Saturday morning I awoke poolside at my favorite place to stay in Los Angeles—a cheap, hidden, gay, clothing-optional gem—feeling inspired by the previous night's revelry. On Friday I'd spent the evening at a pre-Grammy concert featuring performances by Gavin DeGraw and Dan Wilson, the man behind Adele's mega-hit "Someone Like You." I'd shed a tear when Bonnie Raitt played "I Can't Make You Love Me," and I woke up feeling like I wanted to start a band. Instead, I did the exact opposite: I had lunch with a room full of lawyers.
After pulling into the Beverly Hills Hotel's valet stand in the only pick-up truck amid a herd of luxury cars, I paid $20 for parking (!) and entered the banquet room to attend the Grammy Foundation's Entertainment Law Initiative luncheon. Bouquets adorned the tables, which were ringed by expensive attorneys in expensive suits. Immediately I realized that the velvet fringe number I chose for a jacket may have been an odd choice. Waiters floated around to dollop grapefruit vinaigrette onto beds of frisee and edible flowers as captains of industry discussed tactical solutions to the current state of the music business, which has yet to fully regain its footing after the internet age knocked it on its ass. Speeches mostly involved issues of copyright infringement, streaming content, and how to get artists paid. "We''re in a room of 600 entertainment attorneys," Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation, told me before sitting down. "So of course we're talking about advocacy and issues that effect artist's rights."
Attendees picked at an Asian chicken dish as the winners of the ELI's scholarship contest were projected onto a monitor. Law students from around the country had pitched ideas about how to restructure the music business, and now the room was being exposed to those ideas via nasally, dorm-room submission videos. Though some of the ideas sounded workable, ELI Executive Chair Ron Wilcox wasn't sold on the possibility of their actualization: "They make it seem so easy," he said. Later, Randy Newman introduced lawyer and author Don Passman, who was to accept an award for being an excellent attorney, by joking about his grim view of the music business: "Kids entering the music industry is like trying to rob a bank that's already been robbed," he said. Accepting his award, Passman said to Newman, "Spotify is fine, if you want to subsidize your own destruction."
I snuck out as Robert Kyncl, head of content and business operations at YouTube, was winding down his speech. The conclusion seemed to be this: We're workin' on it; there remains no viable solution.
Later that night I Ubered downtown to experience the future of music. Downtown is L.A.'s new frontier of cool, complete with secret venues emerging from boarded-up businesses, clubs popping up off Skid Row, and people waiting in a block-long line to get on the Standard Hotel's colorful rooftop. Mac Lucci, a South L.A. rapper who just signed to Snoop's label Doggy Style, was throwing a party at the Roosevelt Downtown. Lucci is yet another player in the recent resurgence of West Coast rap, with Grammy nominee Kendrick Lamar leading the charge while rappers like YG, Tydolla$ign, and Nipsey Hussle fill out the ranks. After a confusing entrance, I relocated to the roof and found what one might expect to find at a pre-Grammys rap party: Moet out of the bottle, weed, up-and-comers, West Coast rap veterans like MC Eiht, hangers on, family, friends, and female skin.
"No disrespect but I want to be what Death Row could've been," Lucci said, staring off the balcony at the downtown skyline. "They had all the Dres, the Snoops, then all those people ended up having artists come up under them. I think the west coast right now is really back on its toes."
I left that party to go to a gay rave in an illegal venue with a group of Cirqe du Soleil choreographers. Kesh, the L.A. via London Kanye West approved designer, was throwing the party and, after a horrible walk up a hill in six inch platform heels, we descended creaking wooden steps behind a defunct storefront into the black basement. Laser lights spun on the walls and spattered glow stick liquid illuminated under blacklights. Ceiling tiles had been removed in a checkerboard pattern, allowing the stage downstairs to be visible from a balcony littered with second hand couches. Opaque with smoke, people, and the smell of mildew, it felt like a Brooklyn DIY spot in the mid 2000s, an after-hours rage where an unattended purse might actually not get stolen. Cotton candy haired boys in sequined shorts danced on tables. Kids decked head to toe in Kesh's recent American Apparel line bopped around snorting drugs. It was the first time I smoked inside in L.A.
T.E.A.M.S., a DJ and producer fresh off a tour opening for rapper Mykki Blanco, spun a blend of trance, recognizable bangers, and new stuff from Riff Raff and the New York rapper Junglepussy. Designer Jeremy Scott danced as Kesh DJed late into the night. A Lana Del Rey lookalike made out with some guy as one of the kids in head to toe Kesh spandex peed in the corner. It was time to go. On my way out I ran into Dev Hynes, the 28 year old British singer, songwriter, and producer who's written for Florence and the Machine, Theophilus London, the Chemical Brothers, Britney Spears, and more. I asked him what he thought of the Grammys. "The Grammys have no place in the L.A. music scene," he said. "Not necessarily in a negative way. Real life is not the Grammys. The L.A. music scene doesn't feed into the Grammys. All these weird events they have this week and tomorrow are meant to be pro music, but they're not. The Grammys are this untouchable thing, something impenetrable no one thinks of. At this point, its just an old fashioned MTV awards."
Impenetrable is right. Grammy night kicked my ass. None of my tactics were enough to get me through the iron clad doors of Sunday night's biggest events. I called it a night after my second public shaming, at the Warner Party at the Sunset Tower. Having made it through three ear-pieced giants and an obscene number of cops, I was turned away by a PR staffer. Just then, Yolandi Visser and Ninja of Die Antwoord exited the party in a weird daze. "Yolandi!" I yelled desperately, hoping for a quote. She turned around, but I was swarmed by cops, almost getting arrested as one of my golden fake nails launched off, bouncing on the red carpet. Everyone looked down at it, and at that moment the sky cracked open and it started to rain in L.A. for the first time in over a month.