Life on the Other Side of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll
I started this blog on February 13, 2011, known as Grammy Sunday to marketers the world over. I was at my Dad’s house, parked on a gray carpet, blogging away in front of a flat screen TV. I did it to distract myself. In 2010, after I got laid off at E!, I couldn’t bear to watch the Grammys; in 2011, I figured out I could watch the show if I gave myself something to do. It helped, but not enough: the first year that I witnessed the Grammys as a civilian I was gutted.
I worked the Grammy carpet off and on for 20 years, first as a publicist and then as a talent wrangler. Working as a talent wrangler was much more fun — accompanying an artist through the minefield of a red carpet required far more tact, energy, and feigned enthusiasm than I could ever muster. At E!, with a position at the top of the carpet, it was like hosting a party that I’d never be cool enough to actually attend. We’d hang out at the Limo drop, greet the musicians and their publicists as they exited limos and SUVS, and pull them into our position before they had a chance to decide they’d rather talk to Access or ET.
Year after year the same people worked the media platforms, and, while we were collegial at the start, 30 minutes in we’d be playing by Red Carpet Rules, a term which means all behavior is tolerated during the frenzy of awards show arrivals. I was physically restrained by a producer who held me back as I tried to lure Mary J. Blige to E!’s position, and a photographer once threatened to punch me out. Although I was later told I’d imagined it, to this day I believe that a wrangler from MTV tried to trip me as I chased T-Pain away from their platform and onto ours, which was embarrassing for us both.
I was always in awe of the veteran publicists, most of whom I’d known for decades. Yvette Noel Schure, who worked with Beyonce, had a miraculous ability to gracefully move Beyonce from one live shot to the next with only seconds to spare; Dennis Dennehy, with Eminem, could ditch the carpet altogether and still be the coolest guy in the room. With Angelica Cob-Baehler leading the charge, Katy Perry could do 200 outlets in 14 seconds, and Paula Erickson could move Taylor Swift off a platform before anyone noticed she was gone. Barb Dehgan and Lourdes Lopez, who ran PR for the Grammys, could place journalists in the bottom 100 positions without pissing anyone off, and Liz Rosenberg — with Madonna or Michael Buble or Josh Groban — could wear antennae and actually get away with it.
Yes, the publicists were breathtakingly adept, but I was even more in awe of the mechanics and precision of E!’s production and the people who made it work. The red carpet shows required more than a hundred people, state-of-the-art-technology, and meticulous planning; there were directors, producers, editors, teleprompter operators, camera and audio people, researchers, engineers and set designers. There were staffers monitoring the satellite feed, putting up the graphics, and logging thousands of on-air comments. There were fact checkers and runners, and yes, there were writers, because someone had to write questions like: “Are you wearing midnight blue?”
There were surreal moments. I listened as the bosses in our headsets passed on interviewing Robert Plant and Allison Krauss to keep the platform clear for the Jonas Brothers — which, sadly, was the right call — and I witnessed reporter after reporter take Nicki Minaj seriously. I watched accomplished E! executives fall to pieces when no one was around to translate John Mayer’s Japanese response to a question about his tedious relationship with Jessica Simpson, which, in English, would have been a big fat scoop. (I believe what he said was “I have a clever publicist who prepared me for your inevitable question.”)
The jaw-dropping moments didn’t always involve other people; many of them were horrifyingly my own. When my sister happened to call during a break from the live show, I answered it, and in a shocking display of unprofessionalism, I put Adele on the phone. In an attempt to get him to E!, I bowed to Kanye and fell over a security guard when I got up. I did my best Spanish accent and pretended that I went to high school with nice Marc Anthony as I tried to get Jennifer Lopez to talk to us, and got loudly nailed for it when someone in his entourage pointed out that I was WAY too old for that to be true.
I’m no longer completely bummed out on Grammy Sunday; I no longer fixate on everything that was good. Instead, I remind myself of how painful it was to act as if I was excited to see Rick Ross, and how mortified I was when required to appear similarly thrilled when Panic at the Disco showed up. It was horrible to look delighted by Miley Cyrus’ arrival, and soul destroying to subsequently realize that when Miley Cyrus showed up I was legitimately happy to see her.
I stopped blogging the carpet after that first year. These days, I post relentlessly to Facebook, and my comments aren’t always kind. In real life, I restrain myself, but on Grammy Sunday, I say what I want. I may not be at the show, but red carpet rules still apply, and, as long as I stay home, I’m not gonna get punched.