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KEN EHRLICH: THE GRAMMY INTERVIEW, PART ONE

Highlights from Phil Gallo's in-depth interview with the longtime Grammys executive producer, with a link below to Part One of the piece in its entirety.

THE AUTEUR OF MUSIC TV LOOKS BACK


Now that the eligibility period has ended, what are your thoughts about the type of show you want to stage in 2020? What’s impressing you?
There are a tremendous number of fresh faces who didn’t just put out good records, they’re really artists; they’re really professional. Last time, we had Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile and H.E.R., and I think it’s similar this year—[artists] capable of delivering really great performances in front of an audience of 22 million people. That’s the key for me. I’m less concerned about how great a record they made and more concerned about what they’re going to do [to entertain] a 15-year-old fan, a 26-year-old who might know the artist or a 45-year-old sitting there saying, “I don’t even know who some of these people are, but I want to find out. I’ll give you a chance—show me what you got.”

You don’t book anyone until the nominations come out, but you certainly start conversations early on. What does that list look like now?
I started talking earlier than usual this year, because the nominations are two weeks earlier than usual [on 11/20], and there are some pretty obvious ones. I lose all leverage if I go ahead too far in advance. Tyler, The Creator, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Rosalía—I don’t have ideas for them yet, but something might come out of the nominations.

With streaming creating more and younger stars from the world of hip-hop, how has that affected the way you book the show?
I’ve spent my life trying to connect the dots between generations. I never looked at it as a gimmick; it always seriously came from my heart. I was worried, to be honest with you, that there would come a time when I couldn’t do that anymore, because the music changed so dramatically that a through line wouldn’t work. I think it’s starting to be connected again. There’s a whole level of artists now where the kids are as interested in what that artist believes in as they are in the music. That’s kind of a healthy return.

There are artists that you really want to spend an evening with talking not just about music. Talk about politics, talk about the world, talk about the family. And I think that there seems to be somewhat of a return to that by fans and artists alike. I’m not sure it ever really went away, but it got buried for a while...

Over time, who do you consider to be among the best at delivering great television?
People who understand “the moment.” Gaga, certainly. Prince was as good as any. Beyoncé. Bruno Mars, Adele, Kendrick Lamar, Justin Timberlake—they all deserve the title “entertainer.”...

For most of the 1980s, the Recording Academy, then called NARAS, did not have a President/CEO. Who represented the Academy in terms of what went on TV?
The Academy always had a TV committee. They were mostly people at least in their 40s and 50s, and they all had day jobs. So the TV committee thought it was their job to book the show— we might have differed on that point—but it was collegial...

There were always the country guys on the committee, a classical guy, there was a jazz guy, an R&B guy. There were two gospel representatives, traditional and black, and it was always a challenge to try and keep them both happy, because I really loved gospel music, and we did it a lot in those days. What often made it work was when pop invaded gospel and I was able to check off as gospel Joe Cocker and The Crusaders doing “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today.” Great song, and it had been on a gospel album. And so I began to express my point of view more as the years went by, ’til Mike [Greene] got there...

 

Read: The Ken Ehrlich Interview, Part One

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