Grammy Producer Ken Ehrlich on Political Statements: ‘We Respect and Encourage Artistic Freedom’

Published On January 31, 2017 » By »

Producer Ken Ehrlich speaks onstage at An Evening With Ken Ehrlich at The GRAMMY Museum on January 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/WireImage)

Musicians of all genres have been extremely vocal during these political tumultuous times, and with the 59th annual Grammy Awards right around the corner, it’s likely that some of the winners, presenters, and performers will want to use their stage time to proselytize or protest. Grammys telecast producer Ken Ehrlich doesn’t have a problem with that.

“We’ve always thought about the show’s ability to be responsive to what’s going on in the world… We respect and encourage artistic freedom,” Ehrlich tells Yahoo Music. “I’ve always felt that the Grammys reflect more than just what happened in music — and that people watch the show because they believe that they’re going to get more than just a nice splashy concert with a bunch of awards. So, why not give them that?”

While Ehrlich stresses that the Grammy ceremony “doesn’t often take an advocacy position,” he does proudly recall “certain times when we have supported causes.”

“A few years ago, with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, we did a wedding that encompassed [both homosexual and heterosexual couples],” referring to an historical 2014 Grammys moment that included Madonna as the wedding officiant and lesbian singer-songwriter Mary Lambert crooning the duo’s “Same Love”/”She Keeps Me Warm” hook. “I was really proud of that. That was really important.”

Ehrlich is also proud of Katy Perry’s anti-domestic violence “By the Grace of God” performance from 2015. “That song that was kind of masked, but it was really about rape,” says Ehrlich. “The segment started out with a message from the president [Barack Obama stated, “It’s not OK, and it has to stop”], that led into a [spoken-word] message from a woman [Brooke Axtell] who had been a victim of rape. We were very supportive.”

Ehrlich expects there may be even bolder statements at the 2017 Grammys. “As far as this year goes, with the political climate, I don’t think there’s any question [that artists will speak out],” he says. “We’re in a very turbulent time in this country, and people want, or actually have the need, to express their feelings about where we are. And while I think [the show has] a responsibility to keep those feelings and expressions valid, we respect the rights of artists to express themselves.”

Ehrlich, who has produced the Grammys for the past 37 years, actually sees the ceremony as part of long pop music tradition of protest and advocacy. “I’m an old guy,” he chuckles. “My youth was in the ‘60s. I sat cross-legged and listened to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Phil Ochs, the protest singers. That was my music… I watched and fully believed that the ‘60s — and the music of the ‘60s — mobilized a generation and changed America. And I think we have gone through periods where I questioned whether or not music can continue to do that — but there was always somebody. There was always a troubadour. There was always a Springsteen. Every generation has had its conscience through music. I encourage that.”

This year’s announced Grammy performers include Adele, Bruno Mars, Metallica, the Weeknd with Daft Punk, Carrie Underwood, John Legend, Keith Urban, Maren Morris with Alicia Keys, and A Tribe Called Quest with Anderson .Paak and Dave Grohl. The 59th annual Grammy Awards will air Sunday, Feb. 12 on CBS.

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