15 February 2012

The Shifting Relevancy of Awards Shows

Well folks, it's that time of year again - as if entertainers didn't have enough prestige, wealth, fame, and adoration, it's time for them to grant themselves awards as well. Cripes. The two major entertainment industries that aren't Television, Music and Film, have their biggest nights in February. The Oscars drop in a few weeks and the Grammys came and went this past Sunday. Both shows revel in the decadence of their respective industries, but somehow the Grammys may be becoming the more relevant Awards Showcase.

For decades the Grammy seemed as though definitive proof against the existence of God. I've talked about this before. The nominees are a joke, the categories don't really make sense, even with endless explanation each year (I still don't understand the difference between Record and Album of the Year. Their biggest award is the confusing equivalent to the Oscars' Best Sound Mixing/Editing). The entire show is a popularity contest - and it actually has little other choice. Ironically while it is far easier to go listen to an unknown who is nominated for a song than it is to see a buzzworthy Independent Film, the endless arrays of no-names that fill up the multitude of overly specific categories will remain anonymous. It's a suffocating experience that has forced the Grammy producers to limit its big awards to the most popular artists, virtually regardless of artistic merit. Watching all of this becomes a huge joke.

The Grammy Producers, however, appear to be keen to this notion. In the last few years they have actually used their airtime ceremony to move away from a trivial self-congratulatory session of award recipients and instead virtually hold an epic concert. They've become an anti-Awards Show. The Grammys freed themselves of the need to actually show who received what because they recognize that beyond a handful of major awards, no one really waits with bated breath who will get the coveted Spoken Latin Word Album of the Year.

They have instead used their platform as a spotlight on the entire industry to feature a dizzying number of contrasting artists performing one of the best concerts around. From the soulful Jennifer Hudson Tribute to Whitney Houstin, to the bizarre Nicki Minaj whatever-that-was, and finally, a tour-de-force of Living Gods of Rock, the Grammys transformed themselves into one hell of an evening.

Amid all these great performances though, I do have a problem with Chris Brown appearing, along with reactions like this. He's a public spouse abuser - why the hell is he getting any support at all? Anyway, the Grammys have realised both the level of spectacle that people desire to see and the level of tedious self-congratulation that they do not. They even created a buzzing, afterwards hyped event - Monday morning it was perfect watercooler talk, which really should be their highest aspiration in terms of a cultural wave. The Grammys have therefore lifted themselves to a level of relevancy far beyond the Academy Awards, who will most likely award very little in the way of progressive film making this year, anyway.

The Academy Awards are a notoriously stuffy affair. The MPAA is one of the most reactionary organisations to exist in the history of time. They are crippled by their fear of change for reasons that absolutely escape me, because they've come out on top after every significant new wave has threatened to kill the industry. The Academy this year is likely to award a silent, black and white film most of its prizes, which true, is a significant risk - but The Artist (2011) idolizes an older, dominating Hollywood system, and this kind of inward appeal is what makes it the Academy's darling. Even getting Billy Crystal to host once again signals that the Academy is staggeringly out of ideas on how to improve or innovate their big night, going back to the well instead of moving forward.

The Grammys are on the pulse of what the nation is expecting from a big awards ceremony. It uses its clout to create an exciting, invigorating atmosphere that forgoes Award Show Standards. The Academy couldn't be more entrenched in their own nostalgic paranoia. Does this have to do with their respective media? Musicians by definition are more individualistic, rebellious, and spontaneous than filmmakers. Does this mean that the Academy Awards couldn't also innovate in some way befitting their standards? Of course not. Remember - the best Grammy performance was lead by a dude turning 70 this year, my 4th Favourite Beatle. They're still innovating, though.

We'll see the older, lamer Award Show brother of the Grammys on February 26.

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