The annual Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala is much like a Rolling Stones tour: For years, those who have been lucky enough to attend wonder if they just saw the last show. And yet somehow, a bit unbelievably, there’s always one more.
Forty years in, the gala was back at the Beverly Hilton once again, remaining the Grammy Week’s marquee people-watching event as an impressive collection of stars including Mariah Carey, Meryl Streep, Cameron Crowe, Julia Garner, Ted Danson, Forest Whitaker, Renee Rapp and many others piled into the hotel ballroom.
Davis is a much older man than when he first began hosting his gala in the 1970s, but the event remains a long commitment for those in attendance who stick around through the entire show. Guests arrive at cocktail hour at 7 p.m., and the final acts finally wrapped up six hours later just past 1 a.m.
At 9:30 sharp, the show began, and Serena Williams, wearing a black dress with gold sleeves, introduced “her favorite band” Green Day. The group first performed “American Idiot,” with Billie Joe Armstrong once again replacing the “redneck agenda” lyric with “MAGA agenda.” “Don’t cheer, vote,” Armstrong said before launching into the Dookie classic “Basket Case.” Williams stood stage left, recording the whole performance and singing along to every word.
Tom Hanks introduced the evening’s eponymous host, reciting an extensive list of many of the stars Davis had produced or signed from the Notorious B.I.G. to Pink, and of course, Whitney Houston.
“Can Clive Davis play an E D, A minor chord progression on a six-string? Can Clive Davis lay down a baseline or ride the hi-hat? Can Clive Davis play the black keys on the Senate Steinway 88s? Has Clive Davis ever picked up a trumpet or held the melodica in one hand,” Hanks asked.
“We don’t know and we don’t care. He has had as great an impact on the science, the industry and arts of music as any human being with a heart, a brain and a well-tuned set of ears. Clive Davis is a chef in the kitchen of the food of love, of music.”
“This night is really so special for me and I hope for all of you,” Davis said, wearing a blue-sequined suit and his signature red-gradient glasses, before namedropping several of the high-profile attendees in the audience, something he’d do frequently between performances throughout the evening. “Music is alive and well.”
The rest of the night would include several of this year’s Best New Artist nominees, as well as a healthy mix of previous gala vets and well-established superstars. Coming up first though was a bit of a curveball, as Mark Ronson brought up rising country star Lainey Wilson to perform “I’m Just Ken” from the Barbie film, replacing Ryan Gosling. Leading up to the show, Davis had originally asked Ronson to perform with Gosling, but with the actor unavailable, Ronson suggested Wilson as a replacement.
Ice Spice — a favorite to take home Best New Artist this year — followed soon after, running through her viral TikTok hit “Deli.” Fellow nominee Noah Kahan, who jokingly referred to himself as “Mumford’s son,” followed up with a folky, banjo-laden back-to-back of “Stick Season” and “Dial Drunk.”
Third Best New Artist nominee Victoria Monet, in a brown bedazzled jumpsuit and flanked by two dancers, gave one of the most impressive performances of the night with “On My Mama,” which Rolling Stone dubbed the 10th best song of 2023.
Similarly superb was Josh Groban and Michael Trotter Jr of the War and Treaty performing a gospel-tinged cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Jelly Roll, who’d just performed Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” the night prior at the MusiCares Person of the Year Gala, kept the gospel going, bringing out a choir for “Need a Favor.”
“This is my first Grammy week, I’ve been nominated for two and I’m fucking loving every second of this,” he said after the first song, adding that he’d read about the Davis gala for years growing up in Tennessee. “Y’all forgive me, I’m a little nervous, Tom Hanks is here, man.” Jelly Roll then brought out Wilson once again to perform their Grammy-nominated duet “Save Me.”
Aside from serving as the Grammys’ most famous pre-game, the Clive Davis Gala also showcases the Salute to Industry Icons honor, given each year to prominent music executives for a lifetime achievement. This year’s honoree was Jon Platt, the chairman and CEO of Sony Music Publishing, the world’s largest music publishing company.
Both Public Enemy and the Isley Brothers gave sets to honor Platt before the executive gave his speech Saturday night. Public Enemy is closely intertwined with the beginning of Platt’s career, as it was Chuck D who personally told Platt to move to Los Angeles and pursue a job in the industry.
The hip-hop legends gave a three-song performance of “Can’t Truss It,” “Bring the Noise,” and their signature “Fight the Power.” “Everybody in the house say Jon Platt,” Chuck D and Flavor Flav instructed the crowd as they finished the final song.
The Isley Brothers — now only Ronald and Ernie Isley — thanked Platt and jumped into “Shout.” “I’m here tonight because of songwriters. I’ve had the benefit and the pleasure of working with some of the greatest songwriters in the world,” Platt told the crowd, naming the likes of Beyoncé, Jay Z, Pharrell, Dan Nigro and Justin Tranter.
Following Platt’s speech, Maluma — currently up for best Latin Pop Album with Don Juan — took the stage to perform “Hawaii.”
Finishing the evening just before 1 a.m. was the empress of soul Gladys Knight. The legendary singer started with “The Way We Were” before she brought “little sister” Dionne Warwick to the stage to duet “That’s What Friends Are For,” with Stevie Wonder coming to the stage by the end for a harmonica solo.
“I remember meeting Dionne when I was 12 years old in France. I have to say, this has been such a wonderful blessing to meet all these people in my life, to meet Dionne and Gladys,” Wonder said. The three then finished with a rendition of “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” with Wonder calling for peace, and seeming to push to end the ongoing violence in the Middle East.
“I beg of you, those of you who can see what we are doing to this planet, those of you who can see the anger in people’s faces,” Wonder said. “Those of you who can hear the anger and confusion on social media, we as musicians have to heal them with love. We can ask to put an end to all of the hurting, these two nations of the world, and begin to love.”