The announcement Tuesday that the Grammy Awards will be moved from January 31 to March 14 took many people by surprise but did not come as a shock: The show is scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, which has seen a dramatic spike in Covid-19 patients and is currently ranked by FEMA as the most dangerous county in the U.S.
“The deteriorating COVID situation in Los Angeles, with hospital services being overwhelmed, ICUs having reached capacity, and new guidance from state and local governments have all led us to conclude that postponing our show was the right thing to do,” said a statement signed by interim Grammy chief Harvey Mason jr., CBS Executive VP Jack Sussman and the show’s executive producer, Ben Winston.
However, the show, which is hosted by “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, is quite far along in its planning, and is being moved up by just five weeks. Mason spoke with Variety on Wednesday — amid pro-Trump rioters wreaking havoc in Washington D.C. — about what led up to the decision, where it will be held, and where things stand.
The Grammy Awards are scheduled to take place on March 14 and will be broadcast on CBS. Beyoncé leads the contenders with nine, followed by six apiece for Taylor Swift, Roddy Ricch and Dua Lipa, and Brittany Howard, of Alabama Shakes fame, with five.
Postponement was obviously always a possibility, but when did it become obvious that it would be necessary?
It was always in the back of everyone’s minds, but right around Christmas and the holiday break, when we started seeing numbers climb and predictions that the next couple of weeks are going to get worse and worse, is when these discussions really began in earnest, and over the last week they took a more serious turn. But it had been ongoing since the Christmas break.
What was the final deciding factor?
It was a combination of factors, including the reports we were getting from hospitals, about ICU beds being overloaded and people getting turned away, the number of cases being reported, reports from people shutting down productions, it all impacted our decision that this was not the right time to try to gather to produce this event.
Hundreds of people work to make this show happen — artists, people who work with them, the production teams, there’s so many people to consider. And we don’t feel it would be right to place any undue burden on hospitals or first responders or health care workers. Looking at the well-being and safety of all those people, I think the postponement makes the most sense. Everybody was really aligned on this — we all just felt it was the right thing to do.
Did what happened to Charley Pride, who died of coronavirus complications less than a month after appearing before a live audience at the CMA Awards, weigh into your decision at all?
Not Mr. Pride specifically, but people’s health played a huge part in the decision —artists and our creative community and their wellbeing, seeing family members and friends and people we work with get sick, and just watching the news.
Did you consider doing a less-ambitious production?
Yes, we talked about doing different versions of the show or moving dates, but we ultimately felt that this would be safest and best. Doing it on January 31st, with the numbers and what was happening in L.A., just didn’t feel like the right move.
What makes March 14th that much better? It’s just five weeks later.
We felt, from what we’re hearing from government offices and health-care experts, that the next two weeks are going to be extreme here in L.A., and after that, we’ll see some improvement in the numbers. Obviously, we’re not going to be free of Covid and I don’t think the vaccine is going to be widely available by March 14, but we think there will be better circumstances once we get past these next two weeks.
Did you consider holding it somewhere else? Does it have to be in L.A.?
Absolutely — there was talk about everything. We went through every scenario: other cities, other times, other types of shows, and no, it does not have to be in L.A. We’ll continue to evaluate over the next weeks.
Have any of the scheduled performers pulled out because of the date change?
No, not yet, the response has been very supportive and positive, everybody thinks it’s the right thing to do. We’re all dealing with this as normal people: We’re all nervous, we’re all uncomfortable with certain things that are happening, so I think taking these extra steps to be safe are the right thing to do and the artist community seems to support it.
In recent weeks the Grammys’ location moved from its usual venue of the Staples Center to “in and around Downtown L.A.” Where is that at now?
I don’t mind sharing, but remember this has the ability to adjust as we get closer to our date. The plan for January was to be in and around the L.A. Convention Center, which is right next door to the Staples Center — there’s room there for indoor and outdoor activity. Going forward, we’re going to stick to that plan, as of now, and we’ll monitor the situation and adjust accordingly. But we just want to make sure that whatever we do, it is responsible and safe, and that will be what determines our creative.
Ben Winston has said that there might be some involvement with independent venues, is it possible you could have a performance at the Troubadour or somewhere like that?
It’s hard to say at this point, honestly, but I know there are conversations around supporting independent venues in some capacity. I don’t want to say what that looks like or what that means because I just don’t want to set expectations. We’re trying to make sure that the show is safe and the best we can make for TV.
Have you locked in all or nearly all of the performers planned for the show?
I don’t know the exact number, but a large majority of our performances have been secured and confirmed.
And they’re all or mostly nominees?
Yes, traditionally a large percentage of our performers have been current nominees, but not always. There is no hard and fast rule.
Has there been any talk of the Weeknd being involved in the show, considering the controversy around his being shut out of the nominations?
Not that I’m aware of.
Do you have a sense of what Grammy Week will look like?
As of Jan. 31, everything was back-timing from that, and I believe they’ll all follow on the new date, so things that were going to happen on Jan. 30 will happen on March 13, and so forth. MusiCares [Person of the Year fundraising ceremony] is having an event — it was going to be virtual, the Clive [Davis annual pre-Grammy] party too, so I think those things will still carry on. What form they’ll take will be determined by what we’re allowed to do, and as you said there’s not a ton of time [difference], so we’ll see what we’re able to pull together
Do you think there still could be a live audience for any of the events, including the main show?
It’s so hard for me to predict. I was always optimistic that we’d be able to bring an audience to some of our events, so we can continue to keep our fingers crossed, but I’m just not sure if we’re going to get there by March 14th.