don’t normally perform together, but the phrase gradually came to serve as a catch-all for show highlights.
“We will continue to have amazing Grammy moments,” Kapoor says. “We’re probably doing less collaborations, but sometimes when they happen, they’re magical. … Those kind of Grammy moments are continuing to evolve. I think they’re just going to be done in a little bit of a different way.”
Kapoor notes that the show was about 85% booked when a surge in the Omicron variant forced a postponement from Jan. 31 to April 3. The postponement was announced on Jan. 5. Most of the acts who had been booked were able to accommodate the new date, but he says that the show lost “one or two acts” that couldn’t move. Kapoor declines to name those artists. “They are still coming to the awards portion, but they couldn’t block out two days to come to rehearsal dates.
“As soon as we knew we were moving, we reached out because two months later, into the spring, is when a lot of people were actually on the road. So many artists were able to accommodate us. Some actually moved performance or tour dates. Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo had dates on sale, but they were very gracious and were able to move.”
The Grammys used to be fiercely competitive and generally wouldn’t book an artist if they had appeared on a competitive awards show. The Grammys still want to have the definitive performance of a song, but they’ve relaxed their demands for exclusivity.
“Things have changed,” Kapoor says. “We’re not calling people and stopping them from performing on late-night shows or other shows. We always want to have a special performance on the Grammys. We think if you have a big idea or [would like to] do the version that you’ve always wanted to do, it should be on the Grammys, but we’re not here to stop you from doing Saturday Night Live or other shows. That’s not our style. It’s just something we don’t do anymore. We want people to be successful, but when they come to our show, we want it to be special. We want it to be the one moment that helps define that album project or that song.”
This year’s Oscars had some Grammy-type elements, such as the first live performance of the non-nominated “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” with a surprise guest rap by Megan Thee Stallion. (A would-be Oscar Moment!) Kapoor says the two shows, and awards shows in general, borrow from each other. He notes that the Grammys last year created short films for nominees in the album of the year category – an idea borrowed from the Oscars. “Sometimes we might see an idea on the Oscars and say, ‘Oh, they treated that package really beautifully.’ Those ideas kind of get shared. We learn from each other.”
Kapoor says the Grammys are also more open to reaching out to people in the industry to have conversations about artists and show ideas.
“That has really changed under Harvey’s leadership, this outreach to the entire music community,” he says. “We have this open-door policy — come to us with an idea. Nothing is really off-the-table. We’re having this very open dialogue of who potentially will be on the show with all the people that are involved in the TV committee and CBS. That is an open forum for people to discuss all of these amazing artists that existed in the nominating process.”
Sussman speaks highly of the current Grammy production team. “The team we have in place right now working on this show, with this group of producers and directors, is literally one of the most talented and diverse groups of creators on any show I’ve ever worked on.”
Kapoor grew up watching the Grammys, citing performances by Michael Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin and The Chicks as particular favorites.
“It’s an actual dream come true to show-run the Grammys,” he says, near the end of the interview. “I’ve watched the show since I was a child. I didn’t know I was going to be involved in the entertainment industry, but I always knew I wanted to watch this show. I would always get permission to stay up late and watch the show in its entirely.
“Then when I came to L.A., I got asked to assist on a couple of numbers [as a creative consultant]. I remember walking into the Grammy room the first time live for a rehearsal [in 2001]. It was with Destiny’s Child [for an ‘Independent Women Part I’/’Say My Name’ medley]. I also did another performance with Faith Hill [‘Breathe’] that year. I was helping produce both those segments, because there were complexities with both. I walked into that room and met Ken for the first time. That room took my breath away. Just being around that energy; seeing all those amazingly talented people and those cameras moving and everything else. Probably four years later, I did an interview with Ken because he was looking to have some added creative voices on his team.”
This is Kapoor’s 11th Grammy show as a member of the production team. He has also worked on six Academy of Country Music Awards shows, five Oscars, four Primetime Emmys and more.
“When Ben and Jack Sussman and Harvey asked me during the summer [of 2021] to run the show, I literally cried. They were the happiest tears I’ve ever had. I feel honored that I get to make one of my dreams come true and work with some of the best people in the business and work with artists at the top of their game.
“This show has a legacy that is unsurpassed with how many amazing artists and performances have been on that show. I hope I can help propel that legacy into the future.”
The 2022 Grammy Awards will air live from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 3, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS. The show will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. The show is produced by Fulwell 73 Productions for the Recording Academy.