For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a sucker for the “big three” awards shows — the Oscars, the Emmys, and the Grammys. Even as a kid, I loved the competitive aspect of the awards, and I’m still attracted to the notion of different industries gathering to honor the best in their respective fields.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Grammy Awards over the years. As a music guy, I love seeing my favorite artists compete, and enjoy trying to predict the winners. At the same time, there’s plenty to hate about the Grammys, and it’s usually enough for me to declare every year that I’ll never watch them again.
But, fool that I am, I watched the show again this year. Of course I was watching because I wanted to see Adele claim some hardware, which she did.
I also got to see tons of truly bizarre moments, like a DJ wearing a light-up mouse helmet, Nicki Minaj certainly offending both Catholics and lovers of good music, and some hipster who calls himself Bon Iver stealing the Best New Artist trophy from The Band Perry, who genuinely deserved the award.
This year’s Grammy broadcast managed to demonstrate everything that’s wrong with the awards show every year. Here are five reasons why I always say I’ll never watch the Grammys again.
5. CBS Shamelessly Uses The Awards To Promote Their Shows
For most of the past four decades, the Grammys have made their broadcast home on CBS, the masters of self-promotion. It never fails that CBS will feature stars of some of its shows as presenters, regardless of their connection to the awards show itself. Watch the show each year, and I guarantee that at least one presenter’s presence will baffle millions of viewers.
Patricia Arquette? Her connection to the Grammys: her sister was allegedly the inspiration for 1982’s Record of the Year, “Rosanna” by Toto. Yet she presented on the Grammys only because her series Medium was on CBS at the time.
Jennifer Love Hewitt? CBS probably tapped her to present an award because of all her hit singles like…never mind, I can’t think of any. The Ghost Whisperer was another CBS show, and she was the star.
That guy from The Mentalist? Nope, I’ve got nothing, except — you guessed it — another star of another show on CBS.
This year, after a few years of a host-free format, CBS made an intriguing choice for host — LL Cool J. He’s a pioneer in the hip-hop field, did a fine job hosting the show, but I can’t help but think that the network chose him largely because he appears on NCIS: Los Angeles every week.
Other CBS stars like Pauley Perrette, Taraji P. Henson, and Neil Patrick Harris appeared on the Grammys as well, and though all three have musical backgrounds, chances are they wouldn’t have appeared on the show if it had aired on another network.
It’s a shame that a network would use what should be a prestigious awards show as a platform for plugging their programming, but CBS has been doing it for years. I fully expect it to continue this year.
Related: Check out Jonathan Sanders’ 5 Things I Learned While Live-Blogging the Grammys
4. The Ceremony Is Packed With Over-The-Top Performances
The Grammy Awards used to be a fairly classy, dignified affair with the leading lights of the music industry gathering to honor excellence. In recent years, the ceremony devolved into a rowdy concert in a huge arena packed with goofy, arm-waving fans, although this year, the show was a bit more like a typical awards show.
Part of the problem with the Grammys is that the producers seem to put on the show for the audience in the arena without keeping the home viewers in mind. The sound mix is terrible for those watching on television, and the lighting and other effects just don’t work for the millions at home trying to make sense of the madness.
Take note of some recent examples. A couple of years ago, the broadcast featured a production number paying tribute to the Green Day Broadway show. The fact that the performance actually included Green Day songs was bad enough, but the choreography was sloppy, and the jump cuts came so frequently that I couldn’t help but wonder if the director had ADD.
In 2011, the band Arcade Fire performed minutes before their surprising win for Album of the Year. Their performance was solid enough, but accompanying it were seizure-inducing lighting effects and crazy BMX stunts. Here was Arcade Fire’s chance to show off in front of a worldwide audience, and the producers turned it into a Mountain Dew commercial.
At this year’s show, performances by Chris Brown and Katy Perry were characterized by ridiculous dancing and staging. Nicki Minaj’s number was meant to shock, but it only managed to be jaw-droppingly unmelodic. The electronica segment featuring Deadmau5, the mouse-headed DJ, along with David Guetta, Brown, and Foo Figthers, did little service to the genre.
Every year, the performances at the Grammy Awards appear to be less about the music and more about upping the ante on showmanship. Instead of being exciting, they’ve just become obnoxious.
3. The President Of The Academy Puts A Damper On The Fun
After all the overdone performances, there’s a point in the awards show every year when Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy, comes out and sends the excitement to a screeching halt. He usually makes some “state of the industry” remarks and follows up with a bit of a peek at what the Academy does outside of giving out awards. All of this is well and good, but the speech always takes an unsurprising turn.
You can count on plenty of handwringing from Portnow over inadequate funding for music in schools, as though that were the only pressing issue facing the country year after year. It’s laughably predictable — and excruciatingly boring. The Academy should issue a warning not to drive or operate heavy machinery while listening to Neil Portnow.
Give him credit for one thing: he did lead gracefully into the In Memoriam segment, but I still imagine millions of viewers went to the bathroom, raided the kitchen, and did any number of other things when the announcer intoned, “Please welcome the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.”
2. Too Many All Star Collaborations
The producers of the Grammy Awards show just don’t seem to be able to leave well enough alone when it comes to
booking talent for the broadcast. They wrack their brains every year trying to devise exciting collaborations, and it’s a proposition that misses more often than it hits.
Sometimes these superstar collaborations make sense, as when Justin Bieber appeared with his mentor Usher in 2011. Other times they can create something memorable, as with the homage to Aretha Franklin last year or this year’s poignant Glen Campbell tribute with The Band Perry, Blake Shelton, and the Rhinestone Cowboy himself. But, more often than not, these special moments turn out to be not so special.
A couple of years ago, Elton John appeared with Lady GaGa, a pairing that was just too much weirdness. The Sly and the Family Stone tribute in 2006, which featured Joss Stone, will.i.am, and Steven Tyler, was a star-studded, freaky mess — and I’m not just talking about Sly Stone’s platinum blonde mohawk. In 2011, the Recording Academy paired Gwyneth Paltrow and a puppet backing band with Cee-Lo Green, who was dressed like a psychedelic peacock, to ruin his otherwise irresistible “F*** You.”
This year’s supergroup amassed to honor the Beach Boys. First up was Maroon 5, and Fox News’ number one fan Adam Levine made a shambles of “Surfer Girl.”
Following Maroon 5 was Foster The People, whose lead singer Mark Foster resembled a rejected Audio Animatronic figure from Disney World and sang “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” through his nose.
Both bands were shown up by the actual Beach Boys, who sounded surprisingly good.
The production number was living proof of how the Grammys can get the whole star-studded collaboration thing terribly wrong.
1. The Academy Gives Out Too Few Awards During The Broadcast
Up until this year, there were 109 categories in the Grammy Awards. This year’s rule change that combined
male and female vocal performance awards (and even group performances in some categories) has whittled the awards down to a mere 78 categories. Now, I’ll agree that 109 — and even 78 — awards are too many to give out in one prime time evening, but the Academy and CBS have taken it too far and give out too few awards during the broadcast these days.
Over the last several years, the Grammy Awards have focused more on performances and commercials (it’s high time for a sponsor to pony up for “limited commercial interruption” on an awards show) and less on actual awards. The result: viewers witness a dozen or fewer award presentations.
The Academy has traditionally had to give out the majority of the awards prior to the actual broadcast, because even the most hardcore fans don’t care to see awards like Best Polka Album, Best Spoken Word Album (past winners include Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama — twice) and Best Surround Sound Album. But there are other awards worth giving out on the show that most people never get to see.
The producers of the show used to include quick announcements and screen crawls listing the winners from the pre-broadcast ceremony — until last year. Those who cared about the other awards had to break out the laptop or smartphone to keep up. Of course, I guess that gives us something to do when Neil Portnow comes out to speak.
I counted a measly nine awards on this year’s Grammy broadcast, compared with 18 performances and production numbers. If NARAS and CBS really cared, they’d give out more awards — after all, it’s the Grammy AWARDS show, and I can’t help but imagine that the actual awards are what plenty of viewers want to see.
The 2012 Grammys gave us everything that’s right and wrong about the awards broadcast every year. There were special moments that will live on for a long time — like Adele’s triumphant return to singing, Jennifer Hudson’s heartrending memorial to Whitney Houston, and Paul McCartney’s lovely performance with an orchestra. On the other hand, the bad moments were more prevalent — like Nicki Minaj’s head-scratching melisma, Bruce Springsteen appearing to pass a kidney stone during the opening number, and McCartney doing no justice to his own “Golden Slumbers” medley from Abbey Road.
The Recording Academy hypes the Grammy as “the most prestigious and only peer-recognized award in music.” As long as the Grammy broadcast centers on a party vibe, its class quotient decreases. It’s time the Academy started putting its money where its mouth is and focusing on the prestige and the honor of the awards show itself. Save the overblown theatrics and celebrity preening for the lesser awards — all of it would fit perfectly on MTV or the People’s Choice Awards.