A lot’s happened in the three years since Clive Davis last hosted his storied Pre-Grammy Gala at the Beverly Hilton. There’s been a global pandemic, which itself led to the event’s in-person cancellation for the past two Grammy seasons prior to Saturday night. We’ve seen changes in presidents and deaths of queens. The years haven’t seemed to have caught up with Davis, however, who at 90 years old still somehow has more stamina at his glitzy party than anyone else in the room.
For four hours Saturday evening before Sunday’s 65th Grammy Awards, he played emcee in Beverly Hills, standing behind the podium on stage and calling up stars to play tunes for an equally star-studded crowd all in attendance for one of the most notorious see-and-be-seen music industry events each year.
“We celebrate the best of music whenever it was created. This event started in 1976, now it’s 47 years later,” Davis told the crowd just past 8 p.m. as dessert was ending and the show was finally set to begin. “Competition is fierce as ever, but this one night, we break bread and celebrate the music that forever bonds us all.”
While music is certainly the backbone of the gala, it’s only one aspect of the evening. The event — held virtually in 2021 and scrapped altogether last year — is like a Sun Valley Conference for Hollywood, drawing in a consistently random mix of artists, actors and athletes alongside some of the most powerful executives in music, film, television, and technology. It turns the Beverly Hilton into a madhouse as fans stand behind ropes both outside and in the lobby, eagerly awaiting attendees to arrive.
Davis recognizes the fame in the room for much of the night, spotlighting guests individually between performances as the crew gets the stage ready. Among those who got a shoutout this year were gala regular Nancy Pelosi — in attendance with her husband Paul, who made one of his most prominent public appearances since he was attacked at their San Francisco home last year — along with Joni Mitchell, who Clive thanked for her dedication to music and the impact her passion and songs have had on culture. Davis also called out Lil Nas X, Earth, Wind and Fire, Olivia Rodrigo, Gayle King, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, Adrian Brody and Brandi Carlile among many others.
Other prominent gala attendees included Netflix CEO Ted Serandos, Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly, Paris Hilton and Demi Lovato. Introducing Davis at the beginning of the night was Kevin Costner. Costner, who co-starred in The Bodyguard alongside Whitney Houston, gave a speech about Davis, the film, his co-star and “I Will Always Love You,” sometimes saying sentences befitting a Matthew McConaughey Lincoln ad.
Houston, in particular, is a tender topic at this party: Davis was close with her, and his career was deeply intertwined with hers after he signed her to Arista and helped bring her to fame. She died a decade ago at this very hotel on the day of this very party. “Neither of us could protect your beloved Whitney. But your fingerprints on her life are clean, my friend,” Costner said. “You were a miracle in her life. Everyone in this business gets a mom, but not everyone gets a Clive.”
As far as the music itself, Jennifer Hudson stole the show with a stunning cover of Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” drawing the most applause and earning a standing ovation, no simple feat among a crowd of jaded music executives who aren’t easily moved after seeing performances from superstars so regularly.
Other highlights included Frankie Valli, who at 88 years old still managed to strut on stage and give a strong vocal performance of his iconic hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Sheryl Crow paid homage to Christine McVie with a warm, dainty cover of “Songbird” before breaking into “Say You Love Me.” Elvis Costello teamed up with Juanes to play “Pump it Up.”
Best New Artist nominee Latto gave the first rap performance of the night, starting with a brief rendition of her single “Sunshine” before jumping into her double-platinum hit “Big Energy.” Toward the end of the night, Davis called Swizz Beatz to the stage to usher in 50 years of hip-hop, and Swizz called up Lil Baby, who performed “Forever” before finishing with “California Breeze.”
Lil Wayne soon followed, with the recent Recording Academy Global Impact Award recipient getting the longest set of the evening. Kicking off with “John,” Wayne also played “Lollipop” and “Uproar,” at which point Swizz, who produced the track, was dancing on stage with Wayne. The legendary rapper wrapped with “A Milli.”
Each year, the pre-Grammy party honors an executive for the Salute to Industry Icons honor, and this year the award went to Atlantic Records co-chairs and CEOs Craig Kallman and Julie Greenwald.
Early in the night, Atlantic signee Lizzo — herself up for five Grammy Awards this year — dedicated her performance of “Break Up Twice” to the two CEOs. “Craig loves when I sing,” Lizzo said before kicking off the song. By the middle of the performance, she started twerking, telling the crowd, “and this is for Julie, she loves when I shake my ass.”
Fellow Atlantic artist Cardi B, who attended the gala with her husband Offset, introduced Kallman and Greenwald before they were honored, thanking the two for believing in her at the beginning of her career when other labels wouldn’t, and for guiding her career and helping push her debut to multi-platinum certifications and Grammy honors.
“I’m not making this beautiful speech tonight because I want them to give me a bigger budget for my new album,” Cardi said with a cartoonish laugh. “When I signed to Atlantic six years ago, other labels were low-balling me and not giving me what I thought I deserved. But Atlantic was right there, respecting me and my vision for my career, and Craig and Julie took me under the wing. When I was in the middle of making my first album, I was very scared. I was pregnant, and I was afraid to tell anyone. I was afraid of people who wanted me to decide between my family and my career. But with Craig and Julie, the exact opposite happened. You told me I could do both, and I will never ever forget that.”
With Clive’s gala done, for some, the most anticipated night of the weekend may be over. But for everyone else, the Grammys kicks off this evening at 5 p.m. Check back on Rolling Stone for live coverage throughout the evening.