Nile Rodgers on Lady Gaga’s Grammy Bowie Tribute: ‘It Was All About Art’
One of the clear highlights of Monday’s Grammy Awards was Lady Gaga‘s high-tech tribute to David Bowie, who passed away in January after an 18-month battle with cancer. Complemented by an astounding visual presentation, Gaga ripped through a medley of some of the late icon’s most indelible hits, including “Rebel Rebel,” “Space Oddity” and “Changes.”
To help put together the six-minute, nine-song medley, Gaga tapped none other than Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers — who had worked with Bowie on a number of projects throughout his career, most notably on the 1983 album Let’s Dance — to serve as the performance’s musical director. For Rodgers, who received the call from Gaga personally, there was absolutely no hesitation in saying yes to the opportunity. “Like, not even for a split second,” he said. “I was honored.”
In speaking with Rodgers, it’s clear that as determined as he was to pay an appropriate homage to his departed friend and peer, Gaga was perhaps even more intent on hitting the right note in her tribute. “I’ve never seen anyone approach a project with quite this intensity,” he said of the singer. “It was almost as if she was doing an all-encompassing film, like when Daniel Day-Lewis played Lincoln or something. She was in it, man!” We talked with Rodgers about how the tribute came together, the intricate technological display put together by Intel and Haus of Gaga, and what it meant for him to honor Bowie.
How did the David Bowie tribute come together and when you were tapped to appear?
So Gaga was set to perform on the Grammys because she was nominated for one of her songs. The song she did for a film with Diane Warren [“Til It Happens to You”]. Then when David passed away, right away — because David is probably her single greatest influence as an artist — she said she’d like to do a tribute to Bowie. I don’t know if she was met with a lot of resistance or not, but when it was decided that the Grammys were going to do a tribute to Bowie and she was going to be the person to do it, she then called me because she knew my relationship with David.
What did it mean for you to participate in this tribute?
David’s last words to me were in a film tribute that he did to me. It was just a sort of a congratulatory little film that he sent to me and it was just the sweetest thing. My charity, the We Are Family Foundation, were honoring me as the humanitarian of the year and David couldn’t make it because Iman, his wife, was getting an award the exact same day 3,000 miles away in San Francisco. He was the person I chose to honor me, and he did this film for me with this speech that was wonderful, and so this was my way of thanking a person that really changed my life, because prior to doing “Let’s Dance,” I was persona non grata in the rock & roll business. It was after “Disco Sucks,” and I don’t say this in an egotistical way, but the only Number One record I had was with Diana Ross in 1980. I mean, prior to 1980, we were knocking out Number One records like dominoes! “Freak Out,” “Good Times,” “I Want Your Love” and “We Are Family” are just coming left and right.
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