America loves award shows. Whether we watch them as pure spectacles, or in the hopes that they will end up vindicating our tastes, or just to see how the fuck Lady Gaga can even manage to walk in that for God’s sake, the painfully arduous process of handing out definitive rankings to completely subjective works of art is more popular than ever.
Of course, some are taken more seriously than others. I’m sure Barbra Streisand’s two Oscars are somewhere on a prominent shelf, while her Peoples’ Choice Awards are in a crushed cardboard box in her basement. Her Grammy Awards, however, could be anywhere.
Though they bill themselves as music’s de-facto equivalent to the Academy Awards, the legitimacy of the Grammys is far beneath even MTV’s Video Music Awards. Everyone from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and 50 Cent have had harsh words for the pathetically out-of-touch Grammy ceremony, which almost always neglects truly groundbreaking music forms in favor of go-to radio favorites that your mom listens to when she drives you to soccer practice. Look at this year’s Best Album nominees: Rihanna, Foo Fighters, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Adele. Notice anything?
All of these artists’ latest albums cracked the top three positions on the Billboard Charts, a feat accomplished by only a handful of the tens of thousands of releases every year. Does this suggest that the public’s taste is in virtual unison with that of supposed taste-makers and critics? Don’t kid yourself. Fifteen years ago, the “Macarena” took the nation by storm. What the fuck do we know?
The VMA’s are far more respectable than the Grammys because they at least have the decency to admit what they really are: a chance for the industry to congratulate the artists who made them the most money that year.
Some may point to Arcade Fire’s surprise win for Best Album last February, which prompted hoards of the culturally uninformed to ponder “who are the Arcade Fries and why did they take Eminem’s award?!,” as a sign of the judges gaining relevancy. But their album “The Suburbs,” despite being on an independent label, falls perfectly in line with past winners: a chart-topping, parent-friendly release that can be artistically comprehended by someone over the age of 60.
The Academy Awards, however, have the exact opposite problem of the Grammys. They are so extraordinarily attuned to the most admirable and groundbreaking films of the year, that they often alienate the general public. Take this year’s most nominated film The Artist, a mostly silent, black-and-white French film which has barely broken even on its budget. How many people have honestly seen this movie?
The Oscars’ insistence on artistic integrity has ultimately hurt its popularity; last year saw yet another drop in ratings for the ceremony, despite youth-friendly hunk James Franco hosting. Is it their fault? Not exactly. The state of the movie industry has split films in two broad categories: stereotypical genre films that pander to the lowest common denominator and artistic films that pander to film snobs. Nowadays, there’s rarely a film that can achieve both box office and critical success, making the Academy Awards judges choose sides.
The Grammys and Oscars are polarized. While the Grammy Awards have no integrity, they’re laughing all the way to the bank with ratings that have been consistently rising over the past decade. The Oscars’ ratings have been falling for years, in perfect line with their fall into obscurity.