Viewers of tonight’s Grammy Awards will likely spend a lot of time thinking about musicians that have passed on in recent days. Tributes are planned for B.B. King, Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and David Bowie. While all of these artists hold great stature in the music community, much attention is due to be paid to Lady Gaga’s epic salute to Bowie, one of her own idols.
Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich and musician Nile Rodgers, who worked with Bowie during his successful Let’s Dance era, spoke with Yahoo Music about the Bowie segment. Rodgers is at the helm of the tribute, and said Bowie holds great significance in his own life — Rodgers says he changed his life. But despite the emotional nature of paying tribute to a passed-on individual, Rodgers enjoyed the opportunity to tip his hat to the music icon.
“[T]his is my opportunity to say goodbye through music. To me, music is a celebratory medium, and I get to celebrate the life of a really amazing artist who happened to be a great friend and great collaborator.”
Perhaps unsurprising for a musician such as Bowie, whose career spanned generations of fans for over 50 years, the choice of Gaga to perform was not without controversy. But Rodgers promised fans would “get it” when they watch, and Ehrlich confirmed that Gaga is the best choice, something that fans will see when the performance streams live.
“It’s subjective, but there are probably many people who look at Lady Gaga as a modern-day incarnation of Bowie. She’s outrageous — it’s about clothing, it’s about musicianship, and there’s this left turn that she’s always been. Not that David was that controversial, but he was controversial, like she is.”
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) president Neil Portnow told E! Online that Gaga will go through some historical parts of Bowie’s massive catalogue. Portnow said Gaga, who was already scheduled to take the stage Grammy night, was the first person he thought of to pay tribute to Bowie after the icon’s death. He wasn’t sure she would be willing, but she confirmed she was up to the task.
Portnow said “[t]here’s some very exciting brand new technology that’s never been seen on television that will be a part of the segment.” Trend trade paper PSFK posted an article last week that described the performance as “experimental,” with a “wizard behind the curtain” feel. Intel produced a short video to promote Gaga’s use of its technology.
Rodgers teased that the tribute would take an interesting conceptual direction. Gaga’s own vision, as a fan of Bowie’s, in part determined the arc of the segment.
“Gaga’s idea was to do it chronologically, and we for the most part do it that way. But then at the end, you’ll see we do a finale that’s almost like a ‘tribute to the tribute,’ and it’s going to be very interesting.”
The tribute will not only feature Gaga, but backup dancers putting together a “theatrical” performance, according to Yahoo. Portnow said the Bowie tribute is one of the “larger” and “longest” segments of the Grammy broadcast, which is scheduled to run for three-and-a-half hours.
The David Bowie tribute comes 10 years after the singer was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. At that time, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler wrote that Bowie’s song “Heroes” had a poignant effect on the singer, who would eventually work closely with Bowie later in life.
“How can a song that someone created in 1977 in a studio in Berlin, travel through the air into a suburban bedroom in 1997 in Houston, Texas, and make all of the ‘current’ music playing on the radio sound old-fashioned?”
David Bowie died of cancer on January 10, 2016, two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his last album, Blackstar. The 58th Grammy Awards airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT on CBS.
[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Michael Loccisano/Getty Images Entertainment]