“How incredible is it that this man throws a party that is more anticipated than the Grammys themselves?” mega-producer David Foster (Celine Dion, Mariah Carey) asked the crowd early on during the 2011 edition of legendary music executive and multiple Grammy winner Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. “Clive throws it down with the best of them,” said American Idol judge mainstay Randy Jackson. “A lot of stars turn out to pay tribute.”
Indeed. The annual “Pre-Grammy Gala and Salute To Industry Icons” (as it is officially known) did not disappoint in terms of A-list magnitude; performances from newcomers like folk-rock sensation Mumford & Sons and Janelle Monáe were balanced out by those from legends like Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, and R. Kelly (who gave the night’s most powerful and strange performance). “I was told Clive thinks I’m the best new artist this year, and that means a lot to me. I’m going to bring the future to my performance,” said Monáe.
The lineup isn’t announced until the actual night of the event, causing anticipation to run high – and the performances, for the most part, didn’t disappoint. Mumford & Sons opened the proceedings with a powerful two-song set highlighted by “Sigh No More” that cemented their next-big-thing status. Monáe also lived up to her hype, performing a kinetic blend of old-school soul, dance showmanship and sci-fi visuals so passionately her famously stiff quiff unraveled.
Jennifer Hudson, meanwhile, proved in fine form, both physically and vocally. She out-sang Houston – who shambled through an unfocused medley of her cousin Dionne Warwick’s hits in tribute to Warwick’s five decades in showbiz — by a mile in the diva sweepstakes, bringing the house down with an intense, soaring cover of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” she made her own.
But the highlight of the night was R. Kelly, who entered from the back of the room while belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner.” An extended vamp on “The Price Is Right” theme segued into “Step In The Name of Love,” finding Kelly at his most approachably soulful; he them went right into his most approachably carnal with “Your Body’s Calling.” A slightly unfocused medley seemed to briefly derail him before he re-found his groove on his hit “Ignition”; he got into it so intensely, in fact, that Usher, Akon, Swizz Beats, Ciara and the Black Eyed Peas were all out of their seats dancing and singing along, proving that showstopping vocal melismas weren’t just for the divas in the building.
The acts on stage performed to a diverse, boldfaced crowd that included the likes of Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Barry Manilow, Kelly Rowland, Lenny Kravitz, Quincy Jones, Sarah Silverman, Faith Evans, Chaka Khan, Lou Reed, multiple “Glee” cast members—and every member of the Foo Fighters. “We come here pretty much every year because it’s basically the office party for our label,” Dave Grohl said. “Later on, I’m going to Xerox my butt and throw up in the boss’s shoes.”