BLACKPINK Plays First-Ever U.S. Show, J Balvin Brings the Heat & More at Universal Music’s Grammy Artist Showcase
“Each year we present these artists in the most authentic way possible,” Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge told guests at the start of the label’s sixth annual Grammys showcase on Saturday (Feb. 9). “No filter, no MC, no long speeches.” He was true to his word: UMG A-listers from Ella Mai to J Balvin took the stage at the downtown Los Angeles luncheon, providing a nonstop cascade of performances that included many Grammy-nominated hits.
Mai kicked things off with a steamy performance of her buzzing single “Shot Clock,” before launching into — what else? — “Boo’d Up,” her breakthrough hit that’s up for both song of the year and best R&B song at this year’s ceremony. YG burst in to disrupt the romance with a performance of his 2016 protest track “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump),” sans collaborator Nipsey Hussle. “Life is about making statements, so I felt like we had to do that today,” the rapper explained, though 2 Chainz, joining the stage for a rendition of his 2012 hit “I’m Different,” had a different version of the story: “He was really stressing about doing that ‘fuck Donald Trump’ shit.”
Up next, country trio Midland performed their tongue-in-cheek hit “Drinkin’ Problem,” nominated for best country duo/group performance, while Lil Baby offered a speedy take on his Drake collaboration “Yes Indeed” — all this to a crowd that included the likes of newlyweds Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra, Jessie Reyez and Maggie Rogers.
It was a historic day for K-pop four-piece BLACKPINK, who made their U.S. performance debut at the luncheon. Strutting onstage in their typical v-formation, members Jisoo, Jennie, Lisa and Rosé brought Clueless-inspired looks and mesmerizing choreography to their trap-infused pop banger “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” which became the highest-charting hit ever by a K-pop girl group on the Billboard Hot 100 when it debuted at No. 55 in June 2018. The group also performed electro-pop vibe “Forever Young,” swishing their hips with razor-sharp synchronicity before floating offstage.
The showcase wouldn’t be complete without the label’s Latin gem Balvin, who will open the Grammy ceremony alongside Camila Cabello and whose smash reggaeton collaboration “I Like It” with Bad Bunny and Cardi B is up for record of the year. Jumping onstage in an all-white Louis Vuitton tracksuit, his ever-changing hair bleached blonde this time, the Colombian megastar somehow provided enough energy to keep guests on their feet even through the absent Cardi and Bad Bunny’s verses. He closed out his stage time with his monster Willy William team-up “Mi Gente,” to which the crowd responded with a standing ovation. “Right now it’s the perfect moment for our culture, that we’re really reaching in a global way, no matter the language,” Balvin told Billboard backstage. “We’ve really connected with people, and they’re really catching the vibes and catching the emotions.”
Last up, Michigan rockers Greta Van Fleet brought their signature ’70s vibe to the showcase, performing the howling “When the Curtain Falls” and mellow “You’re the One.” Take that back: Surprise performer Post Malone offered guests one final acoustic set, opting for renditions of his melancholy “Stay” and throwback Stoney track “Feeling Whitney.” The rapper is in the running for four honors come awards night: record of the year (“Rockstar”), album of the year (beerbongs & bentleys), best pop solo performance (“Better Now”) and best rap/sung performance (“Rockstar”).
But aside from highlighting the label’s biggest hits of 2018, the event also looked toward the future. Here, Grainge exclusively announced that UMG’s film and television division, Polygram Entertainment, is working on at least four music documentaries, including a film on the Bee-Gees produced by Frank Marshall and others on the Go-Gos, hip-hop jewelry (tentatively titled Ice Cold) and how mixtapes changed the music business. No matter what goes down on awards night, the coming year is looking bright for the label.
“We believe that an artist that we discover can change culture,” Grainge added. “That is at the very core of what we want to be and what we will always do.”