NEW YORK – When Grammy host James Corden looks out from the stage at Madison Square Garden Sunday night, he’ll face a front row of starpower including Jerry Seinfeld, Beyonce, Jay-Z and Lady Gaga, who will be seated next to longtime pal Elton John.
Inside the historic arena on Thursday afternoon, production crews tweaked lighting, cables were taped and ripped up along the floor, seating placards were straightened and the announcer practiced stage introductions (“And now, 16-time Grammy Award-winner, Sting!” Yes, he’s been added to the performance lineup).
In a couple of days, the round-the-clock rehearsals for what is routinely dubbed “music’s biggest night,” will cede to the 60th annual Grammy Awards, where Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar will compete for some of the biggest awards and a slew of Georgia artists, including the Zac Brown Band and Mastodon , will also try to bring home Grammy gold.
Along with its milestone anniversary, this year is special because of its return to New York for the first time in 15 years. Throughout its history, the show routinely split its staging between the city and Los Angeles, until a feud between former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and then-Recording Academy president Michael Greene in the late-‘90s disrupted that harmony.
The last New York appearance, in 2003, also marked the first year of Recording Academy presidency for Neil Portnow, a Long Island native.
“It’s exciting,” Portnow said Thursday of the return to his hometown. “It feels like a full circle.”
Portnow said that while it’s easy to fall into a routine when a major event is held annually in the same place, he was pleased with the logistical preparations for Sunday’s ceremony.
“When you go anyplace new and you’re starting from scratch, and in the midst of a city like New York, there are many challenges. But we started on Monday and everything is rolling.”
Portnow was speaking on the red carpet – enclosed by a chill-preventing tent – leading into MSG, where a few moments before he, Corden (back for a second year as host), Grammy Awards executive producer Ken Ehrlich and CBS executive vice president Jack Sussman kicked out a small red carpet in a symbolic gesture.
Of the myriad Grammy performances slated for Sunday (the show airs at 7:30 p.m. on CBS), Portnow said they will complement the “social consciousness that comes from the artists.”
“We are a platform for artists to express whatever is on their minds,” he said, “and every given year, whatever the music may be is a reflection of what is happening. You’ll see a lot of that on the stage in a musical way.”