It was supposed to be the year when Grammy Awards returned to normal. In 2021, the pandemic delayed the ceremony by six weeks and led organizers to stage a stripped-down outdoor show without an audience, which charmed critics with its intimate look but had anemic ratings.
This year, after another delay — this one caused by the omicron variant — the 64th annual Grammys decamped to Las Vegas for the first time and will be broadcast by CBS Sunday night from the MGM Grand Garden Arena. But a deluge of further complications followed. Kanye West has been banned from performing due to his troubling online behavior. Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters, who was scheduled to perform at the ceremony, died while on tour.
And then, at the Oscars on Sunday, Will Smith punched Chris Rock onstage, an incident that grabbed headlines around the world and brought new scrutiny into how big awards show organizers should handle altercations. between stars on live television.
Even with those surprises — and after years of controversy at the Recording Academy, the nonprofit organization behind the Grammys — producers say they’re ready for anything and have been working to create a new look for the show. The ceremony will again have an arena audience and feature full-scale performances from stars like Olivia Rodrigo, Silk Sonic, Billie Eilish, J Balvin, Carrie Underwood, John Legend and Lil Nas X. Other highlights include include a tribute to Stephen Sondheim and a moment of observing the war in Ukraine. Trevor Noah returns as host.
The most watched contest is whether Rodrigo, the 19-year-old singer and actress whose song “Drivers License” caused a stir last year, can take home the top four awards for album, record and song. of the year, and best new artist. . His competition ranges from meme master Lil Nas X to 95-year-old Tony Bennett, who is up for “Love for Sale,” a Cole Porter album with Lady Gaga. The top nominee this year is Jon Batiste of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” who has 11 nods.
Last year Ben Winston, who took over as Grammys producer after four decades at the helm of Ken Ehrlich, won acclaim for new touches such as full performances and video segments chronicling the stories of the nominees for the Grammys. Record of the Year, which has quietly replaced Album of the Year as the Grammys’ most coveted award.
Some of those production decisions were pandemic-era television necessities. But in an interview, Winston said that even in an arena, he wanted to retain a sense of intimacy and storytelling from the past year. Sunday’s show will spotlight the behind-the-scenes workers of the revived concert industry, and nominees from some of the dozens of Grammy categories rarely seen on TV will be featured on the roof of the MGM Grand. (Of the 86 awards, all but eight or nine are awarded at a rapid-fire ceremony earlier today.)
“Hopefully the lessons we learned last year,” Winston said, “of trying to build a TV show that touched on themes and wasn’t just a one-song-followed concert another will also remain for this year.”
Raj Kapoor, this year’s showrunner, said even the position of the stage – it’s been lowered about 3ft – will foster a closer connection with the audience. (Kapoor is an executive producer on the show, along with Winston and Jesse Collins.) Still, some COVID measures will be obvious to viewers. Nominated artists will be separated in a bistro-style seating area and the number of people accepting awards at the microphone will be reduced.
A few days before the show, uncertainties remain as to who will perform and even which stars could attend. Since Hawkins’ death on March 25, producers have been racing to pay tribute to the drummer. Two members of K-pop group BTS recently tested positive for COVID-19, raising questions about if or how the group would fare with their planned appearance.
The Recording Academy had no comment on BTS, and representatives for the group did not respond to questions about their plans. Foo Fighters, nominated for three awards, canceled their scheduled performance.
The biggest wild card may be West, whose invitation to perform was revoked after a flurry of disturbing online behavior directed at his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, and at Noah. But West is still up for five awards, including album of the year, for “Donda.” A Recording Academy representative said that after the Oscars episode there were “plans in place for a variety of storylines”.
For the academy, a smooth ceremony is especially important after years of complaints from artists and industry insiders about the awards process and the academy’s own governance. Stars such as West, Drake, The Weeknd and Diddy have criticized the Grammys for their poor record of rewarding black performers in top categories and their opaque voting procedures.
The academy has taken steps to address these issues, but whether that will be enough to stifle dissent remains to be seen. Last year it eliminated its longstanding use of anonymous selection committees to determine many candidates, which the Weeknd and others had called unfair. Yet just a day before this year’s roster was announced in November, academy rules were changed to add two ballot spots in the top four categories, allowing stars like West, Taylor Swift and Lil Nas X to get nominations. A few days later, Drake withdrew from competition in the two rap categories in which he was nominated, although he gave no explanation.
Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the academy, said in an interview that the academy is working hard to regain the trust of its members. “My hope,” he said, “is that we will gain the trust of all those who were suspicious.”
So far, the music world seems willing to give the academy the benefit of the doubt.
“The problem with institutions like the Grammys is that there’s always a sense of nostalgia and tradition, so change is usually a little slower,” said Ghazi, founder of independent music company Empire. “But some of the conversations we’ve had have been encouraging.”
Willie Stiggers, known as Prophet, artist manager and co-chair of the Black Music Action Coalition, said he takes Grammy executives at their word on their commitment to fostering diversity within the organization. “The Recording Academy is a reflection of American society,” he said. “It’s going to take more than a year or two to unpack all of this.”
One area in which the Grammys and the music industry as a whole have shown a stubborn lack of progress is in the advancement of female creators. This week, the latest edition of an annual study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that credits for women in pop have remained essentially flat over the past decade. Last year, just 23.3% of artists credited to the Top 100 Songs were women, while a 2019 Grammy-sponsored pledge to hire more female producers and engineers had almost no impact , according to the study.
“Despite activism and industry advocacy, there has been little change for women on the popular charts since 2012,” said Stacy L. Smith, one of the study’s authors, in a statement. communicated.
A broader debate in the music industry looms over the value of the Grammys — and all awards shows — in an era of fragmented viewing and declining ratings. Last year, the Grammys drew just 8.8 million viewers, their worst show ever, and the sales benefits that artists and record labels enjoyed from a prominent appearance at the Grammys almost faded away.
According to Will Page, an economist who studies the music industry, the sales gain two weeks after Adele won album of the year in 2012, for ’21’, was worth $1 million in royalties artists, while Swift’s win last year for “Folklore” earned her just $50,000. “The harsh reality today is that winning the judges doesn’t necessarily win the consumers,” Page said.
For the producers of the TV show, however, the imperative is to keep the event fresh. And they say they are up to it.
“Things can get stale,” Winston said, “if they stay the same.”