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Grammy Producers on Beyonce’s Bump, Metallica’s Mic, and Whether James Corden Will Return as Host

Variety logo Variety 2/14/2017 Daniel Holloway
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Ken Ehrlich, longtime executive producer of the Grammy Awards, found out that Beyonce was pregnant when everyone else did — two weeks ago, via Instagram. But he did get a hint at the news beforehand.

“Before she announced it, I was getting vibes from her camp, from her people all saying, ‘Wait til next week.’” Ehrlich said Monday. “They even said something like ‘You’re really going to want her for the show.’ Which, of course, we wanted her anyway.”

Beyonce’s elaborate performance — her first on television since announcing — would turn out to be one of the highlights of the 59th Grammy Awards. Because of the buzz around the pregnancy (Beyonce’s announcement post broke Instagram’s record for most likes within hours of being published), it was also one of the most anticipated.

Ehrlich, who has worked with Beyonce since she was 15 years old, knew that the pregnancy would shape the performance. Introduced by her mother Tina Knowles, Beyonce performed two of her slower songs: “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles.”

“That was my first clue, frankly, that we were not going to get the ‘Formation,’ marching up and down the field Beyonce,” Ehrlich said. Beyonce had told the producer months earlier that she wanted to perform “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” because they were the only songs from her album “Lemonade” that she had not yet performed on TV — and that she had been saving them for the Grammys. “As the artist that she’s become, she has vision, and we wanted to support that vision,” Ehrlich said.

What wasn’t one of the evening’s highlights? Metallica lead singer James Hetfield’s microphone cutting out during a duet with Lady Gaga. Ehrlich — who spoke with Variety during a break in rehearsals for next weekend’s Grammy tribute concert for the Bee Gees — said that producers are still uncertain about what happened to Hetfield’s mic. But they suspect that a background extra accidentally disconnected a cable between the last microphone check during a commercial break and the moment when Hetfield first addressed the microphone roughly 45 seconds into the performance.

“That’s all I can figure out,” Ehrlich said. “But we don’t know, and we might not ever know.”

Ehrlich has produced the Grammys for the last 37 years — and earlier this month extended his deal to continue to do so through 2020. But Sunday’s show was the first for James Corden, who took over as host after LL Cool J occupied the role for five years.

The rookie received high marks from Ehrlich.

“On a scale of one to 10, I would give him a 10,” Ehrlich said. “He nailed it. What I liked the most about him was that he really understood that this show shouldn’t become the James Corden show, but that he should be the person that connects the show together and has the presence to do that without overstating it.”

Corden brought with him to the telecast his “Late Late Show” showrunner Ben Winston, who served as a producer on the Grammys. According to Winston, the host considered opening the show with a variation on his popular “Carpool Karaoke” segment, but that seemed too obvious. Instead, he settled on bringing the segment to the Staples Center audience. A cardboard car strapped to him, Corden mixed with guests, recruiting stars to join him in a rendition of “Sweet Caroline.”

“That was actually the thing that we were the most nervous about because we didn’t know if anyone was going to join in,” Winston said. “The worst thing is if you do that and then all these massive A-list musicians don’t want to join in.”

A moment when Beyonce’s daughter Blue Ivy Carter crashed the segment was unplanned.

“I think she’s a big James fan, actually,”  Winston said. “They’d had a chat earlier in the evening and she said how much she loved ‘Carpool,’ which was really sweet. That was a lovely surprise.”

CBS has not revealed whether Corden’s deal to host the show is a multi-year agreement, as LL Cool J’s was. Winston said it was unclear whether Corden would return next year.

“I think I will be back next year,” Winston said. “I don’t know that James will. But I hope I will be involved in the Grammys next year. I’d like to be. But I don’t know. That’s not down to me. That’s down to CBS and Ken.”

Debra Birnbaum contributed to this report.

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