Performance-Packed Grammy Awards Adapt to Last-Minute Shuffle

The 51st Grammy awards ceremony at the Staples Center featured more performances than ever—even though two singers dropped out at the last minute, causing producers to shuffle the lineup.

By Alesandra Dubin February 9, 2009, 12:54 PM EST

The Grammys' stage glowed with close to 2,000 LED Versatubes.

Photo: John Shearer/WireImage

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Minutes before the Grammy awards went on the air last night, an announcer told the assembled crowd at the Staples Center that this year's awards would feature more performances than ever before: two dozen. The production-heavy spectacle did indeed feature a packed slate of performers, but absent were two scheduled ones—Rihanna and Chris Brown—who had reportedly been involved in a domestic scuffle after leaving the Recording Academy's party with Clive Davis on Saturday night. Brown turned himself in to the Los Angeles Police Department on Sunday, making for uncommonly scandalous red-carpet fodder. Arrivals began at noon on Chick Hearn Court in front of Staples, by way of a massive tent housing a 420-foot-long carpet designed and produced by Bounce Event Marketing.

Although the Recording Academy only issued one-line statements indicating that neither performer would appear, Reuters reported (and the Recording Academy's pre-published program seems to corroborate) that it was the duet of “Let's Stay Together” sung by Justin Timberlake and Al Green (and featuring Keith Urban and Boyz II Men) that was the last-minute swap on the lineup—and one that caused significant backstage scrambling on the part of show producers. No mention of the change was made for the TV audience during the CBS broadcast, produced by John Cossette Productions, although CNN reported that the apparently pre-taped introduction to the show still listed Brown and Rihanna as performers.

Other standout performances included one from Neil Diamond, who provoked a spontaneous audience singalong to “Sweet Caroline,” for which he got a standing ovation; an appearance by a nine-months-pregnant M.I.A., whose baby was due on Grammy day; and a cameo by the U.S.C. marching band, who performed with Radiohead. And in the third installment of the “My Grammy Moment“ program, fan-produced short videos (submitted and voted on via the CBS Web site) accompanied Katy Perry's live performance of “I Kissed a Girl" amid a set that included giant fake fruit.

The entertainers all took to a stage aglow with close to 2,000 LED Versatubes, which lighting designer Robert Dickinson had worked with ShowPro to install into stairs, movable set walls, and backdrops, and which were programmed with motion graphics and highly saturated colors.

All told, the colorful, high-energy show betrayed neither the last-minute scramble behind the scenes nor the dismal state of the economy.

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