The Grammys may be nicknamed “music’s biggest night,” but for artists, the once-a-year event really means a jam-packed week of concerts, red-carpet appearances and exclusive parties. Partnering this year with Mastercard, Billboard helped give hundreds of lucky fans a piece of that excitement, hosting several panels and live shows at the Mastercard House in New York City ahead of the Grammys on Jan. 28.
Inside the buzzing Meatpacking District venue, Mastercard cardholders — many of whom waited in line for hours before gaining free entry to each event — heard Grammy nominee Rapsody recount her earliest memory of the awards show, Remy Ma explain New York’s importance to hip-hop fashion, SZA and Dua Lipa give intimate live performances of their biggest hits, and more.
Check out what you may have missed below:
Panel: Nominees shared first Grammy memories — and disappointments
Rapsody, the trailblazing North Carolina rapper who received two Grammy nods this year, remembered tuning in to the awards show in her youth just to watch her idol, Lauryn Hill. “She was such a big influence in my career,” Rapsody said at a panel on Jan. 23, “I remember her rackin’ them things up!” And while past Grammy winner Grace Weber, who co-wrote and sang on Chance the Rapper‘s Coloring Book, recalled watching each awards show from her living room couch as a kid after weeks of waiting, she now looks forward instead to the post-Grammys celebration: “To see everyone who worked on a project at the afterparties just so happy and elated and feeling blessed to be honored, especially people who thought they would never have that opportunity — that’s the most beautiful thing to witness.”
For six-time Grammy nominee PJ Morton, on the other hand, early Grammy memories are rooted in dashed dreams — watching his friend, R&B artist India.Arie, get snubbed after being nominated for seven different categories in 2001. Morton also spoke freely about his confusion during the 2013 Grammys, the year Macklemore swept all rap-related categories while Kendrick Lamar got left out. “Something wasn’t adding up,” he said. “That was one year I knew something needed to change.”
Concert: SZA serenaded a jam-packed crowd with Ctrl favorites
Lines of eager, shivering fans snaked across two avenues of New York City’s Meatpacking district on Jan. 25, with hundreds waiting in the 20-degree weather for hours before breakout R&B star SZA would take the stage at the Mastercard House. Once inside, those lucky enough to gain entry were rewarded with praise from the star herself: “Thank you to whoever was out here early as shit,” SZA squeaked, all smiles after opening with an energetic rendition of Ctrl highlight “Supermodel” as runway shots of Tyra Banks shifted on the screen behind her.
Clad in a knit crop-top and Rastafarian-striped track pants, the five-time Grammy nominee, who also helped pen the track “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” for Mastercard’s “Start Something Priceless” campaign, shimmied, head-banged and jumped her way through hits old and new (“Did anybody know me before Ctrl?” she joked before belting 2014 release “HiiiJack”), powering through “Broken Clocks,” “Go Gina,” “Drew Barrymore” and more to hooting fans even when her earpiece malfunctioned twice. “Both sets of backups broke the week of the Grammys,” she quipped, rolling her eyes, “but that’s OK, because we’re going to have a beautiful f—in’ time.”
On this, the 27-year-old delivered, sharing intimate memories between sets — like the time a 13-year-old snuck backstage at one of her 21-plus concerts, or the “horrible high school experience” that led to her writing “Normal Girl” — closing out with an emotive rendition of “20 Something” as the swaying crowd filled in the track’s cooing background vocals: “god bless ‘em, god bless ‘em, god bless ‘em.”
Panel: New York legends set straight the city’s place in hip-hop history
As the Grammys made their grand return to New York City for the first time since 2003, native music legends Remy Ma, hip-hop producer DJ Scratch and designer April Walker reminisced on the city’s importance to hip-hop history in the ’80s and ’90s. Walker recalled the time Biggie walked into her old Brooklyn custom tailor shop for a suit, as well as her first time meeting iconic Harlem designer Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day (“he was the Willy Wonka of fashion”), Remy remembered how watching Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh spit bars at a block party in the Bronx jump-started a dedication to hip-hop (“Before, I had a poster of Boy George [in my bedroom], but that night, the poster went down”), and Scratch looked back on the time he almost lent the beat for Busta Rhymes‘ hometown ode “New York Shit” to JAY-Z (“this was before Power 105 was playing hip-hop, so it was a very important tribute”).
All three enjoyed a laugh calling out New York City’s most iconic nightclubs (Red Parrot! Copacabana! The Tunnel!), agreeing that — even with hip-hop growing bigger than ever — nothing can compare to its New York beginnings: “Eventually, the New York sound got drowned out,” Remy explained, poking fun at her own “New Yawk” accent. “Everybody [now] sounds so alike.” Added Walker, “people were loyal back then, we were all putting our flag in the sand together.” Still, Remy applauded several local up-and-comers whose “presence is so New York,” counting French Montana and Cardi B among her favorites.
Concert: Dua Lipa transformed the venue into a buzzing EDM fest
U.K. dance-pop upstart Dua Lipa kicked off her “first show of 2018” at the Mastercard House on Saturday (Jan. 27) with a request for fans: “During these songs,” she yelled, “I want you guys to go absolutely f—in’ nuts!” The 22-year-old star would not be disappointed — fans clamored over one another to snap videos of Lipa as she burned through “Hotter Than Hell,” “Be the One,” “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” and more, strutting across the stage in a slinky, glitter-encrusted dress and black sneaks.
A glitchy PSA reading “WARNING: YOU ARE ABOUT TO EXPERIENCE EXPLICIT LANGUAGE” on the screen behind her heralded in her latest release “IDGAF,” prompting hollers from the crowd, while other hits were punctuated by flashing strobe lights and psychedelic visuals. Unsurprisingly, Lipa’s closing performance of radio smash “New Rules” — which just earned the star her first Pop Songs No. 1 — drew the most excitement, with concertgoers belting out each of the track’s post-breakup commandments loud enough to drown out Lipa herself.