Awards shows are made-for-TV spectacles, full of quick cuts and closeups designed to reveal a performance’s emotional intensity. It’d be impossible to truly capture the excitement and, in some cases, bemusement of the nearly 20,000 fans (and a few rows of celebrities) who filled New York City’s Madison Square Garden last night for the 60th annual Grammy Awards. Here’s what you missed backstage, onstage and in the seats by watching music’s biggest trophy toss on television.
1. A pre-show pep talk
About 25 minutes before the show kicked off, Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich came out and fluffed up the front row. In addition to telling the audience to enjoy itself, he singled out a few excitable nominees. “Bruno, sit down for a minute,” he said at one point. “Miley, knock it out of the park tonight,” he said at another. “Is that you, Khalid, over there? Thanks for being here.” He also shouted out the fans for shoo-in applause.
2. What happened to Jerry Seinfeld’s puppy?
After Dave Chappelle won Best Comedy Album, James Corden offered up “consolation puppies” to the category’s losers – including Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman and Jim Gaffigan. “Jerry, be careful, that’s Roxy, she’s a biter,” Corden goofed. But the gag ended quickly so Sting and Shaggy could perform. When the lights went out, handlers came and removed the canines. A man carried Seinfeld’s pup, Roxy, very gingerly through the audience to the back of the arena. No kennel cases for that pooch.
3. The audience slowly disappeared
By many accounts, tonight’s crowd – which was decked to the nines even in the nosebleeds – was a bit quieter and more reserved than past Grammy audiences. It could be that New Yorkers are either more reverent or more jaded than their Hollywood counterparts, quietly sitting through Childish Gambino and barely registering Rihanna’s entrance beyond a few claps. And forget about the canned video bits like Corden’s goofy Carpool Karaoke larf or U2’s boat performance, neither of which scored high on the applause-o-meter. (One man in our section watched ESPN on his phone during Little Big Town’s performance.)
Granted, some of the quieter moments, like Lady Gaga’s medley, were edge-of-the-seat anticipation with the crowd visibly and audibly riled for Kesha, Logic and (unsurprising for a New York audience) Patti LuPone. By 10:15, though, there were notably large patches of empty seats in the lower 100s by people who were either too tired or uninterested to stick around.
4. There was no alcohol allowed in the general seating area
Although Bruno Mars bragged about celebrating a bit much, fans in the cheap seats were not allowed to bring drinks into the show. This may also account for some of the less-than-rambunctious reception some celebrities received.
5. But the excitement in the crowd was a different story up close
In this Grammy Awards’ installment of A Tale of Two Audiences, the pits in the front of the stage told a vastly different story from the rest of the crowd. A catwalk bisected the stage, with artists alternating performances on either side of it. When Rihanna, DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller sang “Wild Thoughts,” the crowd in front of them was well-lit and obviously enjoying themselves. Meanwhile, the other side – where Elton John and Miley Cyrus performed – were literally in the dark. Except for one moment where Rihanna wandered over far enough for the dark side to see her, they erupted in cheers.
6. The gently nagging announcements
While people at home were watching commercials, the audience was treated to video of past performances, including ones by Mick Jagger, Pink and Jerry Lee Lewis. (Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” played immediately following Maren Morris, Eric Church and the Brothers Osborne’s performance.) Sometimes they’d be cut short for the show to come out of break. Each time this happened, a voice would ask people to sit down. Sometimes it was just a standard ask, while others were more pleading (Before the show started, one said, “In the words of James Brown, ‘please, please, please’ take your seats now.) Sometimes they’d ask for applause; sometimes they asked for no clapping. But mostly, they just begged – begged – the chatty-Cathy A-listers in front to sit down.
7. The way musicians behaved before and after the performances
Many of the musicians’ entrances and exits were hidden by figurative smoke and mirrors. Cardi B stood silently in the dark in the middle of the stage before joining Bruno Mars for “Finesse.” Sting and Shaggy shared a laugh after the scrim dropped on their rendition of “Englishman in New York.” Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson hugged after the lights went down after their performance. Pink’s sign-language interpreter stayed put, looking at her through her entire song.
8. The nearly physical reaction to Logic’s speech at the end of the night
When Logic called out Trump for calling “beautiful places ‘shitholes,'” a lightning bolt went through the room and nearly everyone stood up and cheered. It was spontaneous, it was forceful and it was overwhelming. After Logic left the stage, one man in the 300s opined, “OK, that was a little more intense than I wanted.”
9. DJ Khaled gets naked backstage, talks being a hip-hop dad and getting Kendrick Lamar in the studio
Before joining Rihanna and Tiller onstage to perform “Wild Thoughts,” DJ Khaled was – in his words – getting “naked, naked, naked” backstage. “Gotta let ’em know – Khaled isn’t playin’ around, Khaled’s out here changing in the hallway,” the hip-hop producer says with a laugh as stylists helped him into his crisp white sneakers and swiped lint rollers over his plush velvet blazer (“How do I look? Gotta make sure my belly isn’t hanging out.”)
For the half-hour before his set, Khaled turned the circular makeup room into his own suite. Walking around shirtless, he discussed a follow-up to his memoir The Keys while his Saint Laurent pants hung low at the waist. He paused to kiss his diamond chain that says Allah across his chest (“Bless up”) and then kiss his son, Asahd, who was in his mother’s arms (“that’s my queen”) before they left for their seats. “Fatherhood is a constant learning,” Khaled tells Rolling Stone. “Asahd is the realest, purest definition of love. When you’re a mother or a father, that L.O.V.E. is a different love. They haven’t made words for it yet. Maybe I can get with the people that invented the dictionary to help them find more words.”
He also hinted that he’s in talks with Lamar for his next album. “When we make this next record together – God willing – we’ve been talking about it,” he says. “I know when I do get my opportunity to present something with Khaled and Kendrick, I want it to be something monumental … and I got something up my sleeve. Stay tuned.”
10. Kesha, Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Andra Day erupt with shrieks of joy after “Praying”
“I don’t even know you, but I’ll hug you anyway!” Kesha says to us in her angelic nudie suit, coming off an adrenaline high after the powerful #MeToo performance of her song “Praying” alongside a chorus of white-clad singers. Kesha, Camila Cabello, Bebe Rexha, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels and Andra Day were a knot of hugging and laughter, looking more like teammates that had just won a championship than pop stars. They were screaming words of support inches away from each other (“You’re a rock star!”) after descending the stairs from the stage, oblivious to photographers encircling them.
Before the performance, nerves were high. “I’m trying not to cry,” Day said backstage to her makeup artist, who had meticulously glued crushed violets onto her eyes in lieu of eye-shadow. Side-stage, in the dark, she joined hands with Lauper, Cabello and Rexha for a brief moment – inaudible to everyone else – just before going on. Kesha, flanked by a small army of handlers, was the last to head out, staring straight ahead as people milled about backstage, cheered and clapped as if watching a boxer stride into the ring. The singer didn’t break focus once. She looked strong, composed and resolute.
11. Bruno Mars gets quiet and Emmylou Harris gives herself chills backstage
Watching unlikely musicians gather onstage is one of the highlights of the Grammy Awards – but in the labyrinth of backstage hallways and wardrobe rooms, even the musicians are surprised by who they run into. After test-running her Tom Petty tribute with Chris Stapleton before the show, Emmylou Harris wandered into one of the green rooms looking for a quick bite and said of “Wildflowers”: “I get chills singing it,” she tells Rolling Stone.
A few feet away, Bruno Mars walked by the elevator bank – hard to miss with his taut halo of brown curls and sunset-color shades amid staunch-looking security officers. He joked amiably. “What can I give you? Let’s see. I’ve got five dollars in my pocket,” he tells Rolling Stone with a grin. Last year at the Grammys, Mars’ incendiary Prince tribute was an obvious standout. How did it feel to be back after last year’s tribute? Mars’ expression softened and became serious at the mention of Prince’s name. The elevator doors opened. “Incredible,” he said, at a loss for words and time. He’d make up for it in his acceptance speeches, calling out more inspirations for 24K Magic like The Time and Jimmy Jam later in the night.
12. Backstage is full of endearing, surprise encounters between musicians
Despite all the glamour, even celebrities at the Grammys wait in line to get to their seats. There, Lana Del Rey was idly chatting in her mystical Hedy Lamarr ensemble. Nile Rodgers radiated charm in his threadbare blazer. When Miley Cyrus emerged from the dressing room, resplendent in her Scarlett O’Hara-esque gown, a five-person procession (plus her mother) lifted it behind her like a parachute as she made her way to join Elton John for “Tiny Dancer.” Reba McEntire interrupted Lisa Loeb’s photo shoot, with Loeb admiring of the country legend. They clutched each other’s arms like old friends, congratulated each other in low voices and as quickly as she came in, the statuesque singer beelined out but stopped to say that country music needs female artists to support each other now more than ever.
McEntire, who released the Grammy-winning gospel album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope last year, uprooted from her Tennessee home for a residency out west. “Come see us in Vegas sometime!” she beckoned, shooting that luminous McEntire smile.
Watch our recap of the best and worst moments of the 2018 Grammy Awards.