What (and Who) You Can Expect to See at the 2016 Grammys

Gregory E. Miller
Adele, Saturday Night Live
Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Putting on a live TV concert is a daunting task. Putting on a live TV concert featuring half of the musicians working in the business today—impossible, right? Yet somehow Ken Ehrlich manages to pull it off, year after year, with the biggest night in music: the Grammys. This year's performers include (take a deep breath) Adele, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, John Legend, Ellie Goulding, Little Big Town, Sam Hunt, Carrie Underwood, The Weeknd and a whole lot more. Ahead of the big show next Monday, we caught up with Ehrlich in late January to find out what he's composing.

What do the Grammys have in store for us this year?
Every Grammy show is different. The shows start with a blank piece of paper and they’re kind of laid out based upon two or three things. One: kind of primarily, what happened in music the past year? This has been an interesting year—a lot of young acts, a lot of breakthroughs. Secondarily, we look back. We’ve found a great deal of success in trying to tie together the generations, [having] artists from one generation perform with artists from another. If there are anniversaries, we try to celebrate them. So this year I think we have a really good cross-section of all of those things.

Some of the nominated songs have been around for quite some time now. How do you use them but keep the show fresh?
Little Big Town had one of the biggest records of the year; it’s nominated for several Grammys, and it’s “Girl Crush.” Well, the truth of the matter is that “Girl Crush” has probably been seen on any number of award shows. So when it comes to us, it’s a question of, what can we do to either reinvent it or present it in a way that viewers or even music fans haven’t seen before? Yesterday afternoon, I got a scratch track from the Little Big Town people with a version of the song that we kind of worked out together very collaboratively that changes the feel of the song and certainly changes how Little Big Town’s presented. It’s representative of what we try and do with this show. We don’t always succeed, but most of the time, we assume that most of the people watching our show are familiar with these songs. So the idea is to, again, reinvent them, come up with a new way of presenting them to an audience. We’re going to do that a lot this year.

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I’ve always wondered, given the prestige of the Grammys, when you approach these artists, do they all want to do the very serious, stripped down ballad? Or are they open to spectacle?
It’s both. You really can't generalize. There are [those] whose careers have been made by doing big ballads, who come to us and we say, “Listen, we want to fill the stage with a lot of stuff,” blah blah blah. Sometimes they buy it, sometimes they don’t. Kind of recently, there are artists who are used to live shows where it’s all about spectacle. And I’ll say, “No one’s ever seen you sitting at a piano,” like Taylor three years ago. We love going the other way. But at the end of the day, it’s really about balance. It’s about a show that has big splashy moments and has pure, intimate moments.

What’s the most challenging part of putting this all together?
Honestly, it’s the schedule. The vast majority of performances on the show come from the nominations. So they come out the first week in December and then around December 12, 13 or 14, the music world disappears. They go away and they’re in Turks and Caicos or they’re in Hawaii or they’re in Africa, and they don’t come back until January 4, 5 or 6. When they’re back, we have a month. So a show that, on paper, looks like it should be a three month [prepped] show basically comes together in that four weeks, or this year because of the Super Bowl, it’s actually 5 weeks, which is a great blessing. When we hit the ground running as we did on Monday, January 4, it’s been brutal and we haven’t let up. And we can’t let up.

In the age of social media, it seems like viewers are going to snark on award shows no matter what you put on the screen. Is that something you address in the planning?
You know, you really can’t address it. I mean, if you Googled me, you know I’m an old guy. Forget about the Internet, I think I probably pre-date fax machines. But the reality of it is, we build a show for an audience. I can’t think about the snarkiness. Before there was an Internet, the TV critics used to take shots at the show. The Grammys have always been a convenient target. But the reality is, between 25 and 30 million people watch the show every year. Somebody likes it.

The 58th Grammys air Monday, Feb. 15 at 8/7c on CBS. Be sure to keep an eye on the Grammys' Twitter page for more performers.