MUsual awards shows have experienced an identity crisis in recent years. In the United States, the recent announcement that the Grammys would be postponed from January to April was met with a deafening chorus of indifference. Last year, the Grammy’s TV audience more than halved, from 18.7 million in 2020 to just 8.8 million, making it the least-watched Grammy show of all time.
If they’re looking for inspiration to revamp the show this year, they could take plenty of clues from last night’s exuberant, boozy and celebratory Brit Awards. Host Mo Gilligan, who took over from longtime MC Jack Whitehall, set the mood by ditching the tongue-in-cheek tone of previous years in favor of a laid-back style that made music’s biggest night British a fun and boozy evening.
Arguably, this is something the Brits (and Brits who hang out with) have always done better than their American counterparts. Last year, Ed Sheeran – who knows a bit about award shows – lamented that American ceremonies like the Grammys and MTV Awards aren’t usually very fun for the artists in attendance.
“The room is filled with resentment and hatred towards everyone and it’s a pretty uncomfortable atmosphere,” the 30-year-old told a Canadian talk show. The Julia Show. “It’s just that a lot of people want other people to fail and I don’t like that. All artists are lovely people, but they’re surrounded by entourages that want them to win too, so it’s a artist surrounded by 10 people and another artist surrounded by 10 people and everyone looks at each other from the side.
Sheeran explained that the Brit Awards work partly because the artists in attendance are more relaxed. “In England our awards shows are like, everybody gets drunk and nobody really cares who wins or loses,” he said. “It’s just kind of a good night out.”
As well as reducing competitiveness, the Grammys could also take inspiration from the Brits’ decision to shake up the categories for their awards. This year, for the first time, Britons have been cast in gender-neutral groups, such as Artist of the Year and Best Group. The decision was widely welcomed, although – as Gilligan joked early that night – “it’s great for everyone except the male entertainers who realize they’re up against Adele”. Her wisdom proved prescient, as Adele managed a full sweep of the four categories in which she was nominated.
The Grammys really need a shake-up. In recent years, artists such as Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Drake and The Weeknd have all boycotted the awards due to the lack of recognition of black artists in major categories. The last time a hip-hop album won Album of the Year was in 2004, when Outkast’s Speakerboxxx / Love From Below won first prize. In 2021, Canadian artist The Weeknd accused organizers of corruption after failing to receive a single nomination, despite the previous year’s top-selling single with “Blinding Lights”. He then asked his record company to remove his music from all future editions of the Grammys. Frank Ocean took a similar stance and hasn’t submitted any of his music for consideration since 2017. Expanding the Grammys’ categories could be an important step toward reinvigorating the awards as a whole.
Then again, perhaps the best way to give audiences what they really want is to take inspiration from Little Simz’s acceptance speech for Best New Artist. The ‘introverted’ rapper was joined on stage by her mother as she received the award, leading more than a handful of onlookers to start reaching for the tissues. It turns out that the secret to a truly emotional awards moment could be as simple as a proud parent in the front row, watching their child’s dreams come true.