On the one hand, Grammy Awards host Trevor Noah and executive producer Ben Winston are veterans of Music’s Biggest Night, as the two are preparing for their third show in their respective roles. However, owing to the pandemic, 2023 is their first “normal” Grammys: 2021 was held as a small outdoor gathering at the Los Angeles Convention Center, attending by a rotating set of nominees, and last year’s was almost normal, although it was held in Las Vegas due to a serious Omicron spike in Los Angeles.
How does it feel to be back to a normal they have not previously experienced? Variety caught up with the two over the phone.
Ben, we’ll start with you. What can you guys do now that you’re back at the Staples Center that you haven’t been able to do in the last few years?
Go home at night asleep in my own bed rather than be in Vegas! No. What can we do? Well, to be fair, I think that last year was similar in a lot of ways — we were back in an arena — and I actually really enjoyed being in Vegas, actually, away for a week to focus on it and not have any other interruptions on me and my team. So I quite enjoyed the Vegas experience far more than I thought I would, it’s nice to wake up and walk downstairs and you’re in the arena.
And I think we created something last year with those tables [at the front of the arena], that was an amazing room to be in. It was beautiful that, like, during Justin Bieber singing “Peaches,” we could have a shot of Billie Eilish dancing and Jon Batiste dancing. And this year, that room and those tables are going to be the most star studded they may have ever been for the Grammys, both with the people who I feel are going to be in the room and the presenters. I know it’s a really weird thing to say, but I’m actually as excited about the shots we can take of people at those tables during the performances as I am of the performances, because I think one of the things that we learned from that first Covid year, where the audience was performers watching other performers — I remember Billie watching Harry Styles and Post Malone dancing to “WAP.” I think we can do the same again this year, but on an even bigger level.
Trevor, how did last year go for you?
Last year was fantastic. I mean, I only had one previous year to base it on and that was a Covid year, so it was completely different. We didn’t have any unnecessary drama.
Do you feel like you were able to sort of neutralize the elephant in the room by making the Will Smith slap joke right in the opening comments?
Neutralizing it wasn’t really my aim, if anything it was more acknowledging it. I think that’s what I enjoy doing in my comedy, and I’ll do the same thing at this show, as well as talk about what’s happening. I talk about the performances as I see them, because I’m still also a fan. And so as much as I’m working with the Grammys and with the team, I’m still someone who’s absorbing this and who’s enjoying it. I always try and be as authentic as possible, as a bridge between the audience that’s watching the show and the show itself.
Are you looking forward to doing the show without having to stress out about preparing a “Daily Show” just a couple of days later?
It’s going to be very different! I don’t know if I’m used to it yet — normally I’m thinking about, you know, going straight back to New York to make a show, thinking about the slides for it. So I do enjoy having a little more time to prepare for the show and to just celebrate creating the show. I still think there is a magic in award shows that we can often take for granted because of how ubiquitous media has become. I don’t take it for granted — it’s a room of amazing people who are doing phenomenal things, and you can see in their eyes how much this means to people who maybe have dreamed of it for their entire lives.
Ben, are there any special causes you plan to highlight this year? Two years ago, it was independent music venues and the challenges they faced in the pandemic; last year was touring personnel.
Yeah, I haven’t spoken about this, actually, and I wasn’t going to, but I like the fact that you remember we like to do stuff like that. There’s a couple of things. I’d like to get some of the performances introduced by people that matter to the person — I think it’s really lovely when person goes onstage, and they thank some people for winning that Grammy. And I always wonder about that person, and what does that person think about the success that their friend or their colleague or their old student or sibling has had. I think we can learn a little bit more about that performer from the people that are closest to them. And I think we’re going to feature some fans and talk about why music matters to them and why they love the albums they love and the artists they love as we build toward Album of the Year. I don’t think that category that has, I don’t think ever has been as competitive as it is this year — Bad Bunny, the most streamed artist of the year; Adele and Beyonce need no introduction; Harry Styles; Lizzo; Kendrick Lamar; Brandi Carlile; Coldplay; ABBA, It’s the Grammys — you never know what might happen. But I think it s about celebrating and less about competitiveness.
Pivoting off of that, Trevor, what were your favorite albums of the past year?
I don’t have albums — I’m just playing songs. It’s interesting, when you look at how the ways we consume music are changing. I feel like I have a favorite playlist, which is comprised of all of these albums. And so every single [nominated] artist on here, I’ve been listening to, but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the entirety of the album, except for when they first came out. So, you know, everything that Harry Styles has made this year has been has been out of this world, and at one point I couldn’t say a sentence without saying one of the lyrics from his songs. And then it would be something amazing from Beyonce — if you love house, if you love disco, if you love any of those influences, Beyonce is bringing that Chicago swag back. So it’s a tough one to go like, what’s your favorite album? Because for me, it’s just been about songs.
The 65th annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast live on CBS on Feb. 5, 2023 at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles and hosted by Trevor Noah. Prior to the telecast, the Grammy Premiere Ceremony will be broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater at 12:30 p.m. PT and will be streamed live on live.grammy.com