Review: The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles

As a huge music fan, I feel it’s my duty to provide a review of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

One of my side gigs is covering the Grammy Awards for examiner.com. I’ve seen every Grammy broadcast since the mid 1980s, and though I often don’t agree with the winners, I’ve become something of an expert on the awards.

On a trip to L.A. last month, I made my first visit to the Grammy Museum. Located in downtown Los Angeles near the Staples Center, the 30,000-square foot facility is still fairly new, having opened in December 2008.

Exhibits in the Grammy Museum
The lobby is home to a psychedelic 1965 Porsche once owned by Janis Joplin that has since been restored to its original condition.

The proper tour starts on the fourth floor, where a handful of Grammy Awards from over the years are on display, including the Beatles’ Album of the Year award for Sgt. Pepper.

One of my favorite items in the museum is the collection of handwritten song lyrics, from artists ranging from Bob Dylan to 2Pac to Taylor Swift. The museum displays Swift’s original notebook pages with the words to her first hit, “Tim McGraw,” which I believe is still her best song. Taylor’s penmanship is fantastic, by the way.

A special John Lennon exhibit includes a pair of his iconic glasses and the handwritten lyrics to “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” one of his most important songs. My favorite thing about handwritten lyrics is seeing the parts the artists crossed out as they were writing.

Lennon made few changes to that song, but contrast that with the handwritten lyrics to Eminem’s “Stan,” which are a total mess, as the rapper randomly jumbled together verses across the page. I don’t know how he made any sense of it since the verses jumped all over the place and nothing was in sequence.

Elsewhere, part of the second floor was closed off because workers were in the process of putting together a new hip hop exhibit. To its credit, the museum reduced ticket prices from $12.95 to $10 to make up for the lost space. Score!

Here, a painter works on a graffiti wall that will be part of an upcoming hip hop exhibit.

Photography inside the Grammy Museum
Photos are not permitted inside the Grammy Museum, which is super lame. Come on – how can you display the light-up outfits Daft Punk wore at the ’08 Grammys and not let us take pictures of them?

The same goes for Jennifer Lopez’s infamous green Versace dress from the 2000 awards. Yep, JLo’s barely-there gown is at the museum, along with Katy Perry’s fruit dress, Kanye’s striped sunglasses, Stevie Wonder’s harmonica, Slick Rick’s famous eye patch, and jackets worn by Ray Charles, Snoop Dogg and Luciano Pavarotti. (Spoiler: Pavarotti is a massive human being.)

As part of the John Lennon exhibit, the museum provides blank pieces of paper where guests can complete the sentence, “I imagine a world where _____.” I was tempted to fill in the blank with, “… the Grammy Museum allows you take pictures.”

There’s no way I could be in the presence of such remarkable artifacts and not capture a few digital memories, so after I saw all the exhibits, I went back upstairs and snuck a few. This was the highlight for me – three actual outfits worn by Michael Jackson.

Interactive exhibits at the Grammy Museum
One cool element of the museum is they have musical tutorials and actual instruments for you to play, although they’ve been dumbed-down and modified, Guitar Hero-style. I spent a few minutes pounding out some beats behind the drum kit.

They also have keyboards where you can remix Beyonce’s “Halo” and guitars where you can play famous riffs. While this is a fun element of the museum, it’s nothing special, given that most kids (and adults) have played Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Had this exhibit appeared five years ago, it would have been a lot more amazing.

Another touch-screen table allows users to explore any genre of music in history, including such niches as electronica, new age and industrial rock. For each genre, you can listen to seminal songs, read about its biggest artists, and see which other genres are closely related. A music geek like me could spend an hour at this exhibit alone, but I managed to pry myself away after reading about emo, disco and death metal.

Grammy Museum Review: Conclusion
As an avid Grammy watcher, I enjoyed the museum quite a bit. Some exhibits were more worthwhile than others, and of course I wish photos had been allowed, but for my money it was worth the price of admission.

Find out more at www.grammymuseum.org.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

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