meta-scriptBabyface Reflects On Collaborating With Whitney, Toni, Ella Mai & More: How The Legendary Hitmaker Learned To "Speak In Their Voices" | GRAMMY.com
Babyface Reflects On Collaborating With Whitney, Toni, Ella Mai & More: How The Legendary Hitmaker Learned To "Speak In Their Voices"
Babyface

Photo: Travis Bailey

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Babyface Reflects On Collaborating With Whitney, Toni, Ella Mai & More: How The Legendary Hitmaker Learned To "Speak In Their Voices"

Babyface has enough Top 10 singles to keep a playlist bumping for hours. The songwriter and producer discusses his most memorable productions, many of which tell compelling stories from a woman's perspective.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2023 - 05:59 pm

You didn't have to live through the '90s to know that 11-time GRAMMY winner Babyface is the mastermind behind so many of the decade's biggest R&B hits. Whitney Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," Boyz II Men's "End of the Road," and Toni Braxton's "You're Makin' Me High" are just a few No. 1 singles penned by the Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee.

Babyface's legendary status is driven home by 125 Top 10 writer/producer credits, top-tier collaborations with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, Beyoncé, and Eric Clapton, plus his own iconic hits, such as "Whip Appeal," "When Can I See You," and "Every Time I Close My Eyes." But telling compelling stories — especially from the female perspective — is arguably one of his greatest strengths, as evidenced most recently on Girls' Night Out

The 13-track collaboration project champions some of today's brightest female R&B stars, including Ari Lennox, Kehlani, and Queen Naija. Lead single "Keeps on Fallin'" with Ella Mai is nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 2023 GRAMMYs, which means he's now surpassed 50 GRAMMY nominations. "It was a nice surprise," Babyface tells GRAMMY.com. "It inspires you to keep doing the work."

A master of his craft, Babyface did his homework before getting in the studio with each artist on Girls' Night Out. "I needed to learn how people spoke and how melodies are different. Otherwise, I don't know if I would've been able to speak in their voices," he shares. "I have a much clearer understanding of today's R&B because there is a difference, and it's not necessarily a difference that's any better or any worse. It's just a difference in terms of time, and that's what made the process enjoyable to me."

Though Babyface took more of a mentoring approach with Girls' Night Out, he's no stranger to fostering talented female singers, particularly on the soundtrack for the 1995 movie Waiting to Exhale — which exclusively features Black women. The OST boasts a string of No. 1 and Top 10 hits penned entirely by Babyface himself, including beloved classics like Braxton's "Let It Flow" and Brandy's "Sittin' Up in My Room." 

Yet "Not Gon' Cry" by Mary J. Blige — who is nominated in six categories at the 65th GRAMMY Awards — remains among Babyface's most memorable productions for Waiting To Exhale. The timeless ballad, written from character Bernadine’s point of view after her husband of 11 years leaves her for another woman, emerged as the Black woman's anthem for showing resilience in the face of romantic heartbreak and betrayal, but the song almost didn't happen.

"The opening lyrics, 'While all the time that I was loving you, you were busy loving yourself,' just sounded like a real-life conversation, and it sounded like something Mary could say," Babyface explains. "I played it for Andre Harrell, and he said, 'It's okay, but I don't think it's the record for her… Mary's too young for this. She's not 47 years old and she ain't been married and all that.'"

He continues, "My answer to him was, 'Mary's singing for everyone else… and she ultimately became a voice for other women.' It wasn't her personal story, but her voice could deliver that."

Babyface's musical legacy developed further with the formation of LaFace Records in 1989 with music executive L.A. Reid. In the label’s glory days, LaFace launched the careers of Braxton, TLC, OutKast, Pink, Usher, Ciara, Goodie Mob, and Donell Jones. But one of his most impressive feats isn't talked about enough: that Whitney Houston selected Babyface to help usher in the more R&B-oriented sound of her third studio album, 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight.

"They came to LaFace because they wanted a Blacker record, but when I was writing 'I'm Your Baby Tonight,' I wasn't thinking R&B… I was just writing a Whitney record," he says. "There's an urban flavor to it, but the truth is it wasn't that R&B, but everything is R&B if a Black artist touches it… the idea was to run away from songs like 'How Will I Know' and 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody' that were big records for her that they said weren't Black enough."

Babyface and Houston proved to be a winning musical duo, and "I'm Your Baby Tonight" was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female at the 33rd GRAMMY Awards. The collaboration also gave Houston her eighth No. 1 hit, tying with Madonna for the female artist with most No. 1s on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time.

The success with divas like Houston and Braxton allowed Babyface to explore his versatility as a hitmaker for superstars outside of the R&B realm. For the lush sounds heard on Madonna's sixth studio album, Bedtime Stories, the pop icon teamed up with Dallas Austin, Dave Hall, and of course Babyface, who co-wrote "Forbidden Love" and "Take a Bow." The latter song became her longest running No. 1 hit.

"The track was already laid down and when we brought in the live strings, which was Madonna's suggestion, it became a whole other thing. I think it was the combination of my background vocals behind Madonna's that just made for a very unique song in that sense for her," Babyface recalls. "She was nervous because she just wasn't used to singing that controlled and being that vulnerable. I remember how we sat there and wrote the song together [at the Hit Factory Studios in New York City], so that's a really cool memory."

As the 64-year-old musician enters the next stage of his four-decade career, he has plenty to look forward to: Touring with eight-time GRAMMY winner Anita Baker, a possible deluxe version of Girls' Night Out, and the upcoming 30th anniversary of his third studio album, For the Cool in You, which spawned the top 5 hit "When Can I See You." (The acoustic tune earned Babyface his first GRAMMY for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.)

For all his success, Babyface has remained humble and his greatest joy comes from being able to hear a talented vocalist bring a song he wrote to life. "The best part is when you get into the studio with this idea, this little demo and then, when someone like Whitney, Aretha, or Boyz II Men sings your song, it becomes a hit before your eyes," he says. "They take it to a place I never imagined it could go."

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17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More
(L-R) Usher and Alicia Keys during the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show.

Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

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17 Love Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "I Will Always Love You," "Drunk In Love" & More

Over the GRAMMYs' 66-year history, artists from Frank Sinatra to Ed Sheeran have taken home golden gramophones for their heartfelt tunes. Take a look at some of the love songs that have won GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Feb 14, 2024 - 09:42 pm

Editor's Note: This is an update to a story from 2017.

Without heart-bursting, world-shifting love songs, music wouldn't be the same. There are countless classic and chart-topping hits dedicated to love, and several of them have won GRAMMYs.

We're not looking at tunes that merely deal with shades of love or dwell in heartbreak. We're talking out-and-out, no-holds-barred musical expressions of affection — the kind of love that leaves you wobbly at the knees.

No matter how you're celebrating Valentine's Day (or not), take a look at 18 odes to that feel-good, mushy-gushy love that have taken home golden gramophones over the years.

Frank Sinatra, "Strangers In The Night"

Record Of The Year / Best Vocal Performance, Male, 1967

Ol' Blue Eyes offers but a glimmer of hope for the single crowd on Valentine's Day, gently ruminating about exchanging glances with a stranger and sharing love before the night is through.

Willie Nelson, "Always On My Mind"

Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, 1983

In this cover, Nelson sings to the woman in his life, lamenting over those small things he should have said and done, but never took the time. Don't find yourself in the same position this Valentine's Day.

Lionel Richie, "Truly"

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, 1983

"Truly" embodies true dedication to a loved one, and it's delivered with sincerity from the king of '80s romantic pop — who gave life to the timeless love-song classics "Endless Love," "Still" and "Three Times A Lady."

Roy Orbison, "Oh, Pretty Woman"

Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, 1991

Orbison captures the essence of encountering a lovely woman for the first time, and offers helpful one-liners such as "No one could look as good as you" and "I couldn't help but see … you look as lovely as can be." Single men, take notes.

Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You"

Record Of The Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, 1994

Houston passionately delivers a message of love, remembrance and forgiveness on her version of this song, which was written by country sweetheart Dolly Parton and first nominated for a GRAMMY in 1982.

Celine Dion, "My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From Titanic)"  

Record Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, 1999

This omnipresent theme song from the 1997 film Titanic was propelled to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 as the story of Jack and Rose (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and GRAMMY winner Kate Winslet) swept the country.

Shania Twain, "You're Still The One"

Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song, 1999

Co-written with producer and then-husband Mutt Lange, Twain speaks of beating the odds with love and perseverance in lyrics such as, "I'm so glad we made it/Look how far we've come my baby," offering a fresh coat of optimism for couples of all ages.

Usher & Alicia Keys, "My Boo"

Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals, 2005

"There's always that one person that will always have your heart," sings Usher in this duet with Keys, taking the listener back to that special first love. The chemistry between the longtime friends makes this ode to “My Boo” even more heartfelt, and the love was still palpable even 20 years later when they performed it on the Super Bowl halftime show stage.

Bruno Mars, "Just The Way You Are"

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 2011

Dating advice from Bruno Mars: If you think someone is beautiful, you should tell them every day. Whether or not it got Mars a date for Valentine's Day, it did get him a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Cee Lo Green & Melanie Fiona, "Fool For You" 

Best Traditional R&B Performance, 2012

It's a far cry from his previous GRAMMY-winning song, "F*** You," but "Fool For You" had us yearning for "that deep, that burning/ That amazing unconditional, inseparable love."

Justin Timberlake, "Pusher Love Girl" 

Best R&B Song, 2014

Timberlake is so high on the love drug he's "on the ceiling, baby." Timberlake co-wrote the track with James Fauntleroy, Jerome Harmon and Timbaland, and it's featured on his 2013 album The 20/20 Experience, which flew high to No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Beyoncé & Jay-Z, "Drunk In Love"

Best R&B Performance / Best R&B Song, 2015

While "Drunk In Love" wasn't the first love song that won Beyoncé and Jay-Z a GRAMMY — they won two GRAMMYs for "Crazy In Love" in 2004 — it is certainly the sexiest. This quintessential 2010s bop from one of music's most formidable couples captures why their alliance set the world's hearts aflame (and so did their steamy GRAMMYs performance of it).

Ed Sheeran, "Thinking Out Loud"

Song Of The Year / Best Pop Solo Performance, 2016

Along with his abundant talent, Sheeran's boy-next-door charm is what rocketed him to the top of the pop ranks. And with swooning lyrics and a waltzing melody, "Thinking Out Loud" is proof that he's a modern-day monarch of the love song.

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, "Shallow"

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance / Best Song Written For Visual Media, 2019

A Star is Born's cachet has gone up and down with its various remakes, but the 2018 iteration was a smash hit. Not only is that thanks to moving performances from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, but particularly thanks to their impassioned, belt-along duet "Shallow."

H.E.R. & Daniel Caesar, "Best Part"

Best R&B Performance, 2019

"If life is a movie/ Know you're the best part." Who among us besotted hasn't felt their emotions so widescreen, so thunderous? Clearly, H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar have — and they poured that feeling into the GRAMMY-winning ballad "Best Part."

Kacey Musgraves, "Butterflies"

Best Country Solo Performance, 2019

As Musgraves' Album Of The Year-winning LP Golden Hour shows, the country-pop star can zoom in or out at will, capturing numberless truths about the human experience. With its starry-eyed lyrics and swirling production, "Butterflies" perfectly encapsulates the flutter in your stomach that love can often spark.

Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber, "10,000 Hours"

Best Country Duo/Group Performance, 2021

When country hook-meisters Dan + Shay teamed up with pop phenom Justin Bieber, their love song powers were unstoppable. With more than 1 billion Spotify streams alone, "10,000 Hours" has become far more than an ode to just their respective wives; it's an anthem for any lover.

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Here's What Happened At The Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors 2024 GRAMMY Event Celebrating Mariah Carey & Lenny Kravitz
Mariah Carey accepts the Global Impact Award during the Recording Academy Honors presented by the Black Music Collective

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

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Here's What Happened At The Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors 2024 GRAMMY Event Celebrating Mariah Carey & Lenny Kravitz

The power of staying true to yourself was at the center of the 2024 GRAMMY Week event. Honorees Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz were lauded by colleagues and performers, including Stevie Wonder, Quavo, Babyface and Andra Day.

GRAMMYs/Feb 3, 2024 - 08:34 pm

On a wet but buzzing Thursday evening ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, leading lights in the music industry gathered for the third annual Recording Academy Honors Presented By The Black Music Collective. Along the event's black carpet, stars and industry insiders were showing out — taking photos, reconnecting with friends and collaborators, and chatting with the press. 

The official 2024 GRAMMY Week event was held Feb. 1 — the first day of Black History Month — at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles and was sponsored by Amazon Music and City National Bank. Each year, BMC presents its Global Impact Award to legendary musicians advancing the culture, and 2024’s honorees Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey, loomed over the entire evening before they'd even arrived.

Flava Flav, sporting his patented clock necklace, was also hyped about the evening. "It means everything to be at the GRAMMYs tonight. This is big," Flav told GRAMMY.com. The rapper then spoke about the two transcendent stars being honored. "I feel real big about the honorees. Mariah Carey, always been proud of her and I love her songs…Lenny Kravitz is my dude. That’s my man. So congratulations Lenny!" 

The significance of the event was felt from the first foot set on the black carpet. Afrobeats star Fireboy DML weighed in on the importance of the night. "I’m honored. It feels good. It’s always important to be in spaces like this," Fireboy told GRAMMY.com, adding that he's excited about his upcoming fourth album. "It’s important for the culture." 

As attendees inside the jam-packed ballroom room eagerly awaited the main guests of the night, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. spoke about the momentum being built through Black Music Collective. 

"[Last year] I spoke how great it was to be holding the second annual BMC event. To me it meant we established a new tradition. And now the tradition proudly continues," Mason Jr. told the audience, emphasizing how the influence of Black culture can be found in all corners of the world and across musical genres. 

A performance by Nigerian superstar Davido, a first-time GRAMMY nominee, spoke to the power of musical diversity in the Academy and BMC. Although the crowd had sat down with their appetizers, many stood up to vibe out as Davido performed his nominated song, "Unavailable."

By the time Andra Day, adorned in a bright red leather coat, got to the end of her rendition of "Strange Fruit" with support from trumpeter Keyon Harrold, everyone in the ballroom was on their feet. It was a great moment for Day, whose cover of Billie Holiday’s 1939 cry for justice hammered home the connection between Black artists across different genres and across time.

Gabby Samone garnered the second standing ovation of the night for her take on Nina Simone’s "Four Women." Simone has had a number of major cosigns as her star has grown brighter, and her fans include Jennifer Hudson and none other than Mariah Carey. Samone's performance was followed by a powerful song from Erica Campbell, whose I Love You is nominated for Best Gospel Album this year.

A set from DJ Mannie Fresh, Kravitz took the stage to receive the first BMC Global Impact Award of the night. Introduced by mentee H.E.R, she talked about "American Woman’s" genre-bending influence on her own career and Kravitz's own influence from childhood. "The fashion, the confidence, the badass walk, and the killer vocals made me at six years old say to my dad ‘I wanna play guitar.’ ‘I wanna be a rockstar.’ ‘I wanna be like Lenny Kravitz,’" H.E.R. said. 

She then listed off some of Kravitz’s other accomplishments including working on "Rustin," the new Netflix film about critical civil rights architect Bayard Rustin, as well as Kravitz’s work in philanthropy through his Let Love Rule Foundation. 

Once the din died down, Kravitz took a trip back to childhood, too. He shared how, when he went to go see the Jackson 5 with his family, and was so hooked that he dreamed of becoming part of the storied troupe. "I fantasized that I was their long lost brother and turned the Jackson 5 into the Jackson 6," he said.

Kravitz also spoke the various genres of music that helped mold him, drawn from many different corners. From his "grandfather’s block in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn," where he "witnessed the birth of hip-hop," to being shaped by legends like Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone. He also shouted out his godmother, the late great actress Cicely Tyson. 

In a particularly cool mashup of genre and generation, Quavo provided vocals to "Fly Away," flanked by P-funk all star George Clinton, Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. At the end of the performance, Kravitz went over to each performer and hugged them.

After a brief intermission, record producer and BMC Chair Rico Love shouted out leadership, including the Recording Academy board of trustees and Ryan Butler, Vice President of DEI. Love spoke about Black Music Collective as a space where everyone can feel at home. "The life of a creator is so hard. And lonely. That’s why it’s valuable to build community," he emphasized. 

Black Music Collective’s scholarship program, in collaboration with Amazon Music, Love said, will once again support HBCU students who aspire to be in the next generation of music industry power players. In 2023, scholarships were awarded to students at Florida A&M University, Texas Southern University, Norfolk State University, among others. Love recalls the mentors he had when he was coming up and is glad BMC is also paying it forward. 

Last night’s program found one of the few people on the planet that even Mariah Carey might be star struck by. Before the pop legend received her Global Impact Award, Stevie Wonder appeared and sat down over a keyboard. 

"Very excited to be here to celebrate someone that has been a friend and I’ve been a fan of since the very beginning of hearing her voice," he said, before serenading Carey with "I Just Called to Say I Love You," ending the rendition with "I love you, I love you, you are my hero."

Mariah Carey was seemingly surprised and star-struck herself. Once she overcame the awe, Carey detailed the pressure she faced early in her career to avoid leaning into Black music. "When I first started in the music business, I was often told to ‘conform’ to certain expectations. I was not encouraged to focus on my love for Black music," she told the crowd.

Later, some of Carey’s other friends and collaborators performed, including Babyface, who once sang backing vocals on Carey’s "Melt Away." (Carey then returned the favor by singing on "Every Time I Close My Eyes.") Another Carey collaborator, Busta Rhymes, performed crowd favorite "I Know What You Want" and offered sincere thanks to Carey for her boldness and desire to "run with the wolves." Tori Kelly also sang "Vision of Love" during this segment and earlier in the night, gospel legend Yolanda Adams performed "Make It Happen." The third annual Recording Academy Honors/BMC event certainly did make it happen, as attendees flooded out of the ballroom and into the streets pumped with pride.

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Head to live.GRAMMY.com all year long to watch all the GRAMMY performances, acceptance speeches, the GRAMMY Live From The Red Carpet livestream special, the full Premiere Ceremony livestream, and even more exclusive, never-before-seen content from the 2024 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Beyoncé's Heartfelt Speech For Her Record-Breaking Win In 2023
Beyoncé at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Beyoncé's Heartfelt Speech For Her Record-Breaking Win In 2023

Relive the night Beyoncé received a gramophone for Best Dance/Electronic Album for 'RENAISSANCE' at the 2023 GRAMMYS — the award that made her the most decorated musician in GRAMMY history.

GRAMMYs/Feb 2, 2024 - 05:12 pm

Six years after her last solo studio album, Beyoncé returned to the music industry with a bang thanks to RENAISSANCE. In homage to her late Uncle Johnny, she created a work of art inspired by the sounds of disco and house that wasn't just culturally impactful — it was history-making.

At the 2023 GRAMMYs, RENAISSANCE won Best Dance/Electronic Album. Marking Beyoncé's 32nd golden gramophone, the win gave the superstar the record for most gramophones won by an individual act.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, revisit the historic moment Queen Bey took the stage to accept her record-breaking GRAMMY at the 65th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

"Thank you so much. I'm trying not to be too emotional," Beyoncé said at the start of her acceptance speech. "I'm just trying to receive this night."

With a deep breath, she began to list her praises that included God, her family, and the Recording Academy for their continued support throughout her career. 

"I'd like to thank my Uncle Johnny, who is not here, but he's here in spirit," Beyoncé proclaimed. "I'd like to thank the queer community for your love and inventing this genre."

Watch the video above for Beyoncé's full speech for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs. Check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind. 

Tune into the 2024 GRAMMYs on Sunday, Feb. 4, airing live on the CBS Television Network (8-11:30 p.m. LIVE ET/5-8:30 p.m. LIVE PT) and streaming on Paramount+ (live and on-demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on-demand for Paramount+ Essential subscribers the day after the special airs).

A Timeline Of Beyoncé's GRAMMY Moments, From Her First Win With Destiny's Child to Making History With 'Renaissance'

GRAMMY Rewind: Lizzo Thanks Prince For His Influence After "About Damn Time" Wins Record Of The Year In 2023
Lizzo at the 2023 GRAMMYs

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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GRAMMY Rewind: Lizzo Thanks Prince For His Influence After "About Damn Time" Wins Record Of The Year In 2023

Watch Lizzo describe how Prince’s empowering sound led her to “dedicate my life to positive music” during her Record Of The Year acceptance speech for “About Damn Time” at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Jan 19, 2024 - 06:00 pm

Since the start of her career, four-time GRAMMY winner Lizzo has been making music that radiates positive energy. Her Record Of The Year win for "About Damn Time" at the 2023 GRAMMYs proved that being true to yourself and kind to one another always wins.

Travel back to revisit the moment Lizzo won her award in the coveted category in this episode of GRAMMY Rewind. 

"Um, huh?" Lizzo exclaimed at the start of her acceptance speech. "Let me tell you something. Me and Adele are having a good time, just enjoying ourselves and rooting for our friends. So, this is an amazing night. This is so unexpected."

Lizzo kicked off her GRAMMY acceptance speech by acknowledging Prince's influence on her sound. "When we lost Prince, I decided to dedicate my life to making positive music," she said. "This was at a time when positive music and feel-good music wasn't mainstream at that point and I felt very misunderstood. I felt on the outside looking in. But I stayed true to myself because I wanted to make the world a better place so I had to be that change."

As tracks like "Good as Hell" and "Truth Hurts" scaled the charts, she noticed more body positivity and self-love anthems from other artists. "I'm just so proud to be a part of it," she cheered.

Most importantly, Lizzo credited staying true to herself despite the pushback for her win. "I promise that you will attract people in your life who believe in you and support you," she said in front of a tearful audience that included Beyoncé and Taylor Swift in standing ovation, before giving a shout-out to her team, family, partner and producers on the record, Blake Slatkin and Ricky Reed

Watch the video above for Lizzo's complete acceptance speech for Record Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs. Check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind, and be sure to tune into the 2024 GRAMMYs on Sunday, Feb. 4, airing live on the CBS Television Network (8-11:30 p.m. LIVE ET/5-8:30 p.m. LIVE PT) and streaming on Paramount+ (live and on-demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on-demand for Paramount+ Essential subscribers the day after the special airs).

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