The Best Part of the Grammy Awards Will Not Be Televised

The Grammy Awards are set to transpire on Sunday, March 14th, and if you’ve been reading the headlines, it feels like they’re doomed before they even start. Multiple high profile entertainers have lashed out at the Grammys recently, including British boy band personality Zayn Malik, who caused quite the stir with the recent tweet, “Fu– the grammys and everyone associated. Unless you shake hands and send gifts, there’s no nomination considerations. Next year I’ll send you a basket of confectionary.”

In November when the nominations were revealed, The Weeknd, who was apparently “snubbed,” said, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…” and then revealed on Thursday (3/11) that he will be boycotting the awards indefinitely, and doesn’t want to be considered for them in the future. Justin Bieber has been complaining about how his recent album got shifted from R&B to the pop category. And in September of 2020, Kanye West tweeted out a video of himself urinating on one of his Grammy Awards.

For some, this all may feel like Groundhog Day from the Grammy Awards in 2020, when suspended CEO Deborah Dugan went to war with the organization weeks ahead of the presentation. Dugan had been removed due to harassment claims against her, then turned around and started stabbing backs and making accusations about the organization as artists who’ve felt jilted by the Grammys over the years piled on. Accusations of sexism, racism, and corruption in the institution raged.

Meanwhile, you talk to just about anyone in middle America, and they’ll ask, “Why bother? The woke mob has taken over” when it comes to Grammys. In wide swaths of America, they’re passively boycotting the Grammy Awards from the feeling that any merit-based objectivity has been completely bled out of the system. Of course, they may be reticent to share these opinions for fear of being labeled racist and sexist themselves, but it lends to the underlying apathy towards the awards.

And this is all in opposition to the prevailing and popular idea that the Grammy Awards are not woke enough. This is what think-piece writers and social media mobs are mostly focused on, centering their ire on the Grammys for not delivering a level of equity that will likely never be attained in full to the satisfaction of these advocates, activists, and political apparatchiks, even as the awards clearly emphasize identity, sometimes over popularity and artistic merit.

And all of this is on top of the challenges all award shows currently face. Whether it’s the great cultural reset stimulated by the pandemic, the rising distrust in all institutions, or just another symptom of late-stage Capitalism, award shows just don’t hold sway over the public like they used to. Appointment TV is a thing of the past. And with social media and streaming, the public no longer needs awards shows to access or feel connected to their favorite stars.

Viewership for the recent presentation by the Golden Globes dropped an incredible 63% in 2021. The CMAs in November 2020 were down 37%. And with the amount of high-profile personalities slamming the Grammy Awards, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to buck these current trends when they broadcast on Sunday.

If the Grammy Awards—along with all of these network television-based awards institutions—are going to sustain into a new digital era, they’re going to have to adapt, and dramatically.

But most, or all of the criticism by major artists and others misses the bigger picture about the importance of the Grammy Awards, and it’s partly the Grammy’s fault. Though you’ll only see a precious few awards handed out during the televised presentation—and plenty of gratuitous and choreographed posturing by pop stars—this is only a tiny portion of what the Grammy Awards actually do. In fact, as you’re reading this, you might be shocked to learn there are 84 total categories covered by the Grammy Awards. There are eight categories just covering roots music alone, meaning bluegrass, folk, Americana, contemporary and traditional blues, along with the four categories exclusively for country.

That’s right, the vast majority of the Grammy Awards have nothing to do with what you’ll see on television. This is how you can have artists such as Billy Strings, Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz, Vince Gill, Brandy Clark, John Prine, Courtney Marie Andrews, Mavis Staples, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Lucinda Williams, and The Secret Sisters nominated for Grammy Awards, and that’s just this year. Can you ever imagine the CMAs or ACMs, or really any other awards show apparatus digging this deep, and on a yearly basis? (see 2021 Grammy nominees)

And these awards and others are all handed out during a proper ceremony, which also includes its own presentations, presenters, and performances … all streamed online midday on Sunday, as most of the world meanders on completely unknowing, maybe catching up on who won on Twitter. Sure, the names included in this ceremony aren’t always the superstars—though sometimes they are. Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and others have earned trophies during this non-televised portion in the past. But it also may be where the most compelling portion of the Grammy Awards that transpires.

This isn’t necessarily to advocate for the Grammy Awards to flip the script entirely and put the less commercial categories on the telecast, or to compel music fans to tune in earlier for the pre-awards awards ceremony in total. Trust me, sitting through 70+ awards can be a slog. However, it’s during these earlier, non-televised portions of the Grammy Awards where careers and dreams are made for hungry musicians who may otherwise never be recognized.

The majority of the high-profile bellyaching about the Grammy Awards is coming from self-absorbed millionaire entertainers whose livelihoods and legacies are firmly secured. It’s selfish and shortsighted of them to feel an organization that gives the majority of its awards to deserving artists that otherwise may never receive them isn’t showering them with enough praise. Just like much of the public, they have no clue the Grammy Awards actually cover 84 categories.

Well-known critic Bob Lefsetz, in an otherwise excoriating take down of the Grammys recently, made this very point.

“It’s the eighty-odd categories that now matter,” Lefsetz says. “The emphasis should be much more on the down ballot awards, they shouldn’t be shunted to a separate broadcast. The truth is by exhibiting the work of the supposedly less popular, viewers will be intrigued, because they might actually learn something, might find they’re interested in these other genres. And maybe it should not only be about performances. It should be about creativity. Yes, people tune into television when there’s STORY! There’s no story in the Grammys. It’s just awarding the overexposed. How someone made it. Their challenges. That would be interesting.”

Furthermore, the Grammy Awards presentation only offers hints to the 365-day work the Grammy Awards do for the music community. Countless musicians have benefited from the Grammy’s MusicCares program, especially over the last year with the difficulties it has presented. The Grammy Awards were seminal to getting the Save Our Stages and venue rescue legislation passed from the national level on down. On Sunday, the Grammys will have venue owners from around the United States presenting the awards to underscore the importance of these institutions to the music industry.

Beyond the awards, The Recording Academy spends much of its time advocating for legislation to benefit the music community, supporting music education in schools, and offering healthcare, financial assistance, and mental health assistance to musicians and music workers. The televised awards show is simply just the infomercial and the fundraiser for the organization. And by undercutting it, you undercut all of this advocacy.

It’s also important to point out the Grammy Awards in 2021 are considering some 400 names for their In Memoriam segment during the presentation. Regularly, the Grammys highlight deceased artists in country and roots the CMAs and ACMs pass over, not to speak of the important contributors from other genres. The CMAs skipped their In Memoriam segment entirely in 2020.

Of course The Recording Academy has all kinds of underlying issues it needs to tackle, things to clean up, streamlining of its processes and transparency in its system that it critically needs to take care of. This all goes without saying.

But in this post COVID world, the inclination by many seems to tear institutions entirely down as opposed to putting in the difficult work to reform them, while often these critics are offering up nothing as an alternative. Maybe televised awards shows are not long for this world, or at the least, they’ll be significantly diminished as cultural moments moving forward compared to previous eras. But the awards themselves, and all the work The Recording Academy does beyond the awards to advocate for music, should remain.

Because if The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Zayn Malik, and Kanye West successfully tear down the institution of the Grammy Awards as is their want, there will be nobody to hand out awards to Billy Strings, Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz, John Prine, and Lucinda Williams, who many would agree so richly deserve them, and the important attention and support they bring to their careers.

© 2021 Saving Country Music
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