Every year, the best and brightest of the music industry gather at The Staples Center in Los Angeles to honour a year’s worth of artistic achievement. Tickets to the Grammys are a rare commodity, awarded only to the who’s who in the business. I, on the other hand, earned my ticket by lunging across a table while yelling Taylor Swift lyrics.
Mom and me on set at Breakfast Television Toronto
Ten days before the big event, I was on Breakfast Television Toronto, as one of two finalists for the Rogers Sing To Win contest. The prize: an all expenses paid trip to LA for The Grammys. The challenge: a two versus two “Don’t Forget the Lyrics”-esque showdown. And so, with the ferocity of a lifelong music lover (hence the overexcited table-lunging) I flexed 23 years’ worth of musical obsession, and emerged victorious.
The footage from our Breakfast Television segment
My mom, whose initial reaction to me entering the contest was, “Why would we enter this? We’re not going to win!” was already packed when I arrived home that evening (only to repack at least four more times.) A week later, we found ourselves en route to LAX, ditching Toronto’s coldest weekend of the year, in favour of a 60C temperature increase, accommodation at a swanky Sunset Boulevard hotel and tickets to music’s biggest night.
You know you’re in a certifiably swanky establishment when there’s a giant orange mirror in the middle of your room
The red carpet is right outside The Staples Center.
The day before the show, we walked down the Grammy red carpet — after all we were Breakfast Television “VIPs”!
During our tour, we learned some interesting factoids about this awards show staple. For instance, the first few spots along the carpet are reserved for major television outlets, such as City TV, Entertainment Tonight, and surprisingly, Wowow, a Japanese network. The remaining outlets are relegated to tiny 3x5 spaces. The carpet itself is quite plush, and I’m sure it acts as an excellent cushion for all the celebs who subject themselves to sky high stiletto heels.
Photos of the red carpet before it has been fully constructed are not allowed.
As such, this photo is technically illegal. Shhhh!
Los Angeles is a city of colourful characters: tracksuit clad B-listers jog alongside their canine companions, disheveled porn stars are escorted as celebrities, and pink tutus, superhero costumes, and afro wigs garner compliments rather than concern.
While past Grammys have seen Madonna’s matador ensemble, Pharell’s Arby’s inspired hat, and OK GO’s wallpapered suits, Mom and I figured that we weren’t quite famous enough (yet) to opt for a weirdly wonderful Grammy wardrobe.
After a morning of hair and makeup, we were all glammed up and ready for the GRAMMYs! Mom and I both searched long and hard for a deserving outfit - after all, what do you wear while living one of your childhood dreams!? Unbeknownst to either of us until we unpacked, we were both wearing outfits designed by Tadashi Shoji!
A video posted by Katrina Lat (@thekatalysts) on Feb 15, 2016 at 2:54pm PST
Our golden tickets!
Security at The Staples Center was (understandably) tight. Vehicles needed special passes to enter the location, and each guest was required to walk through a metal detector and surrender their bag to be searched. Cameras, even small point-and-shoot ones, were forbidden. We were also asked to turn off our cellphones, an instruction that much of the social media savvy attendees decided to ignore.
The Grammys was a production clearly designed for television, with all the onstage action halting during breaks. The silence is instead filled with footage of past years’ performances. Whenever the live feed returned after each commercial break, the audience was repeatedly urged to “please applaud for the 58th Grammy awards!”
In some ways, I felt as if I was on the set of a giant, very well dressed, talk show, rather than at an awards show — a thought reinforced by the fact that only eight of the 83 awards were presented in the televised program.
We were given “Premium Level” seats for the night’s performance.
However, witnessing the Grammys live, gave us a very interesting, behind-the-scenes perspective on the event. Unlike the at-home audience, our view was not limited to the cameraman’s angles.
Some interesting off-camera happenings included Ariana Grande ignoring her teleprompter when introducing The Weeknd (resulting in this embarrassing pun), Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez scurrying off shortly after Swift’s opening performance, Jack U (Diplo and Skrillex) and Justin Bieber hugging it out after “Where Are U Now”, and an exasperated Neil Portnow (Recording Academy President/CEO) pleading with One Direction’s Niall Horan and John Legend to “sit down please” at the show’s start so they could begin on time.
[Photo: Getty Images]
However the most important untelevised occurrence was the Eagles receiving their Record of the Year statuettes for “Hotel California”, 39 years after they decided not to show up at the event thinking that they (much like my mother’s initial reactions to the Roger’s Sing To Win contest) didn’t have a chance at winning.
The shadowbox dancers during “Where Are U Now” added another interesting visual layer to the performance, but were difficult to see on the television broadcast.
Adele’s performance was plagued by microphone issues. Television audiences could hear strange clanging sounds during the song, but to the live audience Adele was perfect as always. We didn’t know about the tech problems until afterwards.
Kendrick Lamar’s performance turned up the heat—quite literally with a roaring onstage fire. His powerful performance, filled with strong visuals, and an incredible freestyle at the end, was hands down my favourite performance of the evening.
With Los Angeles filled to the brim with the who’s who in entertainment, our post-Grammy celebrations were destined to be memorable… if we were able to get in!
Every high profile after-party was strictly guest list only — and if even Sir Paul McCartney was turned away from Tyga’s afterparty, then we didn’t stand a chance!
However, with a little luck, and some skillful networking, we scored ourselves a spot at an industry party. I’m being purposefully vague so as not to get anyone in trouble, but know that we weren’t the only uninvited guests who found a way inside. Our stories all varied in methods — from costumes, chatting with guests, and even simply having the gall to ask!
Take a look at sites, such as Billboard, who publish a list of parties and pick your battles wisely: the more premium the event, the more likely you are to rub elbows with A-Listers, but you’ll also have more layers of security to smooth talk your way through!
Post-Grammy celebrations with Alabama Shakes frontwoman, Brittany Howard. The band had an incredible evening, winning four awards, being nominated for Album of the Year and delivering a spot on live performance that was sure to convert viewers not yet acquainted with their blues rock tunes. Brittany is an absolutely powerhouse vocalist, an engaging frontwoman, and carries herself with a confidence that you can’t help but be drawn to. She is one of my musical heroes, and I can’t believe I had the chance to congratulate her in person. My favourite part about this photo: she looks almost as happy to be in this photo as I do!
One last celebrity encounter—Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes was on our flight home to Toronto.
My whirlwind Grammy adventure was, by all accounts, a childhood dream come true. Far too often, we view music as a commodity to be bought, streamed, or even stolen. We forget that behind each three-minute tune is a story of artistic achievement, technical brilliance, and overall musical excellence. The songs and stories brought to life by the people in The Staples Center that evening continue to inspire me, and being a peer amongst them, even if only for a few hours in a single evening, is something I will never forget.
Now excuse me, I have 361 days to figure out how I’m going to get myself invited to the 59th Grammy Awards next year!