NPR logo Grammys Show Producer Explains The Origin Of Onstage Mashups

Music Interviews

Grammys Show Producer Explains The Origin Of Onstage Mashups

Audio is no longer available

Katy Perry, Sam Smith, Meghan Trainor and Taylor Swift are just a few of the musicians up for Grammy Awards. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with the executive producer of the award show, Ken Ehrlich.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL ABOUT THAT BASS")

MEGHAN TRAINOR: (Singing) Because you know I'm all about that bass, 'bout that bass...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY")

PHARRELL WILLIAMS: (Singing) Because I'm happy. Clap along...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I'm just going to shake, shake, shake, shake, shake...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY WITH ME")

SAM SMITH: (Singing) Oh won't you stay with me?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARK HORSE")

KATY PERRY: (Singing) Are you ready for, ready for...

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Meghan Trainor, Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, Sam Smith and Katy Perry - but wait, there's more - Beyonce, Ryan Adams, Sia and Slipknot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE NEGATIVE ONE")

SLIPKNOT: (Screaming).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "XO")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Love my lights out. You can turn my lights out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANDELIER")

SIA: (Singing) 1, 2, 3 1, 2, 3 drink...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIMME SOMETHING GOOD")

RYAN ADAMS: (Singing) Gimme something good. Gimme something good, oh no.

SIMON: Just a few of the artists up for awards at this year's Grammys. What about BJ Leiderman, who does our theme music? Ken Ehrlich is executive producer of the Grammys. It's his 35th year producing the show. He joined us from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

KEN EHRLICH: Oh, it's my pleasure, always good to talk to you, Scott.

SIMON: And congratulations are in order, right? You recently received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

EHRLICH: I did. I - actually, I think they were hoping they could just put me there. But instead - there were a lot of people - a lot of people turned up to see if it would actually be me under the concrete.

SIMON: Now this year's awards - I understand Kanye West is going to return to the Grammys for the first time in a while?

EHRLICH: Yeah, it's been five years since he's been on the show. And, you know, in the past, he's given us some of our really great performances when he did "Jesus Walks" and when he did "Gold Digger." And we're really excited to have him back. And not only is he back, but he's brought a couple of friends along.

SIMON: Do we get to know who they are?

EHRLICH: You're going to ask me who they are...

SIMON: Yeah exactly.

EHRLICH: ...I think. How about Rihanna and Paul McCartney?

SIMON: (Laughter).

EHRLICH: That ain't bad.

SIMON: No, that sounds pretty good. I have to ask, though, as executive producer, does it fall to you - do you have the responsibility of saying to Kanye West - and if you don't like a certain award, just stay in your seat?

EHRLICH: (Laughter). I'm not sure when we'll have that conversation. But actually, he's coming over today to rehearse, so we're in good shape.

SIMON: What's the idea behind what have been called the mashups, these collaborations where you take artist who seem to have differences and it all works out in the music?

EHRLICH: At the Grammys, it started when I - the first show I did in 1980 was Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand and we did "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." And it's just grown exponentially from there. And the good part is that in the beginning it was - a lot of it was us. A lot of it was us going to artists and asking them if they would do this. And in recent years, it's kind of become both. We still go out and search them, but there are an awful lot of artists that know that the road to the Grammys sometimes lies in finding somebody else who's compatible and making a great duet. And this year, we've got a passel of them that are really great.

SIMON: I - can we hear a few more, or do you have to - is that...

EHRLICH: Yeah, I - no problem in spouting them. I'm really excited because again, we've been rehearsing for a couple of days already. There's a great duet between Annie Lennox and Hozier that I'm just - it's really wonderful. Yesterday, we rehearsed Beck and Chris Martin and it's beautiful. Tom Jones and Jesse J. - they're doing - in honor of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who are two of our great songwriters from the '60s and after. They're getting a lifetime achievement award, and we're going to recognize that by having Tom and Jesse do one of their classics.

SIMON: Over 35 years, is there a particular moment or two that really warms you?

EHRLICH: Obviously, the night that Aretha filled in for Luciano Pavaratti and the night that Melissa Etheridge came back after her cancer. And then a couple of years ago, the surprise ending - even a surprise to me until two days before the show - Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Walsh, you know, doing the finale to "Abbey Road."

(SOUNDBITE OF "2012 GRAMMY AWARDS")

PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Singing) The love you take is equal to the love you make. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

EHRLICH: And then there are these quiet moments. I can remember - I think it might even have been Tracey Chapman at one point when we did this John Lennon tribute. And the show - you can go from spectacle to intimacy in a minute and a half.

SIMON: Any moments you'd like to forget?

EHRLICH: Yeah, but they're best left forgotten.

SIMON: (Laughter). You can't recall them at the moment.

EHRLICH: Maybe they blend in. I prefer to have the other kind stay with me.

SIMON: Do you learn something new about music every year?

EHRLICH: Well, I think music changes every year. I mean, you know, and there are those people out there that say it ain't what it used to be. There's no good music anymore. And my response to that's pretty simple - if I can't find enough great music to fill three and a half hours of CBS airtime, maybe we should all turn in our iPods - we don't have iPods anymore, do we? You know, whatever - however we listen to it.

SIMON: Ken Ehrlich, he is the executive producer of the Grammy Awards. Tomorrow's ceremony will be his 35th. Ken, thanks so much.

EHRLICH: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL ABOUT THAT BASS")

TRAINOR: (Singing) I'm all about that bass, 'bout that bass, 'bout that bass, 'bout that bass, hey, hey. Hey, hey, you know, you know this bass.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.