How do the Grammys reel us in? Hint: It's not just the awards (+video)
Over the years, the Grammys have become a souped up variety show – light on awards and heavy on all-star performances. The Recording Academy even cut prizes recently in several less popular categories.
While the ceremonial aspect of the annual Grammy Awards suggests it is an event designed for industry recognition, the actual Grammy telecast Sunday is something entirely different. This year, only around a dozen of the more than 70 award categories will be announced during the 3-1/2 hour show.Skip to next paragraph
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That’s because the Grammy Awards, like the Oscars and the Tonys, have evolved into old-school variety programs, heavy on singing numbers and dance routines that promote emerging stars, resurrect veteran performers, and emphasize the artists and musical genres that dominate commercial radio.
The majority of the awards for genres such as jazz, Christian, bluegrass, blues, and classical are never telecast. These are awarded privately, through smaller ceremonies that take place earlier in the day or week.
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However, even those events feature fewer awards than before. Two years ago the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences eliminated 31 categories, knocking the list down from 109 to 78 and eliminating whole genres including Latin jazz, Hawaiian music, zydeco, traditional blues, and American Indian music. The categories on the chopping block had deep roots in American culture, but lacked the sales receipts of more lucrative genres like hip-hop, pop, or country.
The grumbling from artists in the slashed categories resulted in protests last year from all quarters of the industry, including a group of acclaimed Latin jazz musicians who held a rally and concert outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles – home to the Grammy telecast – to protest the decision.
Since then, the complaints have quieted as many acquiesced to the fact that the Grammy telecast is essentially a marketing platform for the major record companies and a ratings boon for CBS, the network that has traditionally carried it each year.
Smaller recording organizations like the Blues Foundation in Memphis and the Americana Music Association in Nashville have stepped up their efforts to fill the gap with their own awards ceremonies, including the Blues Music Awards given out every May and the Americana Honors & Awards held each September.
Jeff McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., says the show “is about creating a musical spectacle that is watchable, and the awards are just the framework in which the rest of this happens.”