For better or for worse, awards season has arrived—no less with a vast array of poorly picked Balmain dresses and untimely flu shot distributions. This year the Grammys saw an uptick in viewership from 2018 and the Golden Globes remained relatively resilient with viewership down just two percent from last year’s show, but should we even care about award shows in the first place?
Award shows often drag on for the course of three hours or more just for everyone to forget who won what and wait for keyboard critics to give an on-the-fly synopsis of a two-second moment on Twitter the next day. All of the debauched red-carpet highlights and tired skits beg the question: What do award shows actually do for us?
The host of an award show is often a huge factor in whether people will tune in—if announcing the actual winner only takes a overly ceremonious one-minute envelope opening, the show better have an A-lister with witty punchlines to hold viewers’ attention for the other two hours and 45 minutes.
Unfortunately, 2019 has been a less-than-great year for those looking for celebrity roasts between award announcements—Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg gave an unfunny, too SFW opening monologue at the Golden Globes, and while the Grammys certainly took a step in the right direction with its first female host since 2005, Alicia Keys took the show as more of an opportunity to highlight her own career rather than a moment to recognize the talent of today. And if you’re looking for any kind of host action from the Oscars, you’re going to be very disappointed. I, personally, am an avid believer that Nick Kroll and John Mulaney should host every award show.
Drake best explained the impotence of the modern awards show when accepting the award for Best Rap Song for “God’s Plan” at this year’s Grammy Awards:
“We play an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport,” Drake said. “If there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here, I promise you that. You already won.”
Although it seemed like the rapper had more to say, the award show promptly cut to a commercial. Even so, the rapper had more than enough time on stage to raise important questions about award shows in 2019: Does winning really even matter?
Talent is presumably the biggest draw for award show viewers. People can easily become invested in competition (in re: American Idol, The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the World Cup) and like the idea of rooting for their favorite actor or musician, even if the sound waves of their cheers simply bounce off a television screen in middle-of-nowhere America. But beyond garnering industry clout, titles don’t really say much about the intrinsic value of the piece or artist to which they are awarded.
Winning a Grammy is hardly a surefire indicator of cultural staying power. Kendrick Lamar was beat out by Macklemore for Best New Artist in 2014 and was cheated out of Album of the Year in 2018 when Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic took home the night’s biggest prize. (But the fact that the rapper won a Pulitzer Prize for DAMN. a few months after is a surefire indicator of his cultural staying power.) Other albums that never won Album of the Year on music’s biggest stage? Purple Rain, Lemonade, OK Computer, Nevermind, The Dark Side of The Moon, Late Registration, and Abbey Road.
Not to mention, it took Leonardo DiCaprio over two decades to win an Academy Award, and when he finally did win, it was for a movie—The Revenant—you probably didn’t even like that much, compared to Wolf of Wall Street or Titanic.
When selecting winners, award show committees appear inconsistent: Some years, a critically unimpressive blockbuster like Bohemian Rhapsody wins big at awards shows (Although I liked the film, I expect the Oscars’ results to differ from those of the Globes—except for the case of Rami Malek who absolutely deserves the award for Best Actor.), and other years a self-indulgent art house flick such as The Shape of Water beats out instant classics, such as Lady Bird or Call Me By Your Name.
Although the Grammys committee has consistently championed popularity over depth for Album of the Year in the last few years, the Academy seems continually torn between rewarding pop-culture rapport and intellectual (and sometimes esoteric) depth—two qualities that can be united in the best films, like Citizen Kane, another movie that never won an Oscar.
In an unrelated Rolling Stone column about the shifting legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Matt Taibbi presents a deft explanation for our inability to reward the deserving few: “Conventional wisdom is almost always blind to moral greatness in real time.” Given the spotty hit-or-miss record of popular award shows, I wonder if this applies to cinematic and sonic greatness as well.
Featured Graphic by Allyson Mozeliak / Heights Editor