LOS ANGELES — Everywhere you turn inside Staples Center, there are people (and things) in motion: Set pieces are being noisily constructed (and just as noisily deconstructed), lights are raised to the ceiling, focused, then lowered again, cameras on cranes swoop in and nearly scrape the stage, walkie-talkies crackle, security guards shift their weight from one foot to the other, musicians scramble down hallways, techs assemble drum kits and tune guitars, directors shout instructions and stare intently at their clipboards. If there’s a method to all this madness, it is not readily apparent. Mostly, you just try to stay out of the way.
It’s all in preparation for Sunday’s 54th Grammy Awards, of course, and if everything goes according to plan, you probably won’t even notice the intricate details (camera movements, presenter cues, etc.) that were rehearsed time and time again or think twice about just how they get all those massive video screens to work in perfect synchronization. The goal is to make these things all appear to be seamless, effortless, nearly invisible. Which is why, in the days leading up to the big show, the Staples Center is one continuously buzzing hive of activity.
Onstage, Foster the People , Maroon 5 and the recently reunited Beach Boys are working out the kinks for their Sunday-night performance, which, at the moment, include monitor malfunctions, a de-tuned organ and a wayward timpani drum. Maroon frontman Adam Levine stands stage left, fiddling with his in-ear and humming his harmonies over and over again. At one point, a stagehand saves him from being smashed by a gigantic LED screen, which is being lowered directly above his head. Stage right, Mark Foster has his arms crossed, a gigantic smile creased across his face, marveling at the sheer spectacle of the thing. Eventually, after an army of producers and techs have crisscrossed the stage, the Beach Boys amble up, take their places and, without a moment of rehearsal, positively nail the wide-screen harmonies of “Good Vibrations.” Levine can’t help but laugh at the display, and as the song lilts along, he mimes the crashing timpani drums and mouths the chorus.
Of course, the action onstage is only part of the production (though it is a part that truly never ends; LL Cool J and Nicki Minaj are set to rehearse Friday (February 10), and there are rumors that both Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen will share the stage at some point too). While instruments are tuned and harmonies perfected, an army of production assistants are busy plotting the Grammy seating chart — a bit of well-planned politicking that’s nearly as important to the attendees as actually winning a gilded gramophone. Seatmates are meticulously plotted by producers, and how close you sit to the stage itself (and who you’re sitting with) is a pretty good representation of just how much clout you’ve got.
Which means that, on Sunday, the front row will be populated by Katy Perry, Rihanna and Fergie. Heavily-favored Adele will sit in row two, next to Bruce Springsteen. Taylor Swift shares a row with Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga is seated next to Miranda Lambert, Bon Iver is across the aisle from R. Kelly (imagine the possibilities!), and Chris Brown will rub elbows with the indomitable Diana Ross.
Of course, all of this could change — these are just the rehearsals after all. And as the countdown to the big show continues, there’s still a whole lot of rehearsing to do. Even after the show goes live, that constant blur of motion inside Staples is likely to continue unabated. This is music’s biggest night, after all.
Chaos! Profanity! Wardrobe malfunctions! Don’t miss our Grammy red-carpet live stream this Sunday, February 12, for a full three hours of mayhem, starting at 5 p.m. ET on MTV.com. And the fun doesn’t end Sunday: MTV News has you covered for all the Grammy red-carpet fashion, Grammy winners and Grammy news until the hangover wears off!