Each year, the Grammys aim to represent where music is going, where it is now, and where it’s been before, combining new and classic performers for over-the-top spectacles and stripped-down musical showcases.
The man behind the annual madness is Ken Ehrlich, who’s been producing the Grammy telecast for more than 30 years. “Every year we start with a blank piece of paper, because as the music scene shifts, we try and respond to it,” he told EW.
Before you settle in for three-plus hours of face-melters (we hope), we put together a new kind of Must List for the show: A Mastermind’s Must List for the Perfect Grammys. You must read on! (Sorry.)
+ Must rock out. “This year’s show’s gonna be rockier — in a good way — than it has been in the past several years,” Ehrlich said, pointing out already-announced performers like Metallica (with Lang Lang), Imagine Dragons (with Kendrick Lamar), and the rockingest finale yet (more on that later). “We like rock, we think rock’s still a very important aspect of pop music, but this year, there are at least three major rock performances, maybe more, if you count this kind of blend between rock and pop. … It’ll fill the stage. It’s loud.”
+ Must stand out from the crowd. “It really is what separates us from the other shows in a big way, because we have this breadth of categories. You know, Yo Yo Ma doesn’t get too many nominations for an American Music Award,” Ehrlich pointed out. “We have this opportunity to veer, and we also have a history. This is 56 years. We have a history to be able to look back on, and I would like to say we look forward too.”
+ Must anoint new stars. “I’m very proud of the fact that over the 30-some years that I’ve been doing this show, there have been a tremendous number of acts who have launched themselves, or we’ve helped launch them, on the show. Whether it’s Bruno Mars, who we’ve done some amazing things for, Ricky Martin, Mumford & Sons appeared on a little Bob Dylan segment — it’s one after another. And I think this year, we’ve got a lot of that. Lorde has been seen, but I don’t think she’s ever been seen or will have been seen by this many people that will see her on our show. And in a similar way, Hunter Hayes, who has obviously a pretty significant country profile, we’ve got something that we’re going to do with him that I really believe people are not gonna want to miss.”
+ Must pick up the phone when Daft Punk calls. “I mean, Daft Punk and Stevie Wonder. [Daft Punk] don’t do TV. We had a meeting with them yesterday. They live in France, and they haven’t toured, so the last television show that they did was our show when they were with Kanye. And I was not actually expecting them — because I know the story — I didn’t really expect them to show up! I kind of figured they would get some major nominations [this year], so it really, in this case, it’s often the case of us pursuing the act, but in this case, they reached out to us and said, ‘Look, we really enjoyed the experience we had with you and Kanye, are you interested in having us on the show?’ Well that was an understatement. So we started working on something.”
+ Must play well with others. “People now know that when you come to the Grammys, you want to bring something different. I very seldom have people anymore who say, ‘Yeah, I want to do the Grammys and let’s do my latest single.’ Some people do, and we do that when we think that it’s appropriate. But the fact of the matter is, I think we give artists an opportunity to stretch on our show. And maybe it’s taken awhile, but we’ve been doing this for such a long time now, there are people who will sit down with us and talk to us about the show, and they’ll bring up Eminem and Elton, and they’ll bring up Prince and Beyonce, they’ll bring up these great combinations.” So where do those great combos come from? “In the beginning, it was probably 90 percent us and 10 percent them, and now, honestly, because I think a lot of the acts see that as a road to the Grammys, they’ll come in with really good ideas,” Ehrlich said. “The Kendrick and Imagine Dragons, that really came from Kendrick. It’s a good idea, and not only is it a good idea, it’s going to be a great performance.”
+ Must end on a high note. “What we’ve found in the last couple of years is when we end the show up, that’s better than saying, ‘Good night, everybody!’ ” This year, after the Album of the Year trophy is handed out, things are far from over. Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age with Dave Grohl, and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham will end the show in true rock-and-roll fashion. “So if you recall, going back three or four years, this amazing Abbey Road finale that we did with McCartney and Springsteen and Joe Walsh and Dave Grohl, and then a few years ago Arcade Fire ended the show, and then last year we did this great hip-hop thing with LL Cool J, so this year we continue that tradition and remind people that the Grammys — we’re like the fat lady, it’s not over till it’s over.”
The Grammys air Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. Stick with EW.com all night for live coverage from the red carpet, inside Staples Center, and watching at home with you!