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Booking Joni, Rescuing Mariah From Traffic: The Making of the 2024 Grammys Print-ready version

In his first post-show interview, exec producer Ben Winston spills behind-the-scenes secrets of one of the best-received Grammy shows in years, from Tracy Chapman to Miley Cyrus

by Brian Hiatt
Rolling Stone
February 6, 2024

Joni Mitchell's 2024 Grammys performance was more than a year in the making. KEVIN MAZUR/GETTY IMAGES/THE RECORDING ACADEMY

As Killer Mike was taken away in handcuffs after an alleged run-in with a security guard just before the start of the 2024 Grammys ceremony, executive producer Ben Winston was locked away in his production truck, dealing with his own pressing emergencies, thanks to stormy Los Angeles weather. "It was about 4:45, we're going live in 15 minutes," Winston tells Rolling Stone Music Now, "and Patrick Menton, the co-EP who oversees talent, says, 'We're not sure SZA is going to make it back in time for her performance -  she went to a hotel to get glammed and she can't get back in. Burna Boy was stuck in traffic, might not make it. And you definitely won't have Mariah [Carey], Kacey [Musgraves], Christina Aguilera, and Lizzo. All stuck in traffic.' If we don't have Mariah Carey presenting that award in part one, what do you do? In the end, they got a golf cart and picked Mariah Carey up out of her SUV that was stuck in traffic, with four people running around the side with umbrellas, to make sure she didn't get so wet that she couldn't go onstage. We literally drove a golf cart the wrong way up the freeway and bought her back so she made it on time."

In the new episode of Rolling Stone Music Now, Winston -  who this year helmed his fourth Grammy ceremony - takes us inside the making of a massive, well-received awards ceremony, revealing backstage secrets, answering criticisms, and much more. Some of his revelations follow; to hear the full episode, go here for the podcast provider of your choice, listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or just press play above.

The idea of Joni Mitchell performing originally came up for last year's Grammys. "Brandi Carlile said to me, about six months before the last Grammys, 'Joni's performing again a little bit; she's gonna do a few festivals with me. Do you think maybe we could get her to sing at the Grammys?' And I was like, 'Wow, that would be amazing,'" Winston recalls. "And then as it got nearer to the Grammys last year, we didn't even really talk about it. It was just clear that it wasn't going to happen and it wasn't right." But after Winston saw Mitchell perform at the Hollywood Bowl in October, he became determined to revisit the idea for this year's show. Mitchell gave an unforgettable, wrenchingly emotional performance at the awards - and ended up having a good time in the process. "She enjoyed the adulation she got," he says. "She sat there on this throne in her dressing room. People came to greet her -  Olivia Rodrigo came and paid her respects."

For the show opener, the producers only considered one idea besides Dua Lipa: They tried to get the Rolling Stones. "It was either going to be the Rolling Stones doing 'Angry' or Dua Lipa," Winston reveals. "That's what I was thinking. I tried -  I had a conversation with the Stones. It didn't work out this time. But truthfully, even before we knew that the Stones weren't gonna happen, I actually thought it was worth starting with Dua Lipa anyway, because it was just gonna be such a big track and it was such a huge number."

Miley Cyrus' spectacular performance was unannounced for a simple reason -  Winston was afraid she might back out of the show. After the first rehearsal, Winston recalls, "She walked offstage and I met her backstage and I went, 'Genuinely, Miley, that was just jaw-dropping. Truly, that's gonna be an amazing moment.' And she went, 'Yeah, I think I'll do the show.' I looked at her as if to say, 'Is she winding me up, is she kidding?' Oh, my God. I actually think that it was more about, 'I reserve the right to pull out of this if I don't fancy it,' and that's the superstar she is, really."

Tracy Chapman's appearance alongside Luke Combs was months in the making. "Five months ago, [exec producers] Raj Kapoor and Patrick Menton said, 'Look, there might be interest from Tracy.' And they worked really closely alongside that camp to make sure it happened, to make sure she felt good about it. She brings this joyful, amazing energy, this calmness to the set. And it happened. We sometimes thought it was too good to be true when she had agreed to do it."

Trevor Noah had to rewrite his opening monologue on the fly, with many of the stars he was supposed to be spotting in the audience still stuck in traffic. "I was saying to Trevor, because I'm in Trevor's ear," says Winston, "I'm going, 'Look, just so you know, Meryl's not here, Taylor's not here, Beyoncé and Jay-Z aren't here yet. A lot of your jokes about them, you can still say them, you just got to change the context.' He's so quick and so sharp, and then I'd say in his ear, 'She's coming in, she's on your right-hand shoulder!' And you'll see him look around and go, 'There she is!'"

Winston takes criticism of the decision not to include the Best Rap Album category in the broadcast seriously, and explains his decision-making process at length. Among other factors, he wanted to include the Best R&B Album category for once, and he saw Jay-Z's award as a big hip-hop moment in the show. "I might've made a mistake," Winston says. "Maybe I should have put rap album in there. I can't get everything right all the time, right? But all those decisions are taken with just pure honesty and an open heart."

Download and subscribe to Rolling Stone's weekly podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, hosted by Brian Hiatt, on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts). Check out six years' worth of episodes in the archive, including in-depth, career-spanning interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, Halsey, Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Brandi Carlile, Phoebe Bridgers, Rick Ross, Alicia Keys, the National, Ice Cube, Taylor Hawkins, Willow, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Dua Lipa, Questlove, Killer Mike, Julian Casablancas, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Marr, Scott Weiland, Liam Gallagher, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Costello, John Legend, Donald Fagen, Charlie Puth, Phil Collins, Justin Townes Earle, Stephen Malkmus, Sebastian Bach, Tom Petty, Eddie Van Halen, Kelly Clarkson, Pete Townshend, Bob Seger, the Zombies, and Gary Clark Jr. And look for dozens of episodes featuring genre-spanning discussions, debates, and explainers with Rolling Stone's critics and reporters.

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Added to Library on February 9, 2024. (983)


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