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The Grammys you don’t see on TV

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Millions of people watch the Grammys on TV, but thousands watch it live in Staples Center. Ever wonder what that’s like? (Photo: Christopher Polk, Getty Images for NARAS)

LOS ANGELES — “If you want to know what it’s like to be at the Grammys, go to your garage (and) get out a folding chair,” said Grammys host James Corden on Sunday’s Grammy Awards telecast. “(And just like that), you’ve got a better seat at the Grammys than Beyonce.”

OK, so Corden’s description of the Grammy-going experience isn’t exactly wrong — the chairs do fold — but he doesn’t paint the most accurate picture of what it’s like to watch the show from Staples Center.

USA TODAY’s Carly Mallenbaum, who was among attendees at this year’s show, shares a more nuanced account of what it’s like to be a Grammys guest.

The red carpet goes on for hours, and hours

The televised Grammys start at 5 p.m. PT (8 p.m. ET), but the Grammy Awards premiere ceremony goes from 12:30–3:30 PT in the nearby Microsoft Theater, and that’s where awards outside of the marquee categories are handed out. Because of the pre-telecast, journalists covering the red carpet have to be in place by 11:30 a.m., and stay there until 4:45 p.m. At least you won’t get overheated on the carpet: Air blows viciously into the tent, Beyonce wind-machine style.

There’s a strict “no food and drinks” policy

Well, you can drink Fiji water on the carpet, which is passed out with caps that have built-in straws. But other than that, Grammy security has a strict “no food and drink” rule. This policy could force you to chug your iced tea outside of the tented carpet, or sneakily inhale your just-purchased sandwich behind a camera crew.

When it comes to getting inside Staples Center, food options are slim and only available for certain hours of the show. What is up for purchase at all times? Bottles of water that will set you back $5.50 apiece.

Commercial breaks mean throwback videos

When the Grammy show cuts to a break, you can watch the monitors for vintage Grammy moments, from Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift’s 2009 duet, to Rihanna, Paul McCartney and Kanye West’s Four Five Seconds performance from 2015.

You get a warning before the show comes back

There aren’t any opera-style flickering lights, but an announcer gives several-minute and -second warnings about when the show’s back to air. Other things heard announced in the stadium: “Please stay out of the aisles,” “Welcome back,” “What an incredible show. Glad you’re all here,” and, best of all, “Nominees you’re all winners…” thoughtful pause, “… you’re all nominees.”

Audience participation varies

Though many of the nominees in the front row are seen getting up and dancing throughout the show, the same cannot be said for guests in the arena’s upper levels. You might be chair-dancing for the 3.5-hour show, but it takes Neil Diamond singing Sweet Caroline with a group in a cardboard car, or A Tribe Called Quest demanding guests  “stand up,” for most other people to be fist bumping and dancing to the music.

The staging is clever

Staples Center is equipped with an enormous main stage that can be sectioned off, plus a small circular stage that’s in the middle of the floor. In order to keep the show moving, artists perform everywhere from the center circle (John Legend and Cynthia Erivo, for example), to the front lip of the stage (Ed Sheeran), to a half of the stage (The Weeknd and Daft Punk), a larger portion of the stage (Bruno Mars) and the entire rectangular stage (Beyonce). If you’re really eager, you can peek through and see stagehands get instruments, DJ booths and lighting ready for forthcoming performances. (And you might have been very satisfied when you learned that the dining room chair you’d been eyeing wound up being used by a gravity-defying Beyonce.)

Timing your bathroom trip can be tricky

If you go during a commercial, there will be a line, and you might miss Adele restarting a tribute to George Michael.

Transitions are awkward

After an artist performs, take A Tribe Called Quest and Anderson .Paak for example, the lights that were shining on them immediately go out, even while they chant, “resist, resist, resist.” Then, a voice teases the next series of performances, including a set from Chance the Rapper that “will lift your spirits.” It just makes for an uneven tone.

The crowd has favorites

Beyonce gets standing ovations for her performance and speech. So does Adele, who didn’t initially get huge cheers for her Album of the Year win, until she said Beyonce was more deserving of the trophy. Other crowd favorites: Bruno Mars, Chance the Rapper and David Bowie, who had fans on their feet for his posthumous best rock song victory.

When it’s all over, it’s madness

Good luck getting out of there and continuing on to an after-party. With thousands of music fans leaving the building simultaneously, there’s bound to be a hold up. For you, that impasse might take place in the tented red carpet where you force yourself to take deep breaths until you can find food.

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