“Each name lives up to the adjective he or she deserves.”
That’s the back-slapping tautology Clive Davis used to introduce some of the A-list entertainers who’d gathered for the record mogul’s annual pre-Grammy Awards gala Saturday. The bash at the Beverly Hilton Hotel is known for its high-wattage performances -- this year’s acts included Lionel Richie, Miley Cyrus, R. Kelly, Imagine Dragons, Fantasia and Pharrell Williams -- and for its equally sparkly guest list.
On Saturday night, Taylor Swift, Jane Fonda, Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell, Rihanna and the members of Metallica were in the audience, along with many of the producers and executives who seem to take turns receiving the Recording Academy honor that serves as the evening’s ostensible focus. (This year’s recipient was Lucian Grainge of Universal Music Group.)
The result is an insider’s hang infinitely looser than the actual Grammys. But as Davis’ typically overblown shout-out suggests, the party also boasts a nearly comic degree of self-congratulation, and Saturday that vibe inspired a range of attitudes onstage.
For Richie, it was something to savor. Coasting effortlessly through “Easy” and “All Night Long,” the pop-soul veteran came on like a convincing tribute to his own good cheer, as though he had no more natural habitat than a Beverly Hills ballroom filled with powerful people.
Ditto Robin Thicke, who performed his 2013 smash “Blurred Lines” with a casual exuberance that gave no sense that he’d been worrying about his lack of a sticky follow-up. Listeners’ tastes may be fickle, but here he was in the company of friends.
Doing a greatest-hits medley with help from Jennifer Hudson and Foo Fighters, John Fogerty was similarly relaxed, though the Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman seemed to relish the rough edges of “Proud Mary” and, especially, “Fortunate Son,” with its roots-punk guitar chug and lyrics about silver spoons.
Lorde also took an implicit shot at the Hollywood crowd in “Royals,” her stark denunciation of pop-star aspiration. But if any of the fantasy-mongers in attendance felt slighted, they didn’t show it in their enthusiastic response.
Not so with Cyrus, whose stab at wild-child confrontation in the frisky “#GETITRIGHT” -- by far the raciest number performed Saturday night -- landed with a thud that even the singer could hear.
“I hope y’all are doing better than you look,” she said with a welcome splash of impertinence, then added that her next song was one the audience might enjoy more: a relatively conservative take on “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. Cyrus finished her three-song set with “Wrecking Ball,” the terrific power ballad absurdly denied even a single Grammy nomination. It drew mild applause here -- a sign that record-industry captains may have grown weary of Cyrus’ endless revolt.
You had to assume that was the case, anyway, given their comparatively fevered reaction to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. In their hits “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us,” the Seattle rapper and his producer partner were touting their fierce individuality but in a way that felt so safe -- and so aligned with traditional musical values -- as to negate the very spirit of opposition they were describing.
It was the kind of rebellion any corporate honcho could get behind. No wonder they brought the house down.
Twitter: @mikaelwoodCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun