Reported from backstage at the Grammys by Phyllis Pollack
The weddings at Sunday night’s 56th Annual Grammy Awards were not only heavily discussed on social media and on television, they were also a hot topic backstage at the Grammys.
Speaking to reporters backstage, Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow stated that Macklemore and Lewis’ “Same Love" performance that included the nuptials was a performance that represented “human rights” and artistic expression.
The term “Grammy moments” has often been used when referring to memorable appearances that have ensued over the years at the Grammy Awards, which have become defining and historic segments.
One such Grammy moment was sealed into history at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards with Mackemore and Ryan’s performance of their pro-LGBT anthem “One Love,” as 33 couples were married on the Grammy stage.
With initial ratings from Nielsen estimating 28.5 million American viewers tuning in for the surprise Grammy nuptials, and noting that according to a May 2011 Wall Street Journal report that the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton generated 22.8 million American viewers, the Grammy weddings were seen by six million more Americans than the royals' walk down the aisle.
The mass ceremony was officiated by a radiant Queen Latifah, who donned an elegant black sequined dress. While introducing Macklemore and Lewis' performance, she smiled broadly as she proclaimed, “This song is a love song, not just for some of us, but for all of us.”
She continued, "Tonight, we celebrate the commitment to love by some very beautiful couples. Joined by Mary Lambert, and Louisiana’s very own Trombone Shorty, here’s Macklemore and Lewis, with the uplifting song that says no matter what God you believe in, we all come from the same one.”
“Strip away the fear, underneath it's all the same love,” she encouraged the audience.
During part of the song’s performance, Latifah proclaimed, “We’re here to celebrate love and harmony in every key and every color. As I look out at this audience, I am delighted to see 33 couples, who have chosen this moment to celebrate their vows with us here in Los Angeles."
Addressing the television viewers and those watching the awards as they were streamed online, Latifah announced, "And everyone watching around the world as witnesses, it is my distinct honor to now ask our participants to exchange rings, to signal their commitment to one another, and to a life shared, together with the music of love."
She then asked, "Will you please exchange rings? Do you declare that you take each others as sponsors?"
With this cue, gay icon Madonna walked on stage, dressed in a white suit and a matching cowboy hat, using a cane. The Material Girl then segued from the vamp being played from "One Love,'" breaking into her 1986 hit song “Open Your Heart To Me,” accompanied by a gospel choir, wearing traditional robes.
Latifah then exclaimed, “By the power vested in me, by the State of California, I now declare you married couples!” Latifah was so exhilarated, that she tossed her wireless mic into the air.
The couples walked down the aisle towards the stage as Madonna sang with Lambert, who co-wrote "Same Love." Lambert's emotionally charged lyrics were fueled by her ow negative experiences resulting from coming out as a lesbian.
Lambert sang with Madonna, performing a duet of the "Same Loves" lines, “She keeps me warm” and “I won’t cry on Sunday.”
Madonna ended the performance, keeping the focus on herself, by performing her own song’s lyrics “You turn the key,” rather than singing the ending lyrics from the Macklemore and Lewis' song that was nominated for the Song Of The Year.
The dramatic wedding performance received a standing ovation.
Among the 33 couples that were married was Ryan Lewis’ sister Laura and her boyfriend.
Queen Latifah was legitimately deputized by the State of California to preside over the Grammy weddings.
Backstage, explaining her credentials to do so, she explained to the press, "I'm not an ordained minister, I'm a commissioner. Call me Queen Commish," she joked.
When talking to members of the press during her impromptu backstage Grammy press conference, a fired up Latifah gushed, "I can't wait to dash off and sign their marriage certificates.”
The fact that the Grammy stage wedding vows were groundbreaking was not a high point for Latifah, who explained to members of the press that were backstage, "I look forward to the day when presiding over a historic wedding ceremony like this is just the norm."
An Academy Award nominated actress, Latifah has starred in several films and television shows.
She began her career as a rapper on the New York based rap label Tommy Boy Records. Born Dana Owens, she has seven albums to her name.
“If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me,” were among the lyrics rapped by Macklemore in “Same Love.”
Hip hop has not always been friendly to LGBT listeners.
Eminem famously recorded the violently anti-gay rap song “Marshall Mathers,” which included the lyrics, “I'll knock you (expletive) faggots the (expletive) out.” After much criticism, Eminem later apologized. In a surprise Grammy moment, Eminem performed his hit song "Stan" as a duet with openly gay artist Elton John at the 2001 Grammy Awards. The anti-gay slurs were removed from the song and re-written for the appearance.
While rappers Macklemore and Lewis are rap, but not hip hop, their Grammy win for Album of the Year, and their emotional performance will certainly make other artists take notice.
Queen Latifah, having had a career that began with performing as a rapper, has always been one of hip hop’s staunchest defenders.
Backstage, she maintained, “I think this is exactly what hip-hop is capable of.”
Latifah recalled, “When I started, it was much more common for rappers to speak about the topics others wanted to avoid.”
She proudly noted, “Any type of social injustice, we've always been able to talk about in hip-hop.” Added Latifah, “I hope this song serves as inspiration to new artists to tackle whatever subject they want."
At her backstage press gathering, it was substance, not style that Latifah praised the Grammy-winning duo for.
Noting the importance of the issue of gay rights, she remarked, "Macklemore & Lewis are hugely successful with Grammy after Grammy for making good music, and for talking about things that matter to people."
Using music and lyrics to get through to people was also be a theme discussed backstage in remarks made by Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow, who also discussed the historic Grammy weddings.
Ken Ehrlich, who has been producing the Grammy Awards since 1980. His daughter happens to be a lesbian. Erlich told the New York Times prior to the awards that the weddings would ensue. Erlich was emphatic that although he supports gay rights, "I would not want to make a broad statement that it represents the views of The Academy or the CBS Television Network."
But who dreamed up having a mass wedding during the Grammys?
Addressing this question, Portnow stated, “So many of our ideas come from our creative community, our artists.
Referring to “Same Love,” Portnow praised the Macklemore and Lewis, saying, “These folks wrote an incredible song. They have ideas about society, and tolerance and fairness, and that’s their message.”
Portnow continued, “So our job is to set a platform where they can express themselves.”
He added, “And the other thing we do, is that it has become very collaborative between The (Recording) Academy, our producers and the artists, so that we sit and discuss these things, and try to find the right way to present the ideas.”
“Frankly, we’re very proud of what happened tonight, and I think it’s as elegant and meaningful and powerful as we wanted it to be,” Portnow commented.
When asked how the 33 couples that got married during the Grammy Awards were selected, Portnow answered, “Regarding the couples, and you’re having essentially extras, in a sense, on a show, again, there has to be a process for it. So you use a casting service essentially, and you put out whatever you’re looking for. So when we’re discussing having couples that want to be united on the show, they’ll go out and find like candidates.”
Somehow, 66 people getting married on the Grammy stage was kept quiet, despite all the excitement for the upcoming couples. How could it have been kept such a secret?
Portnow noted, “They’ll speak with them, they’ll see them, and then part of the discussion is the fact that this is going to be a confidential process. And you hope that people will keep to that, and fortunately, it happened.”
Even just having a song supporting gay rights performed on the Grammys could be taking a major risk, given that the show has millions of viewers.
In a Grammy moment last year, the Grammys took an unprecidented risk by making a historic move. It was the first time ever on national television that an awards show opened with a prayer. Rapper and actor LL Cool J led the Grammy audience in a prayer for the late singer Whitney Houston, who died approximately 24 hours before the show.
After the 55th Grammy Awards in 2013, Portnow acknowledged, “When LL had first proposed the idea about a prayer, I wasn’t sure. I was a little skeptical about well, how is that going to play, because we’re played in 170 countries. It’s not just America. So there are all kinds of different religions.”
During an interview for this column last year, LL Cool J stated, “I think that for those were open minded, and for those who have an intuitive sense of what sincerity is, and kind of can intuit what is taking place, I think the answer is yes.”
Despite any concerns about the prayer, the 55th Grammy Awards broadcast turned out to be a huge success.
With conservative media perpetually seeking pretexts with which to attack popular culture and celebrities, coupled with a South and Midwest that is far more to the right than the entertainment community on the Coasts, would there be a backlash this year?
Would there be very public misunderstandings, as well as repeated false accusations about the intentions of those involved with the Grammy Awards, and erroneous allegations regarding the awards show having a political agenda?
Not to mention religious fervor from those wanting to limit freedom of others, there are also those that are simply bitter about contemporary pop music in general. All things considered, it could be quite a risk to even have the song "Same Love" performed on a nationally broadcast television network.
Portnow was distinctly aware that a controversy could ensue from those with anti-gay sentiments.
Within his comments made backstage, Portnow stated, “Personally, I think we live in a very divided country, whether we like that or not. All you have to do is turn your eyes to the nation’s capitol, and see where things stand. It’s a fact of life.”
In response to this, Portnow was firm in his conviction about where the Grammys stood on this performance, referring to it as being, “Creative artistry."
"We don’t take a political position on any of these things, and we want to have a platform for artists who have a statement to make. And the statement that was made tonight was made about individuals who believe in each other, love each other, and want to be with each other,” he asserted.
Further elaborating that the Grammys do not have a political agenda, and that the performance of “Same Love” was an artistic statement, Portnow stated that the Academy's inclusion of the song's peformance was about the right of creative people to express themselves, and also about relaying a conversation about human rights.
Portnow stated, “Those 33 couples, if you looked down the aisle, represented all different kinds of couples, not just one or another. So by doing that, we’re not taking a stand on a political issue, we’re taking a stand on a humanitarian issue.”
When addressing marriage equality being in the realm of a conversation about human rights, he added, “It’s about the right of people to be with each other.”
Portnow pointed out that the annual production of the show gives Grammy writers and producers a fresh opportunity to showcase cutting-edge music.
“Every year we get a fresh canvas to paint on, based on the nominations of the music that gets made every year,” said Portnow. “When you look at the music that came out this year, and you look at the subject matter, there were a lot of artists that were thinking about social issues, attitudes and fairness and social justice.”
He pointed out, “So whether it’s “Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves in Nashville, where that’s an interesting point of view because it’s not traditional, or whether you think about Hunter Hayes talking about tolerance and bullying, or whether you think about Macklemore and Lewis with “Same Love,” etcetera, etcetera.”
Portnow emphasized that songwriters delving into issues they feel passionate about is to be expected, in the midst of an often apathetic society. “But it’s not unusual for a creative community, because we have a whole lot of heart. And we come from an emotional place. We come from a heartfelt place. So it doesn’t surprise me. "
But this year, it certainly feels like there’s a lot of creativity, and with Lorde, as well, with her writing. And Taylor (Swift), and on and on and on,” he commented.
"We reflect the beautiful music that gets created every year, and there’s a lot of that,” he reflected.
Backstage, ASCAP President Paul Williams also commented about the performance of “One Love” while speaking to the press about his victory of five Grammy wins for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
With legendary musical achievements and historical recordings to his name, Williams co-produced, co-wrote and sang on Daft Punk's Grammy-winning album.
Onstage while the award was being accepted, the 24-years sober Williams received massive laughter from the audience when he commented about Daft Punk, “"Back when I was drinking, I would imagine things that weren't there and I'd get frightened. Then I got sober and two robots called and asked me to make an album."
During the acceptance, Williams also commented onstage about “Same Love,” raving, “When we saw those wonderful marriages and ‘Same Love,’ that’s the height of fairness.” He added, “The power of love is the most powerful combination of all.”
Williams' praise of "Same Love" during the Grammy telecast was not scripted, nor was it part of a pre-written acceptance speech. It was purely inspired in the heat of the moment, with Wiliams applauding Macklemore and Lewis’ track.
Williams explained backstage why he spoke out about the song during the telecast while the cameras were filming. “I was so touched by the weddings. I was so touched by the song "Same Love," he related.
"It was just one of those moments that I thought it would be nice to describe how eloquent it was. I don’t think the Grammys have ever done anything (like that),” he said, sounding pleased.
Williams remembered, “You know, in my lifetime, I saw the Civil Rights Movement. I mean, that amazes me to think that was in the Sixties. And it is amazing to think that we’re in 2014, and there are places in this country where people who love each other can’t get married because they are of the same sex.”
This was not the first time that the critically acclaimed songwriter and composer had spoken out about gay rights.
In his remarks to the reporters at the Grammys, Williams added, “In 1977, I took out an ad when Anita Bryant was doing her whole thing against gays being teachers. She was a spokeswoman for Florida orange juice,” wanting the younger press that was there to understand.
“I took out a full page ad in Variety that said, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Paul Williams, in response to Anita Bryant’s crusade have stopped drinking, dot, dot, dot, screwdrivers,” he said with a laugh, when referring to the alcoholic drink made with orange juice.
The reporters backstage broke into laughter.
“So we took out that ad,” Williams said passionately.
He then reflected, “There was something incredibly repressive about stepping into peoples’ lives.”
Williams, who has scored hundreds of films and television shows, and whose songs have been recorded by artists including Three Dog Night, David Bowie, had attended several Grammy Week events, celebrating the 56th Annual Grammy Awards.
Backstage at the Grammys, the famed songwriter, whose resume includes having written Karen and Richard Carpenter’s first mega-hit, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” was extremely happy to emphasize the point that he had long supported LGBT rights.
He continued, “I was touched by what we saw tonight, and I decided to say something.
With seven Grammy nominations, Macklemore and Lewis won four Grammys during the night, Best New Artist, Best Rap Album for The Heist, and Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for their single "Thrift Shop."
In addition to their Song Of The Year Grammy nomination for "Same Love," they were also nominated for Best Album, and Best Music Video for "Can't Hold Us Back."
Backstage, four-time winning duo, themselves, had something to say about it, as well.
Macklemore described the two-times Grammy nominated song, by saying, “It's a message of quality, tolerance, and compassion to end homophobia, bigotry and hatred, which has been an institution here in America."
Labeling the song’s intent as being about "Loving who you want to love,” he opined, “I don't think a song like 'Same Love' would be embraced years ago. It's a testament to where we're headed in this country."
Meanwhile, Ryan Lewis enthused, "It was amazing to work with Madonna and Queen Latifah. We're grateful to be here."
Phyllis Pollack covered on Grammys Live from Staples Center.
Follow Phyllis on Twitter.