Inside Universal's pre-Grammy showcase

Universal Music Group

For those searching for proof that the good times are coming back to the music business, Universal Music Group’s pre-Grammy showcase was definitely the place to be.

The annual event – one of the hottest tickets of the Grammy party season – attracted a stellar cast of artists, executives and media players to enjoy brunch in New York’s Spring Studios. It saw executives and legendary hip-hop stars alike hail the biz’s return to growth. And it saw party-goers presented with a pair of pyjamas on the way out – courtesy of sponsor American Airlines – the sort of random freebie that was a feature of the business back in the ‘90s boomtime.

And for anyone looking for rather more concrete evidence, it came in UMG chairman/CEO Sir Lucian Grainge’s opening remarks, as the likes of James Bay, Sam Smith, Lord (Andrew) Lloyd Webber and classical music superstar Lang Lang looked on.

“Our industry has transformed itself,” said UMG chairman/CEO Sir Lucian in his opening address, noting that Universal responded to the global slump by investing “in new business models and new technologies, as well as in local music and culture in every region of the world”. “We never lost faith,” he declared. “The thing that really drives us is music. It’s not a job – it’s a mission, motivated by our love of music.”

And, with the biz transformed by the explosive rise of streaming, that message was backed up some of the acts Universal expects to dominate 2018.

The show started with Latin superstar Luis Fonsi, who opened the show with two songs, including global smash hit and Grammy contender Despacito, declaring: “This song has broken the language barrier”.

Performances followed from Migos, Kacey Musgraves (showcasing some highly impressive sounding material from her forthcoming new album Golden Hour), Jessie Reyez (including, somewhat ironically, her caustic song Gatekeeper), 6lack and Julia Michaels before the show was closed by an energetic set from Logic who duetted with Alessia Cara on 1-800-273-8255 and even leapt into the industry crowd to rap.

1-800-273-8255 is up for Song Of The Year at this weekend’s Grammy Awards and he declared: “I know I’m going to win a Grammy – I just don’t know if it’s going to be this year.”

Universal also used the showcase to highlight three forthcoming documentaries from its Polygram Entertainment division, including films on The Velvet Underground, Luciano Pavarotti and New York’s famed Apollo Theatre. The latter is directed by Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams, who introduced the trailer at the showcase. Universal’s Amy documentary, executive produced by UMG UK chairman/CEO David Joseph, won an Oscar in 2016.

Meanwhile, the showcase had an award of its own as legendary rapper Nas was honoured with a New York City Spotlight award from the NYC Mayor’s Office. Presented by Sir Lucian, the Mayor’s media and entertainment commissioner Julie Menin and UMG EVP Michele Anthony, Sir Lucian praised the rapper’s “extraordinary authenticity and poetry” and said: “He is very important to our company.” Menin hailed Nas as “a pre-eminent New York storyteller” and “one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time”.

“This is dope,” said Nas, before giving his own take on Sir Lucian’s opening remarks. “I’m happy to see the music business back in the state it’s in, with artists getting paid!”

And with that, the biz picked up its free PJs and headed off, hoping that the era of sleepless nights is finally over.

* The Grammy Awards take place at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night (January 28). Stay tuned to musicweek.com for more coverage.

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