“And the loser is…”: are music awards shows in crisis? | The music

OOnce upon a time, the Brit Awards and the Grammys were an annual staple of the most casual music fan’s TV schedule. Attracting millions of viewers, the ceremonies offered a feast of entertainment, ranging from the unpredictable to the spectacular. Think Chumbawamba throwing a bucket of ice water at John Prescott at the 1998 Brits or Lady Gaga hatching from an egg at the Grammys in 2011. More recently, Stormzy and Dave’s UK sets marked a significant shift in recognition of British black talent.

For the public, however, the shine seems to have worn off. Last year’s Britons’ ITV show, which was postponed from February to May due to Covid-19, had 2.9 million viewers – a figure which plunged for the fourth year in a row. The 2021 Grammys were the lowest rated in history, delivering an audience of just 8.8 million viewers for CBS, down a staggering 53% from the previous year. (These declines aren’t exclusive to music awards shows: The Oscars also saw a 58.3% drop in viewership last year.)

That’s not all: both events have made efforts to digitize their offerings and could boast strong social media engagement. The Brits 2021 had a global audience of 1.7 million for their live stream on YouTube, while the Grammys scored more than 77 billion impressions on social platforms in the same year.

Rewards! Huh, good God, y’all… what are they for? Photograph: Lisa Sheehan/The Guardian

But beyond the numbers, there were other challenges. In 2016, the #BritsSoWhite campaign highlighted the lack of racial diversity. That year, there were only four artists/groups of color (Naughty Boy, Rudimental, Izzy Bizu and Arrow Benjamin as featured vocalist) nominated in the UK categories, out of a total of 52 entries, and all winners were white. Gender has also been an issue: from 2011-2021, female artists made up just 31.5% of nominees in the four main categories, and last year Little Mix were the first girl group to win the award. of the best British group in 41 years of history. .

The Grammys have also been accused of racial bias — Drake and Frank Ocean snubbed the 2017 show for that reason — and, in 2020, the first female president and CEO of its parent organization, the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan , exited after less than six months, calling the event “ripe with corruption.” More recently, the Weeknd said he would snub the Grammys due to a lack of transparency in voting after receiving no nominations. While that might seem like sour grapes, he’s not alone: ​​Drake, who withdrew both of his 2022 nominations, called last year for the ceremony to be replaced with something new.

Despite all the criticism, the Brits and the Grammys are at least showing a willingness to innovate. The Grammys have responded to claims of inequality by creating a diversity and inclusion task force, with the Recording Academy publishing steps taken to address the “systemic and continuing underrepresentation” of minority groups. The UK voting academy, meanwhile, is refreshed annually and in 2020 the gender split of voters was 51%/49%, with BAME representation at 24.5%. This year, the gendered categories of Brits have been scrapped to make room for non-binary artists (after Sam Smith said they weren’t eligible for inclusion in 2021).

Still, these attempts at a refresh have brought their own problems. The lack of a specific category for female talent runs the risk of fewer women being celebrated. We know this is happening on other platforms: on UK radio, female artists took a miniscule 20% share of airplay in the first six months of 2021, according to figures from Why Not Her? collective.

Why Not Her? founder Linda Coogan Byrne says, “If you have gender-neutral award categories, what gets thrown back at you is the discrimination that exists in the music industry. The members of these juries can only choose the one who has been nominated. Who submits the work? It’s mainly the record companies. And if only 20% of those they sign are female artists, how many women are going to win?

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing both sets of prices is maintaining their relevance. It’s hard to get the attention of young people today when they can spend time on just about anything they want – whether it’s Lil Nas X’s Descent into Hell or a movie video. a laughing cat – simply by picking up their phone. And, above all, this generation has grown up with streaming, where the focus is more on songs.

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Clash of the ‘new’… Little Simz performing at the O2 Academy Brixton in December 2021. Photography: Jim Dyson/Getty

Awards shows have struggled to get a sense of this new digital world. Subscription streaming, while accounting for 79% of consumer spending on music in 2021, doesn’t really pay well unless an artist is in a rarefied tier of megastars. This means that using sales as a barometer of success – as the British do, where entries are only eligible if they reach the Top 40 – is also not particularly representative of the world in which musicians live today. today. Acts that have a lucrative touring life, or are popular in a myriad of other ways, are bypassed. It’s striking that Little Simz is nominated for Best New British Artist this year, as she scored her first Top 40 album, despite it being her fourth overall, and she has been successful independently for many years.

Yet aside from the changes the two ceremonies have already brought and will surely bring in the future, the idea of ​​replacing them with “something new” seems unlikely, given that the events are organized and owned by the music industry. “They are an advertisement for what the respective industries have managed to create over the past 12 months. Plus, winning an award and going on stage at the ceremony suggests you’re pretty wonderful and it’s a good idea for artists,” says Ted Cockle, chairman of publisher Hipgnosis Songs, who sits on the Brits Committee.

What’s more likely is that both events unfold, cut into shorter and shorter clips, as television viewership continues to dwindle until the format becomes obsolete. The magic of those unpredictable moments that happened in less polished times may be lost, but hey, at least there are endless fun animal videos to watch.

The Brit Awards are broadcast on tuesday 8 february8 p.m., ITV.

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