Detroit Free Press
Published 8:12 PM EST Feb 12, 2019
LOS ANGELES — Jennifer Lopez’s much-discussed Motown performance at the Grammy Awards was originally slated to be a Michael Jackson tribute, featuring the Jackson 5, sources tell the Free Press.
The concept was nixed last week, they say, amid backlash arising from the Jackson documentary “Leaving Neverland.” The film chronicles two men who say they were molested as children by Jackson.
That behind-the-scenes concern — combined with brewing public controversy over Lopez’s selection for a Motown tribute to begin with — had producers scrambling to overhaul the performance. Planned guest Stevie Wonder dropped out, Ne-Yo replaced him, and Smokey Robinson and Alicia Keys were added to the set.
The sources who spoke with the Free Press were close to the Grammy situation but said they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
As initially planned, Lopez would have taken the Grammy stage with members of the Jackson 5.
That plan was scrapped in the wake of the Jackson doc. Grammy producers and Lopez transformed her segment into the Motown medley viewers saw Sunday.
“They were still changing it up through Saturday night,” said one source close to the situation.
Wonder backed out last week, sources said. He was replaced by R&B singer Ne-Yo, who performed Wonder’s “Another Star” to end the Motown segment.
The reworked set, an energetic dance sequence by the leotard-clad Lopez, got fevered pushback on social media, including viewers who said it was provocative and contradictory to Motown’s classy reputation. That complaint came atop existing controversy about the pop star’s selection for a Motown tribute, with many questioning why someone of Puerto Rican descent had been picked to represent one of the most valued cultural legacies in black American history.
Lopez’s manager, Benny Medina, is a longtime friend of Kerry Gordy, son of Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. The elder Gordy has been closely looped in to the Grammys’ Motown tribute plans since they developed last year, ahead of the label’s 60th anniversary celebration.
Robinson is among the Motown figures who have defended JLo’s selection. He reiterated his stance Tuesday in an impassioned statement he read to the Free Press, calling critics “haters” and saying Motown was always about diversity.
More: Smokey Robinson defends JLo: Motown not ‘just music for black people’
The Lopez performance — in whatever form — wasn’t even originally intended for Sunday night. Rather, it was to be part of Tuesday night’s “Motown 60: A Grammy Celebration,” a concert featuring Robinson, Wonder, Diana Ross and others, being taped for broadcast April 21 on CBS.
But Lopez was ultimately moved into the Sunday show.
“I felt that this was appropriate for the Grammys,” producer Ken Ehrlich said Tuesday. “Were there other artists on this (Motown tribute concert) that would have fit (the Sunday slot)? Probably. There’s no question about it. But I just loved the idea that (Lopez) wanted to bring her own production to it – which is always something that’s important to us on Sunday night – and the songs were right.”
With Ross also having committed to a Sunday Grammy performance, “I thought between the two of them, there’s no question, Motown is covered pretty well,” Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich said that Lopez, speaking with guests at a post-Grammy function Sunday night, relayed a conversation from last week with one of her 10-year-old twins.
“What really got her was when her 10-year-old said to her, ‘Mommy, why don’t they want you to sing these songs and put them on television?’” Ehrlich recounted. “And it was at that she said, ‘I want to do this.’
“There was never any question of whether she’d do it or not, but obviously there was a lot of pressure from the backlash in the beginning,” Ehrlich added. “She committed herself.”
More: Greta Van Fleet wins Grammy for best rock album
More: Grammys wrap up with a powerful testimonial to Aretha Franklin
Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or email@example.com.