Does anyone out there truly enjoy watching the Grammys?
No, seriously: I know that I’ve come to regard it as a chore, and I’m not alone in calling it a wailing and grinding of teeth. Truth is, it’s an overlong, tedious ceremony that’s frustrating when it isn’t baffling, and tempers its highs (Chance the Rapper gets everything!) with lows (Twenty One Pilots accepted an award in their underwear!) with a final balance that’s never weighted in your favor, unless your name is Adele. So, I can either grumble about how awful they are again, or I could offer up my suggestions to fix the Grammys. Either way, I’m not being original; “how to fix the Grammys” is the music writers’ equivalent of a break-up album or collaborating with Danger Mouse: everyone does one eventually. All the same, I’m ready to try.
So first, a tacit admission: we’re not “fixing” the Grammys, per se. “Fixing” implies that we’re taking something that’s broken or fallen into disrepair, and making it whole again, whereas the Grammys have seemingly always been pretty lame. Instead, this is more a look at how to make the Grammys at least as tolerable as any other awards show.
Fire Whoever Hired James Corden: Whatever else you could say about previous lackluster Grammy host LL Cool J, he was effectively a 10 second YouTube preroll ad: unskippable, a little grating, but ultimately knew when to get out of the way. Corden, meanwhile, thought he hosting a ceremony people actually like, and performed accordingly. He’d be solid on any other awards show (his turn hosting last year’s Tonys went well enough), but on the blandy Grammys, showbiz bits about the folding chairs in the audience or rapped opening monologues just read as filler. He wasn’t bad, but for the love of God, don’t let Corden and his cardboard Carpool Karaoke prop become a recurring #GrammyMoment.
Build the Difference Between Record of the Year and Song of the Year Somewhere Into the Telecast: “Record of the Year vs Song of the Year” is a piece of standby Grammy content only behind the “The Grammys Fucked It Up” piece and “How to Fix the Grammys” piece in terms of popularity. Hell, even I have to look up the difference every year or two (short answer: “Record” is for “best recorded music of the year”), and I have to care about this shit. So run a disclaimer with the difference at the bottom of the screen, include it with the President of the Recording Academy’s annual “fuck you, pay me” speech, or just give Record of the Year to whichever artist can explain it first on stage. Any option will be an improvement. Speaking of arcane rules.
Set Eligibility to “Came Out Last Year:” All awards shows are bad at this; the Grammys are just the worst. Eligibility for this year’s ceremony was from October 1st 2015 to September 30th last year, which is how you get 25 nominated for Album of the Year for 2017 despite coming out two Star Wars movies ago. The Oscars strategy of releasing a movie to like, six theaters in LA in early December, and only doing a wide release after Christmas is probably more dishonest, but at least it’s logical.
Decide How Important the Awards Actually Are: Did you know that, shit you not, 84 Grammy awards were given out yesterday? That’s a lot! And while I imagine there isn’t demand to see who takes home the coveted Best Surround Sound Album gramophone (a real award with a real winner), last night handed out 9 awards over a glacially paced 3 hour and 40 minute ceremony. On average, that means the Recording Academy issued 2 awards in the same time it’d take you to listen to Lemonade once, while the rest were doled out in the pre-show.
This puts all the emphasis on the performances (more on that in a moment), but it also means that most of the awards–the things we’ve known about since early December–are dealt with out of sight and out of mind. This means you broadly lose things like Bowie’s victory lap from beyond the grave, or the sheer WTF-ness of “Hotline Bling,” a song with less rapping than “Tik Tok” or “Poker Face,” picking up two awards in the Rap category, or walking warcrime Pentatonix winning a country award for their cover of “Jolene.” There’s a lot left on the table. And the non-Big Four (Song/Recording/Album of the Year, Best New Artist) hand outs that make the telecast come without rhyme or reason because the ceremony doesn’t tell us anything about them beforehand.
So play around with it. Try more awards. Try fewer. Do a bunch at once, or do a ceremony and then a big concert blowout. Let the winner of Best New Age Album introduce a performer. Just do something different.
Put the Performances on YouTube: I mean, there is no reason to not do this. Lady Gaga’s entire Super Bowl performance went up on an official NFL YouTube account by the game’s end in HD. Meanwhile, I’m trawling Beyhive Twitter (also known as “just Twitter”) for decent rips of Music’s Biggest Night that’ll probably get taken down this week.
Do Joint Performances That Make Sense: We got one of these this year! Mic issues aside, Lady Gaga and Metallica’s “Moth Into Flame” duet worked because “Moth Into Flame” is solid late day Metallica, and because Gaga and James Hetfield share the same brash vocal style (sidenote: glam metal won’t move a lot of radio units, but damn if Gaga didn’t look more engaged doing that than she did on anything for Joanne). I’d throw John Legend and Cynthia Erivo’s cover of “God Only Knows” in this pile, too; she’s on Broadway, he’ll be there inevitably.
Don’t Do Joint Performances “Just Because”: Lukas Graham and Kelsea Ballerini performing on their own is barely going to register with most viewers, so trying to cut her song into the still awful “7 Years” isn’t doing anyone any favors. Nor is putting established star Alicia Keys next to [Google check] Maren Morris. I’d try to lobby against something like Andra Day, Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly, and Little Big Town’s collaborative Bee Gees tribute, but ill-advised tributes are too intrinsic to the Grammy brand.
Exciting Performers to the Front: No matter how you feel about Adele, opening the 220 minute telecast with “Hello,” the mid-tempoest of mid-tempo ballads, isn’t exactly charging out of the gate. Nor was following it up with The Weeknd and Daft Punk’s great but chill “I Feel It Coming.” And, while he’s a talented guy, Sturgill Simpson appearing around the 3 hour mark isn’t exactly a shot in the arm. We had a surprising number of engaging performers last night between Beyonce, MetalliGa, Bruno Mars as Bruno Mars and cosplaying as Prince, A Tribe Called Quest, and Chance the Rapper, but these far and away came in the second half, where they had to fight the show’s bloat.
Book Performers Who Will Try Something: The Grammys are, for better or worse, one of those “the world’s stage” moments, so why not swing as big or as hard as possible? Why not do a heady meditation on motherhood and spirituality that also screams “I’ve gotten really into fka twigs and/or art history recently?” Why not smash two of your professions of faith into each other as joyously as possible? Why not be A Tribe Called Quest and bring the politics of your music all the way to the forefront? It makes for better viewing than Daft Punk dipping their robo toes into another Alive setup, or Ed Sheeran doing his latest “Look ma, no hands” looping bullshit. Hell, Katy Perry might have done the most hamfisted #wokepop #protest performance possible, but it still left an impression.
And last, but not least…
Give Beyonce the Damn Album of the Year Award: I mean, come on. Even if you set aside the merits of Lemonade as a cultural landmark, a powerful statement about aching and affirmation in black womanhood, and a declaration of self-love, and ignore its context as an artistic step forward for Beyonce, and brush away the importance–tangible or imagined– of its AOTY nod in light of three years of escalating bullshit in the category; if you just appraise it at base level “Which of these has the most songs I like hearing” appraisal…it’s still better than 25 by a considerable stretch. And I’m not saying that 25‘s bad. I listened to it again while writing this piece, and it’s good. In some parts, it’s really good. But it’s not the album of the year in this bunch. Let’s be honest, though, the Grammys ducking the actual album of the year in favor for a safe bet can’t be fixed because it’s not a bug: it’s a feature.