When Eminem walked down Sixth Avenue towards Radio City Music Hall during the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, it was both a performance that captured the carefree, rebellious nature of those pre-9/11 times and one that would likely be met with serious backlash and controversy today thanks to its racial undertones and today’s on-edge, Trump-fueled political climate. Hundreds of young, white men with bleached blonde hair being led by their leader Eminem through the streets of New York draws uncomfortable parallels to today’s battle between the left and right (and far right), but it’s exactly that type of society-shaking performance that is missing from the awards shows of today.
At the time though, it was just cool, creative and really what we had come to expect from the MTV VMAs: a show that consistently pushed the boundaries and was as much must-see television as you could get during the ‘90s and early 2000s. Which begs the question: what the hell happened? Not just to the VMAs, but music awards shows as a whole. When did they become so mundane and out of touch with the current state of music? Awards shows have all but lost their strong social and political stances communicated through defiant performances and quite frankly, a tendency to go “off-script.” Here, we take a look at seven problems with music award shows and give suggestions on how to fix them.
1. New Artist Awards Don’t Award “New Artists”
Chance the Rapper won The Grammys’ Best New Artist award at the February 2017 ceremony. The same year, Forbes included Chance the Rapper on its top-earning celebrities list with a take of some $33 million USD (that’s a lot of coloring books). And while the Grammys have changed the eligibility requirements for its Best New Artist award, it’s still a baffling moment each year. Another example comes from 2018 where Alessia Cara, already a massive star with several hit singles, won the award. The win was met with backlash, and with good reason. Cara was anything but a “new artist” and had already cemented a career.
HOW TO FIX IT: The eligibility period for the 2019 Grammy Awards runs from Oct 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018. If the Grammys are going to be a true reflection of the musical landscape during that time frame and award the “best new artist” this year, it should go to someone like a 6ix 9ine. The controversial NYC rapper will go into the 2019 ceremony on the strength of several gold and platinum singles along with a gold mixtape for his ‘Day69’ release. The point here is the award should be capturing the relevancy of the previous eligibility period and going to an artist who actually is “new” (or close to it), and not be based upon whether or not a label or manager submits someone for consideration too late and then retrieves accolades that should have been given years prior (like in Alessia Cara’s case). If the award is going to continue to be given out to already established artists, it will detract from the relevancy of the award, and the crop of artists being submitted for it will continue to decline. In hindsight, in the streaming era, what is even a “new artist” anyway? When songs are being discovered a year after their release (“Boo’d Up,” anyone?) and artists are “blowing up” multiple years after their debut, maybe the whole notion of this award has gotten stale and irrelevant.
2. Too Much Bad Comedy And Poor Hosts
Here’s the thing about comedy: most of the best comedic performances, whether in film or in a comedy club, have the element of improv attached to them. When comedy is constrained by a script of subpar jokes written by writers who a) the host is not familiar with, and b) wouldn’t know good comedy if hit them in the face with a hot mic, it comes across as unnatural and simply unfunny. Whether it was Chelsea Handler’s brutal turn as VMA host in 2010 or Katy Perry doing whatever Katy Perry did in 2017, forcing people to be funny is never funny.
HOW TO FIX IT: It doesn’t matter if it’s the BET Awards or The Grammy Awards, the best nights of the year on Twitter are typically awards show nights. Everyone from well-known media personalities like Desus of Desus & Mero to your average music fan gets in on the action of tweeting hilarious memes and comments as the show rolls along. For example, here are some gems of awards shows past:
Jay z and Beyonce sent the BET Awards a embedable YouTube clip
— Desus Nice (@desusnice) June 30, 2014
Bad boys tribute even got my dad out The bed 😩😩😩😍😍😍 pic.twitter.com/wQTHGGuta1
— Tifferz Keeper (@ShonShon__) June 29, 2015
Producers take note – for 2019 this is what we’re doing. No more bad comedians, awkward celebrities, or has-been musicians hosting these shows. No, it’s almost 2020 and we need to take this to where everyone wants this to go anyways—when Twitter hosts the award show. Run a contest leading up to the show or mine Twitter data for the funniest of the bunch and have these personalities (and hilarious everyday music fans) hosting the show via their Tweets. Hell, we already pay more attention to the timeline than the show, anyways.
3. Award Shows Aren’t Actually Capturing the Popular Music Landscape
In 2017, rap music passed rock to become the most popular musical genre. And even before rap had officially taken the lead, the influence of the music and hip-hop culture as a whole had driven popular culture for years with a grip on the charts and radio. So why is it then that whenever the musical line-up for an awards show is announced, whether it’s the AMAs, The Grammys or the VM’s, hip-hop, while sometimes represented, is typically represented the least. Let’s look at the list of performers for the 2018 iteration of the American Music Awards (airing Oct. 9) as an example: Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello, Taylor Swift, Panic! At the Disco, Dua Lipa, Ciara with Missy Elliott, Cardi B, Benny Blanco, Mariah Carey, Post Malone with Ty Dolla Sign, and Carrie Underwood.
If we look at the 11 performers announced thus far, we have two main hip-hop act performers in Cardi and Post Malone, with a guest spot by Missy. This isn’t to suggest that artists like Camila Cabello and Carrie Underwood don’t deserve their spot on the show, but one has to ask whether it’s necessary to have Shawn Mendes on every single award show and whether Mariah Carey’s spot could be better filled with a rap artist of relevancy.
HOW TO FIX IT: This is one of the easier issues to fix—start reflecting popular music. Isn’t that what awards shows are now? Isn’t that what they’ve always been? Why is it now that rap is the most popular musical genre that the shows hold on to the old? Sure, Panic! At The Disco is a great group but outside of their core fanbase, are they relevant? Are people demanding a Mariah Carey performance in 2018? Pop and rock should be the exception, not the rule anymore.
4. There Is No Controversy Anymore
The image of Kanye West standing on the red carpet, Henny bottle in hand, and with Amber Rose by his side at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards foreshadowed that something special was about to happen. Now cemented in awards show history, as Taylor Swift accepted her award for “Best Female Video,” Kanye West, obliterated off that aforementioned cognac bottle, stormed the stage arguing that Beyonce had the “greatest video of all-time” and should have won the award.
Looking back now, it pales in comparison to Mr. West’s current campaign in support of Donald Trump. But at the time it was a truly shocking, viral moment. It even shocked Beyonce herself. Or how about the time Ol’ Dirty Bastard, fresh off throwing on his Superman cape and saving a young girl trapped under a car, jumped on the Grammys stage to proclaim that Puffy was good but Wu-Tang was for the children?
As outlandish as these moments were, they were unscripted and raw.
HOW TO FIX IT: A simple way to fix this would be to have Hennessy sponsor every award show, providing all attendees with mini bottles of the “yack” as they enter the show, and let the fun begin. But if we’re being realistic and politically correct, simply let the shows flow more naturally. Be less structured. Sit foes next to each other. Give open mics to the likes of Kanye West. Bring controversial figures to the show. Hell, we currently have a President that can’t turn down a camera and microphone. Could you imagine if the American Music Awards or VMAs announced that Donald Trump would be a presenter? Don’t pretend your a** wouldn’t be glued to your television with your finger on the tweet button. Or maybe, instead of more useless presenter banter or a forgettable music performance, we have a live version of the Joe Budden Podcast interviewing Eminem.
5. Nobody Cares About The Awards Themselves… Except Maybe Album Of The Year
Who won Collaboration of the Year at the 2017 American Music Awards? How about Best Male R&B/Pop Artist at the 2016 BET Awards? Who won Song of the Year at the 2018 Grammy Awards? The point here is that many of the awards given out on music award shows are largely forgettable. There is no denying that the Grammy for Album of the Year is one that still holds high esteem and much debate. No one will ever forget how Eminem lost out on the award in 2001 to veteran rockers Steely Dan. Or how Taylor Swift beat out Kendrick’s modern masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly, or how Beyonce has continually been shut out from the award despite her revolutionary surprise self-titled album in 2013. So, if awards don’t matter, what are awards shows really?
HOW TO FIX IT: Embrace what award shows really are. People tune in to awards show to watch the red carpet, see once-in-a-lifetime (or at least once-in-a-year) performances, and hope for a stage fall or controversial moment to talk about on social media. In some ways, award shows are really just concerts. When you go to a concert, you hope to see some good openers (i.e. the red carpet), your favorite artist perform a song they haven’t in a long time, or a surprise collaboration (i.e. what Drake’s OVO Fest was), and you have your camera out hoping to catch a viral moment (i.e. the equivalent of your dual screen watching when awards shows are on). The positioning of awards shows needs to change.
6. The Shows Are Too (Damn) Long
In 2018, people are busy and have many entertainment options. With the advent of streaming and all-you-can-consume media services, the notion that people will devote three hours (or more in the case of the Grammy Awards) to a music awards show is laughable. The old adage of “less is more” almost applies universally. Food, sports, and TV have all been affected (and modified) to free up time for people and speed up the end of the event or program. Look at baseball; Major League Baseball continues to implement new rules and enhancements to speed up the game because they know the 18-34 demographic (and older for that matter) have other things to do. Why haven’t music awards shows caught on to this notion? It’s like they try to cram the shows with as much content as possible hoping for that one viral moment or something that will catch viewers’ attention over the course of an exhausting three-plus hour marathon.
The 2018 Grammy Awards were over three and a half hours long. It was like a triple album of technical difficulties, not-so-special performances, and what felt like forced political stances throughout.
HOW TO FIX IT: Quite simply: shorten the shows. The ideal makeup of a music award show in 2018 should be 75 percent dedicated to performances, 15 percent dedicated to awards (the ones that matter) and 10 percent dedicated to host and presenter banter—and all this should happen in the confines of two hours. I mean, sh*t, we have episodes of Ozark to watch.
7. There Are Too Many Award Shows
The biggest problem with music award shows is that, quite simply, there are too many damn music awards shows. The AMAs. The VMAs. The Billboard Music Awards. The BET Awards. The Grammy Awards. And unless someone is planning to bring back the VIBE Awards and have Young Buck go full Dr. Dre defense mode again, we need to condense this down. The reality is most of the shows award the same awards to the same artists. In the case of the Billboard Music Awards, it’s simply a popularity contest (and the last Billboard Music Awards I remember is when Miguel leg-dropped that girl). And let’s be honest, what are the AMAs now? It was once the home to iconic performances from the likes of Whitney Houston and Prince and now the show just blends into the next one with little to remember months down the road.
HOW TO FIX IT: As Spotify continues to seemingly run away with the music industry, the one thing that the record labels and the traditional music industry infrastructure still have at its disposable are awards shows. Here’s an idea: why don’t the respective production companies and networks (outside of The Grammy Awards which, against better judgment, will always continue to march on its own) get together, combine resources and create an annual award show that people actually anticipate. One that is built on quality, planning and great performances. It would likely be easier to get the A-listers *cough* Drake *cough* Jay and Bey – to show up.