This year’s Grammy duel between Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar won’t be settled until Jan. 28. But the fact that it will be settled at Madison Square Garden is a result of the biggest Grammy battle waged last year.
That’s when Grammy officials announced that the 60th annual awards ceremony would be in New York for the first time in 15 years, ending the stranglehold Los Angeles has had on music’s biggest night.
As recently as the ’90s, the Grammys alternated between New York and Los Angeles. But depending on who you ask, L.A. may have gotten the upper hand after a public skirmish in 1998 between then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Grammy leadership or maybe it was because L.A.’s new Staples Center was built to make it easier to host a TV broadcast. Maybe it is some of both, combined with the fact that it generally costs more to host an awards show in New York than L.A. In any case, after the Grammys went to L.A. in 1999, they have only been back once, in 2003.
The Grammys’ return to New York this year has been hailed as a victory for the city. “It is incredibly exciting that ‘Music’s Biggest Night’ will return to the world’s greatest city,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said when the announcement was made. “Playing host to the music industry’s marquee awards show is a unique creative, artistic and economic boon to the rich cultural fabric of our city. We welcome the Grammy Awards back to New York City with open arms and we look forward to continuing to partner with the music industry that supports access and empowerment in the arts.”
City Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin says that the Grammys and the week of events that come with the awards will generate around $200 million for the city’s economy. “As the birthplace of salsa in East Harlem, hip-hop in the Bronx and punk rock in the East Village, it’s a fitting return to the city that gets the whole world dancing,” said Menin, adding that it had taken a year of negotiations to secure the ceremony.
The Recording Academy’s CEO-president Neil Portnow says that it was important for the Grammys to return to New York considering how half the group’s membership is in the East. However, he admits there are issues with bringing the ceremony to New York.
“The reality is that it’s a major undertaking in many respects,” Portnow told Billboard. “One is that we’re West Coast-based so it means moving essentially a majority or good portion [of the staff] back east. No. 2 is the weather. No. 3 is reinventing not just the Grammy telecast, but the whole week we’ve developed. . . . It’s way more expensive to do anything in New York.”
However, that has been the case for years. De Blasio and his administration worked with The Recording Academy to defray some of the costs, in part, so that New York can showcase its importance in the music industry. According to Boston Consulting Group, the city’s $21 billion music economy is the most robust and diverse in the world, including the fact that New York’s music venues sold 5.4 million tickets in 2015 — more than Los Angeles, Chicago and Nashville combined.
“Because there’s so much happening every day in New York City, we sometimes don’t take a moment to recognize all that we mean to this country and this world,” de Blasio said on WOR shortly after the announcement. “But the amount of talent in this city and the way that the artists that came out of this city have changed music and changed our culture, it’s just unbelievable. And look, God bless L.A. and we’ve got a little competitive thing going with L.A., that’s OK. But when it comes to music, there’s no comparison. This is the center of the music universe right here.”
Whether or not that is true, L.A. will likely continue to be the regular home for the Grammys. The Recording Academy has announced that the Grammys will be held at L.A.’s Staples Center for at least the next four years.