How’d they do that?
Beyonce’s performance on the Grammy Awards on Sunday night was the longest and most elaborate of the show’s 20 musical numbers, an extravaganza that used visual effects, a cast of dozens and enough flowers to blanket the huge Staples Center stage.
It also took weeks to plan and execute, Grammys executive producer Ken Erlich told TheWrap on Monday morning. “It was an incredibly complicated concept to deliver,” said Ehrlich, who has worked on the Grammys for 37 years and recently extended his contract with the show through 2020. “But I have a tough time not going the extra mile for Beyonce.”
The lavish concept was based around the idea of motherhood, and it incorporated the songs “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” from Beyonce’s “Lemonade” album. It was Beyonce’s idea, Ehrlich said.
“She’s become a director, and she knows what she wants,” he added. “And she’s got a large creative team who have been very involved in the creation of what she does the last couple of times they’ve been on the show. We encourage that.”
Beyonce’s team, he said, shot all the video projections that were used in the number, working with Grammy staffer Drew Finley on the concept and execution. “It’s a process, because there are certain things we cannot do,” he said. “Some artists are more understanding of that, and some aren’t.” He paused. “In her case, it was a little bit of both.”
Immediately, he said, the Grammy team knew they would have to use the entire Staples Center stage for the performance, rather than using half of it the way they do for most performances. “We have the luxury of opening up both stages, which we only do once or twice in the show,” he said. “It was pretty obvious early on that this needed both stages to work.”
But it also needed a lot of time to set up, which meant that Ehrlich had to program the show in a way that would allow his crew to work on the main stage for 15 minutes or more.
“It’s very difficult to find a point in the show where we have that much time,” he said. “The way we did it, just before Beyonce’s performance I had Kelsea Ballerini and Lukas Graham perform on the dish [a small secondary stage 15 rows deep in the audience], so that bought me four minutes. Before that was a four or five minute commercial, so that bought me nine minutes. And there was probably an award before that, which was another four minutes.”
The stage had to be blanketed with flowers, some of them placed individually and others already attached to large pieces that were simply set on the floor. (The flowers that surrounded Beyonce when she was on a turntable, he said, came in a single piece; the ones that were scattered by the long table were placed one-by-one.)
Beyonce filmed scenes that would be projected in front of her on a material called Holo-Gauze, a thin fabric designed for large-scale 3D hologram effects. “It’s sheer, but very delicate,” Ehrlich said. “If you touch it the wrong way, it can be destroyed.”
On her own, she rehearsed the number for what Ehrlich estimated was two weeks, and then came into the Staples Center for Grammy rehearsals on Thursday and Saturday nights, as well as a dress rehearsal on Sunday. (She was the only artist besides host James Corden to have more than one rehearsal segment.)
During those two rehearsals, the number was repeatedly tried out on the stage, first with a stand-in and then with Beyonce herself. One of the moments that made Ehrlich most nervous, he said, was when she sat in a chair that was specially reinforced so that it could safely tilt far back.
“They brought that chair in with them, and she must have sat in it and run through that section 15 times,” Ehrlich said. “I sat out in the house with my hands outstretched so I could catch her, even thought I was 70 feet away. But obviously they had rigged it pretty well for a woman [carrying] twins.”
And while the production was able to accommodate almost all of Beyonce’s wishes for the number, there was one thing it couldn’t do. “She had in mind a shot from overhead in the middle of the stage, over the lift she came up on,” Ehrlich said. “And there just wasn’t any way that we could hang a camera there. We hung an overhead camera over her chair, but we couldn’t get one over the middle of the stage.”
At the end of the number, he added, the Grammys built in extra time away from the main stage so that the crew could take down the set and get rid of all those flowers.
“After she finished,” said Ehrlich with a laugh, “it was like sending guys in to clean up after the elephants.”