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Clive Davis Talks What (and Who) to Expect at This Year’s Pre-Grammy Party; Taylor Swift, SZA and Victoria Monet’s Success; and Much More

Clive Davis has been holding one of the most legendary parties in entertainment history, the Pre-Grammy Gala — aka “The Clive Party” — the night before the ceremony, every year since 1976, complete with virtual editions during lockdown.

It is truly fete like no other, a place where you can see Bey and Jay at one table and Barbra Streisand and Nancy Pelosi at the next, where you’re seeing completely unique performances by some of the biggest stars in the world: Highlights we’ve witnessed over the years include seeing Brandi Carlile sing “A Case of You” to Joni Mitchell, Beck perform “The Man Who Sold the World” with the surviving members of Nirvana, and Lionel Richie blow the roof off the Beverly Hilton with a double shot of “All Night Long” and “Dancing on the Ceiling.”

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And every year in our memory, he’s had a press day on the Thursday before where he teases some details, but also presents an opportunity to plumb his completely unique memories from his seven decades at the very top of the music business.

While he usually tips at least one artist who will performing, he declined to do that this year — but he definitely hinted. Read on for that, as well as his favorite new artists, his favorite Grammy memory and much more.

How are you and how’s the party going?

I’m good. I’m fortunate to love what I do. We’re here for the party, so obviously, there’s so much on my mind right now. People are flying in from all over the world and we’re hoping to meet and perhaps exceed their expectations. That’s a big challenge. I take it seriously, and I’m excited.

There have been so many legendary parties, how do you deal with trying to top last year’s or the year before or 10 years or 20 before that?

I mean, that’s the challenge. Last year Kevin Costner did the introduction and that was so memorable to me. I had no idea what he’d say, but I’ve admired him and his achievements and know that he loves music. And Tom Hanks will be making the introduction this year.

Wow, what else can we expect?

You know, we don’t discuss performances because the whole thing is a surprise. But in the audience will be [Motown founder] Berry Gordy and Diana Ross and Jay-Z and Beyonce and Bon Jovi, and newer artists will be there, like SZA, Ice Spice, Noah Kahan and [basketball great] Scottie Pippen and [tennis superstars] Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams, I think it will be Nancy Pelosi’s 24th or 25th consecutive year. It’s a unique audience.

Can you give away one performance?

[Thinks for a moment.] I really shouldn’t.

Have you worked with this year’s Grammy Industry Icon, Jon Platt?

Not personally. I’m big admirer of his, I love the fact that he’s the Icon and that artists from every walk of life love and respect him and feel close to him. [One reason why] Beyonce and Jay-Z want to be at the party is for Jon. That loyalty is very touching.

You have a longer view than virtually anyone in the music business. Who are some artists over the last five or 10 years that have really struck you as truly exceptional, that you’ve been extremely impressed with?

What is going on with Taylor [Swift] right now is major — I mean it’s not just success, it’s really a phenomenon, is the only word that I think is applicable. It’s very impressive. The growth of her career from country to pop, her ability to affect people of all ages — to affect football fans? I mean it’s astonishing.

SZA’s album is very special, it’s no surprise that she’s up to nine Grammys this year. [Pause] I very much like Victoria Monet and what she’s done — I reach out to a few [newer artists] to at least be [at the party], like her and Ice Spice, Noah Kahan, I like Maluma I like Karol G.

I know what I like and I know what I miss. I’m concerned that although Latin, country, and hip-hop are dominating, I still want that great big voice. I miss Aretha, I miss Whitney. I’m wanting new Bob Dylans and Bruce Springsteens. They’re important. I hope that the streaming’s narrowing of genres does not preclude an Aretha or Whitney Bob Dylan.

On a similar note, are there other executives who have impressed you, along with Jon Platt?

That’s dangerous question! But I’m impressed with the tremendous … I don’t want to leave anybody out.

Okay, how about music journalists?

No comment! (Laughter)

Every year I’ve asked you about party memories and I feel like we’ve gotten a lot of them. Instead, what’s your favorite Grammy memory, for yourself?

My favorite Grammy memory, if you’ll excuse my personalizing it, I’ve never seen it on film. But when “Bodyguard” won album of the year — I know the work I did [on the soundtrack] with [producer] David Foster and Kevin [Costner] on that album. And they were all up on the stage, and the rules say [only certain] people can go up there to accept the album of the year. And they were all standing onstage, and I don’t recall whether it was David or Kevin or Whitney who said,, “We cannot accept this award without Clive Davis onstage with us,” and I was taken from my seat, rushed up to the stage to be there with them. If a video exists, I’d love to have a copy of it.

I’ve heard that demand for tickets or whatever to the to the party is at an all-time high this year.

It is.

Why do you think that is?

I think word of mouth has reached everyone. And last year was off the charts. I’m gratified because … it’s such a tough thing to make way for the new power players and have to tell certain people whether they can come, or can have a plus-one.

How do you say no to people? I’m just asking because we’re having a party today and lots of people are asking me if they can come and we’re full.

It’s tough. There’s no easy answer, it’s very tough. But you have to do it. The party has been unique for all these years and it just has created its own legend, and career-wise the need of certain people to feel they have to be there. It has ramifications more than just not getting in. They feel diminished, and that is so painful.

Would you like to come to our party? We’re honoring Victoria Monet.

(Laughter) Thank you, but I’ve got a press day.

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