There were plenty of surprises on last night’s Grammys, but nothing gave us quite the sartorial shock as the performance of “Forget You,” which saw Cee Lo Green outfitted in a giant feather costume, a gaggle of Muppets, and a stiletto-dancing Gwyneth Paltrow. We got the facts about the fantastical duet from Green’s stylist, Shawn Barton, who has previously worked with OutKast. (Barton spoke to us from London, where she had jetted straight from the Grammys alongside Green, who will be performing at the Brit Awards on Feb. 15.) She dished on Green’s inspiration for the outlandish performance, Paltrow’s wardrobe change of heart, and a certain famous someone who was cheering them on backstage.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did this idea come from? Was it an homage to Elton John’s performance on The Muppets Show in the ’70s?
SHAWN BARTON: Absolutely. Cee Lo is a huge fan of Elton John. It was an homage to Elton. Cee Lo remembered that episode on The Muppets from when he was maybe about 5 years old.
What was your reaction when he first told you his idea?
I said, let’s go! And how far can we go? And how far do you want to continue going?
Why did he decide the Grammys was the right place for it?
It’s the Grammys! You see great artists doing spectacular things throughout the years. I remember seeing certain things, like Michael Jackson. Why not the Grammys? For an artist, where can you get away with something like that? And not everyone can afford to see a tour or a show, but everyone tunes into the Grammys.
Who actually made the outfit?
Maria Harper. She’s fantastic designer who makes costumes. She was absolutely just divine in her creation of making that. Maria has been working with Cee Lo, as far as constructing his costumes, for a little while now. She had done things for Cee Lo when he was in Goody Mob and worked with other artists in Goody Mob. She did everything – the outfit, the headpiece.
How heavy was it?
It’s the lightest outfit ever. It was a jumpsuit, Velcro-ed in the front. The wings, he put those on like you would a backpack. Then it was the chain metal-mirror headpiece. It all fit in a flat box. The heaviest thing was maybe the headpiece. I would say that weighed about 12 pounds. The reaction from people was priceless because he didn’t rehearse in the costume. Everyone else was rehearsing in their costumes, but he had on a T-shirt and flip flops. So when he walked out [in the costume], it was, “Oh damn!” He owned it. Everyone literally stopped what they were doing and cheered. It was the greatest thing ever.
Did you have a part in Gwyneth’s outfit?
Gwyneth Paltrow’s stylist reached out to me, and I let her know what we were doing. I also sent her stylist a photo. I originally thought she was going to be wearing something different because we came up with a [different] color for her to wear. Originally it was going to be a crimson red jumpsuit. Looking back, I liked that she ended up wearing black. It worked well with what we were doing. I thought she looked absolutely gorgeous. And the shoes. Ow! I saw the rehearsal, and she handled it like a pro.
The coolest thing was being backstage. Beyonce watched it with us. She was so excited for her friend [Paltrow]. It was the cutest thing ever. It was so one of the moments when you’re like, “Aw BFF love!” Beyonce was so happy for her. She gave her a big hug, and we all had a moment. It was one of those backstage moments that you’ll always remember.
We all were so excited because originally Cee Lo wasn’t going to get up [from the piano bench] and I was like, “Gosh you have to get up – at least to show the whole outfit!” When he got up, I’m surprised he didn’t hear my screaming onstage. I was so excited, like “Yes! He got up!” That was enough for me. I could’ve gone home for that one. We did not expect him to get up. That was the best moment ever.
Was this your first time working with Cee Lo?
It was. I was a longtime stylist for Outkast, and I worked with Andre and Big Boi. Throughout the years of seeing Cee Lo, being around them, it was just our turn now, really. We have been busy working with different people and the timing of us working together, we were just able to have it this year. It’s fortunate to be able to work with artists who get it. You can just go there, and they are willing to do anything – almost.
So how much does a costume like his go for?
I am still trying to figure that part out. On the plane, Cee Lo’s like “How much is this going to cost me?” I was like, “Uhhh, I’m going to have to get back to you on that one.”
Where’s the costume now?
It’s in my house in L.A. When we left, we literally went from the Grammys to the plane, so my assistants took it to my house until I get back. And then I can figure out how to store this puppy.
Will it ever make another appearance?
No. It’s one of those one-time things. It’s similar to when OutKast did the “Hey Ya” Native American outfits [in 2004]. Those are in my garage. That’s the kind of thing you never show again. Wearing it again takes away from the coolness factor.
How did the Muppets’ costumes come about?
I also helped with designing the costumes of the Muppets. A couple of times I had to go down to Jim Henson’s studio to see the puppets as they were being constructed. Once we had an idea of what our color was going to be, I met with Brian Henson [son of the late Jim Henson] and shared with him what we were going to be doing. I don’t know if you could see, but Piddles the dog wore a diaper. When I sent Brian a photo of the direction we were going, then he came up with the idea of doing something to copy what he was wearing. So I said, “Why don’t we do the same feathers?” I thought that was genius.
What can you tell us about what we’ll see Cee Lo in next?
Tomorrow, we’re doing the Brits and it’s James Bond-inspired. We’re going from the over-the-top feather piece of last night to less flamboyant tomorrow. Cee Lo’s got a range and isn’t afraid to push the envelope. The whole plane ride over to London, we were talking the whole time: “What about this?” and “What about that?” It’s cool to have a crew of people that appreciate their art. We have some really exciting things I can’t talk about because they’re percolating in the creative pot right now. If people were excited about what they saw last night, we’re about to take it to a whole other level of funk and coolness. I think people will be surprised by what Cee Lo has in store for people. He definitely isn’t afraid, and I’m talking outside his clothing. I’m talking about his creative mind, and where it can go.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Cliff Lipson/CBS