Why did Chris Brown perform at the Grammys? The Academy answers
Neil Portnow says NARAS members' focus is on music alone
LOS ANGELES – At this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony, Chris Brown earned his very first Grammy Award and performed twice. The truth of the matter is that in 2009, just prior to the 51st annual Grammy Awards, the entertainer violently assaulted then-girlfriend Rihanna, and some viewers and music fans this year may be dumbfounded by the Recording Academy’s embrace of the controversial singer.
Regardless of his impressive dance moves or impassioned performances overall, Brown couldn’t help but to serve as a very negative reminder of his famous crime in 2009, no matter how many times he’s apologized. It struck a public nerve, which could be exactly what organizers wanted out of Brown's two solo songs and a group performance with a dance act.
Or, according to Neil Portnow, his win and appearances were only natural extensions of the music community’s voice.
I had the opportunity to ask Portnow (president of National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and former VP of Jive Records’ West Coast division) about his and NARAS members’ approach to the show and Brown’s Best R&B Album-winning “F.A.M.E.” (coincidentally, released via Jive).
“The Academy is 20,000 members and 12,000 of them are voting members. Who are these people? They’re the music community, so they’re music professionals, they’re musicians, they’re engineers, producers and songwriters, people that create the music.. Their responsibility it to judge the music,” he said. “I don’t vote any longer… But when I was a voting member and listening to the music, I kind of put aside all other elements -- somebody’s personality, somebody’s personal life, sales history, their chart positions, merchandising, marketing, visibility. I’m just there to listen to the music, and that’s what our voters do. So when the nominations come -- regardless of what else is going on in an artist’s life -- that’s where we focus.
“So, tonight was about the music. Our voters felt that this album was worthy of nominations, worthy of receiving a Grammy, so it made sense from that standpoint.”
A Grammy-nominated act performing at the Grammys is no new concept, particularly one who sings and dances and has had a previous history of playing the show.
“In terms of the performances, we booked him to do his own performance -- that’s where we began,” Portnow continued. “As we developed the dance segment, which we thought was going to be really groundbreaking –that’s never been done on television – and working with David Guetta and working with deadmau5 and so on, they themselves gave us input as to who would fit in to this, who they’ve worked with. And obviously there’s a factor of somebody that’s already in the house that we’re working with that could be part of a segment.
So Chris’ performance in the dance segment was really not a Chris Brown performance per se, it’s part of a segment. And we do that from time to time.”
Brown performed “Turn Up the Music” and “Beautiful People” during his solo segment, and took to the stage with Lil Wayne, Guetta and Foo Fighters during the dance music celebration. Rihanna sang on two songs, as did Coldplay; Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney played a handful while and artists like the Beach Boys, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Awards standout Adele performed one a piece.