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Behind the 2013 Grammys: Frank Ocean Would Like His Bookshelf, Please

Frank Ocean convenes with Justin Timberlake backstage / Photo by Getty Images

There is no church in the wild, but there are sure as shit no atheists on the red carpet. At the 55th installment of the Grammys at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, we are fox-holed amongst fellow journalists, camera goons and microphone-grippers and it is our collective job to worship whatever makeup-spackled likeness or sequined/suited golden calf is willing to spare us several seconds of precious time before their publicist politely taps them on the back or gives you “the look.” It is a desperate duty with few payouts unless you’re LMFAO’s Redfoo reporting for Jay Leno, and even then it can be disappointing.

Like when Neil Patrick Harris takes one look at your ridiculous rhinestone-studded smoking jacket and correctly assumes that you’re a party-rocking goofball who will bring nothing but ill repute to his good name and so snubs your interview request with a wave of the hand. Sorry, Red — we didn’t fare any better. We did, however, shake hands with the inexplicably nominated Al Walser, and asked the unknown dance producer if he, in fact, had any idea who Al Walser is. “Al Walser is from Lichtenstein. Look, I came here with nothing but a dream.” He’s also the guy who showed up to Music’s Biggest Night wearing a spacesuit.

Regarding true pioneers (cross-reference: those who were snubbed), we manage to steal a moment with Frank Ocean. Who’s he rooting for? “Prince, even though he’s not nominated for anything. When he takes the stage, I’m going to scream my highest note from whatever row I’m sitting in.” Where will he keep his trophies? “Well, I don’t own a bookshelf. I just moved and the furnishing process — did you know that when you order furniture they take eight to 12 weeks to get it to your house? Do you know how inconvenient that is?” Who does he want to see perform? “I … don’t know.” His answers are honest and strange just like his music.

He makes it through the gauntlet fairly quickly, while his Odd Future cohorts run a game of distraction. Tyler, the Creator tells the newspaper next to us that his own music “sucks” before explaining to us his objection to the “no female breast nipples” rule: “Every nigga in here wanna see some titties.” We speak to a New Age nominee (Steven Halpern) who claims to create healing music via deep brainwave penetration; a very nice Christian contemporary musician/worship leader (Mat Maher) whose self-described “corporate congregational song” is sweeping, erm, corporate congregations; and one of the 25,000 producers who worked on Kanye West’s “Mercy” (the Twilite Tone) who makes a point to avoid hearing modern music.

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Much of the big game is ushered by out of reach and this makes the media frothing crazy. Chris Brown walks past and people forget that he is horrible, remembering only that he is famous and that his name is the stuff of their biggest click days and so now they want to be his best friend — call him things like “CB” and “Breezy” because it sounds familiar instead of antagonistic and, no, not fake at all, of course not, never — despite the fact that both sides of that unhappy marriage have given each other every reason to hate one another. He knows all of this without having to try and so keeps walking, briskly, is gone thank God.

We too soon shall be, and this is good because we are deliriously hungry and have spent the better part of five hours vying for attention with the five other publications that share our tiny booth. In the final 60 minutes, entropy reigns. We journalists rise from our trenches and literally climb the wall that separates us from them, infiltrating the red carpet itself with our tape recorders and phones poised like bayonets at the throats of the talent. Still, Redfoo either ganks all the good interviews or drives away the stragglers who know better — Leno shall be the victor in this battle and the cocky bastard, brilliantly, isn’t even here.

“I make authentic love-making CDs,” says The-Dream, “records that are very honest to where I’m at in my life right now.” This is a baffling statement from the “No Church in the Wild” collaborator which brings to mind unwanted mental images of the Boyz n the Hood-hatted R&B-ist making very serious faces whilst engaged in, um, authentic acts bathed in the glinting silver light of a thousand spinning discs. CDs? More unsettling still, “right now“? He has arrived in the press room fresh off of his Grammy victory — could he be compensating for the fact that his headgear just got burned by Jay-Z? Could this all be a-dream?

The latter seems wholly possible. While the press rooms of our recent past (see: VMAs, AMAs) have been frenzied and blatantly mind-warping, it is eerily calm back here in the recesses of the arena. We can only assume that each of our peers, like us, arrived half-starved to death and so subsequently slammed her/his allotted box of carbs (roast beef on a very large roll, Lays potato chips with extra salt?, three-bite pasta salad, stale cookie) and that we’re all now hovering in a state between mild wakefulness and mellow dozing. A very serious man sits among us with a landline phone that is never explained and when it rings, he answers with the words, “Damage control.” The coffee is all gone. Was it ever actually here?

If you’ve never been among the unlucky few who brave an awards show pressroom, it may best be described as a house of monitors-as-mirrors. While those reporting from the ground floor see the spectacle as it truly unfolds, we watch the telecast as edited and beamed in via a handful of flat screen TVs. Those images hit our bloodshot eyeballs and enter our addled minds as we distort the picture further by converting it into text via line after line of glowing laptop screens. We are here not because we’re gluttons for punishment or because we like carbs, but because the organizers send us lovely people like, well …

“We’re going to have Adele for two questions,” says the Jane Lynchian woman running the room. She determines who’ll have the pleasure of those queries by asking, “Who’s burning? Are you burning?” The most combustible having been established, Adele comes in and responds to a question about balancing motherhood against an event of this magnitude. “I’ve been up since 6 a.m., [but] it’s nice. You learn to prioritize what you stress out about.” Regarding her next album: she’s been taking meetings but, “I’ve just been singing my baby nursery rhymes so I don’t know what’s cool.” Her feelings on the Oscars: “Shitting me-self!”

Americana champ Bonnie Raitt arrives. Asked about folk’s resurgence she elegantly states, “Great music just rises to the top — great soul and great melodies and people that mean it.” Responding to the same question, country kings Zac Brown Band take pot shots: “There’s been some bad stuff over the years but it’s eventually gotta get back to being real, back to the roots. It’s great to have people who actually play their instruments winning.”

But when Mumford’s big victory is announced, the press room groans audibly (they’d actually cheered for Ocean’s first victory). Of course, when the Sons themselves join us on the media stage, the reporters soften into a sycophantic mush. Marcus makes a joke about the Black Keys scooping their trophies and the press collectively release a gushing guffaw. When he first demures on the importance of their win then admits that he feels “fucking awesome,” they too are oh-so-proud of his mastery of the F-bomb (see also: “Little Lion Man,” “Broken Crow”). They clap and slap their knees in unison and praise the lads’ “passionate energy.”

We look down and realize that we’re sitting at the spot reserved for EDM Magazine. On their behalf, we are suddenly deeply offended at all of this. We did not understand the Lumineers’ shouty words and matte-fabric outfits. We remember when that Carrie Underwood girl came back here — though we didn’t recognize the word “Nashville,” we did like it when she talked about wearing LED dresses on her last tour (via tonight’s exploding roses/butterflies projection). We were thankful when Kelly Rowland arrived and talked through Adam Levine’s grotesque Alicia Keys assist, but we bristled when she explained that her forthcoming album, retitled Talk a Good Game, will not have David Guetta on it and will, in fact, be pure R&B.

As EDM Mag, we wonder if our moment in the spotlight truly has passed. It occurs to us that while Skrillex won things, we never saw him on those little TVs; and that the paper on our table informs us that Kaskade was a presenter, yet only for the pre-televised portion. We feel the walls closing in as men with beards and suspenders laugh at us, our world crumbling as Redfoo secures his reign as our unfortunate representative in the mainstream. We reel under the weight of these awful epiphanies and in this moment, transmogrify a second time.

Again we look down, but we’re not ready for what we see. It’s worse than we thought. We are wearing the astronaut suit. We are Al Walser. Al Walser is us. The landline is ringing but the very serious man is gone. There will be no damage control. This is it, hashtag-the-end.