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Grammys Head Harvey Mason Jr. on How and Why the Show Moved to March

“There was never a time when we said, let’s just cancel … The show was a chance for us to come together, take a breath and relieve each other and enjoy some musical moments”

Harvey Mason Jr.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

With Covid-19 cases in Los Angeles surging at an unprecedented rate, the Recording Academy — the organization that oversees the Grammys — announced Tuesday that they were moving the show from January 31st to March 14th.

California set a new single-day record of 74,000 new cases earlier this week, according to The Los Angeles Times, with the hospital system stretched so thin in Los Angeles County that Covid-19 patients are often forced to wait in ambulances for hours until hospital beds open up.

Amid this backdrop, the Grammys had already planned on a limited show for this year’s event — a live audience is impossible and only presenters and performers were to be allowed on-site during the show — but as Grammys CEO Harvey Mason Jr. tells Rolling Stone, the situation became too untenable for a show later this month.

“The deteriorating COVID situation in Los Angeles, with hospital services being overwhelmed, ICUs having reached capacity, and new guidance from state and local governments have all led us to conclude that postponing our show was the right thing to do,” the Recording Academy and CBS, the network broadcasting the show, said earlier this week. Mason Jr. expanded on why the event was moved and why he’s more confident a March show will happen.

It seems like there’s no “perfect” solution to something like this, but what was the timeline that led to the decision to reschedule?
We knew first and foremost we had to be aware and conscious of what was happening in Los Angeles around Covid and the hospital overcrowding and ICU beds being maxed out. We just didn’t feel it was responsible to try and hold the show under those conditions. Everyone’s operating under less-than-optimal conditions here — not just the Academy and not just in Los Angeles — it’s around the world. So we’re suffering like everyone else.

It’s definitely something that’s been on my mind personally for months, and I think it’s been on the minds of all the people producing the show and the network as well. And we’ve been cautiously optimistic, hoping that the Covid crisis would cooperate and we would start to turn the corner around the health of people involved. But we just didn’t see that happening. And then as the holiday season continued and we started getting more bad news about the direction of the numbers, we started having the conversation and questions were asked; do we think this is the right thing to do? It was always a conversation and it’s been a conversation throughout the entire quarantine process.

And it’s never been a day where we haven’t considered advice coming from state and local officials as well as health experts. We consult with them pretty much on every decision we make, whether it’s what type of show we’re going to have; who was invited; are we going to have an audience; is it held indoors or outdoors. These are all decisions that are made in conjunction with experts and people giving us their input. As of probably a week ago, we started talking about, is it possible for us to be able to move the date and what would that look like logistically? We all decided that there was nothing more important than the health and safety of the people in our community.

If Covid was more under control and you had seen a downward trend last month and this month, there wouldn’t even be these talks.
Absolutely. We were planning on January 31st as our date, and we knew that we were not going to be free from Covid, but we thought our show was an opportunity to start bringing people together; not physically, but just rallying around the music and starting the healing process and having some unity in the new year. Our hope was that we would be turning a corner on Covid and that the show could be a place that we started to come together around music and celebrate music. But that just wasn’t to be the case based on the numbers.

Still, there was confusion on the date change. The Academy initially promoted a new date of March 21st before immediately changing it to the 14th. Why the change?
There were a couple of dates being discussed, and I think ultimately we just ended up on the 14th being the best one after consulting with our broadcast partners [and] producers and talking to artists, hosts [and] venues. We were always considering multiple dates and thought the 14th was the best for everyone involved.

Was not competing with March Madness, which is set to be held on the 21st, a consideration?
I would say everything that was happening on any given weekend or any given day was considered in this period of time. Especially around Covid, people are changing dates [and] trying to find windows where they can post their events. So we were trying to pay attention to everything that was happening on a media landscape all through March and April, because that was really the window.

You said in a previous interview that based on conversations with CBS, the show had to happen in March or April. Why that window?
There was not a drop dead date, but we felt that that window gave us enough distance from where we are in L.A. as far as the uptick in the numbers mixed with the consideration that we don’t want to be too far away from when our votes are concluded and when the music from this year has been celebrated. So the further into the calendar we got, the closer we got to new music that’s been released in another voting cycle. And then over the past week, it really got to nuts and bolts.

Were there ever any discussions about canceling the event outright?
There was never a time when we said, let’s just cancel. We wanted to make sure we had our show; we felt the show was important and I don’t mean to overly inflate the importance of the academy, but music in general serves a very necessary purpose, especially in a time when we’ve had so much divisive behavior and so many different events that have happened that have been hard to deal with and tearing the fabric of our country. I don’t want to make ourselves sound overly important, but I do think that music plays a vital role in where we go in the future, and how we turn the corner on the next chapter of what we do as a society. And for us, the show was an important platform. It was a chance for us to come together, take a breath and relieve each other and enjoy some musical moments. And that sounds overly optimistic, I’m sure. But I just think it’s a chance to be entertained, to be lightened and to heal a little bit.

Also, it’s important to know that there’s really great music that needs to be recognized this year and I would hate to see all the creators and people that put their time and energy into creating this art to go unrecognized. And a lot of the music that was created during this period helped us get through it and emotionally impacted people and helped us deal with some of the drama that was happening in all of our lives. So I do feel that there’s something valid in making sure we recognize those creators that had a hand in that.

What gives you confidence that you can put on the show in mid-March when the end of January wasn’t feasible?
Well, there’s no certainty in any of the decisions that any of us are making. We are only operating under the information that we get with optimism and hoping that the things that we’re hearing will come to fruition. We know that over the next two weeks is an extreme version of what’s been happening. There’s never been numbers like this in L.A. and from what we’re being told, those things will start to turn around. And it’s very hard to predict when. And I’m not saying that we have nailed this answer and this is the perfect solution. We’re saying we feel like by that date, things will be improved and we’ll be able to do our show safely and responsibly and we’ll see what happens.

Can you say with certainty that a show in some form or another will happen on March 14th?
We will continue to watch what happens and make a decision. We’re trying to be very adaptive and also very respectful. So our plan is to have our show on March 14th.

From Rolling Stone US