AndOnce upon a time, the Brit Awards and Grammys were annual staples on the TV calendar for even the most casual music fan. Attracting millions of visitors, the shows offer a feast of entertainment from the unexpected to the spectacular. Chumbawamba throwing a bucket of ice water over John Prescott in 1998 or Lady Gaga emerging from an egg at the Grammys in 2011. More recently, Stormzy and Dave’s Brit sets marked an important shift in the mainstream recognition of Black British talent.
For listeners, however, the shine seems to have worn off. Last year’s British ITV broadcast, which was suspended from February to May due to Covid-19, recorded 2.9 million viewers – a dip for the fourth year running. The 2021 Grammys were the lowest-rated in history, delivering an audience of just 8.8 million viewers for CBS, down 53% from the previous year. (These declines aren’t exclusive to music awards shows: The Oscars also recorded a 58.3% decline in viewers last year.)
This is not the whole picture: both events have tried to digitize their offerings and can boast high engagement on social media. The 2021 Brits’ YouTube live stream had 1.7 million viewers worldwide, while the Grammys saw more than 77 billion impressions on social platforms the same year.
But there are other challenges beyond numbers. In 2016, the #BritsSoWhite campaign highlighted the lack of ethnic diversity. That year, only four artists/groups were nominated in the British category out of a total of 52 entries (Naughty Boys, Rudimental, Easy Bijou and Arrow Benjamin as a featured singer), and all the winners were white. Gender was also an issue: from 2011 to 2021, female acts represented only 31.5% of nominees in the four major categories, and last year, Little Mix were the first girl band to win Best British Group in the Brits’ 41-year history. .
The Grammys have also been accused of racial bias — Drake and Frank Ocean both pulled out of the 2017 event because of it — and, in 2020, the first female president and CEO of its parent company, the Recording Academy, Deborah Duggan, left after less than six months. , called the show “ripe with corruption”. Most recently, The Weeknd said he would skip the Grammys due to a lack of transparency in voting after he received no nominations. While that may seem like sour grapes, he’s not alone: Drake, who withdrew his two nominations for 2022, called for the show to be replaced with something new last year.
For all the criticism, both Brits and the Grammys are at least showing a willingness to innovate. The Grammys responded to claims of discrimination by forming a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, revealing steps taken by the Recording Academy to address the “systematic and ongoing under-representation” of minority groups. Meanwhile, the British Voting Academy is refreshed every year and in 2020, the male/female split of voters was 51%/49%, with BAME representation at 24.5%. This year, Brits scrapped gender categories to make room for non-binary artists (Sam Smith said they were ineligible for inclusion in 2021).
Still, these attempts at a refresh have come with their own set of problems. The lack of a specific category for female talent creates the risk of under-celebrating women. We know this happens on other platforms: on UK radio, female acts took a minuscule 20% share of airplay in the first six months of 2021, why not her? collective
Linda Coogan Byrne, founder of Why Not Her?, said: “If you have a gender-neutral award category, what you’re reflecting is the inequality that exists in the music industry. The people on that judging panel can only choose who’s nominated. Work. Who submits? It’s mainly record labels. And if only 20% of those they sign are female-identifying artists, how many women are going to win?
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing both sets of awards is maintaining relevance. It’s hard to get the attention of today’s youth when they can spend their time doing whatever they want – whether it’s Lil Nas X’s descent into pole-dancing hell or a video of a cat laughing – just by picking up their phone. And, crucially, that generation grew up on streaming, where more attention is paid to music.
Awards shows have struggled to get their heads around this new digital world. Subscription streaming, set to account for 79% of consumer spending on music in 2021, doesn’t really pay well unless an artist is at a rarefied level of megastars. This means that using sales as a barometer of success – as the British, where entries are only eligible if they reach the top 40, do – is not particularly representative of the world musicians live in today. Innumerable popular acts are bypassed by the lucrative touring life, or other means. It’s interesting that Little Simz is a British Best New Artist nominee this year as he has his first top 40 album, although this is his fourth album overall, and he has been successful independently for many years.
Still, given the changes both shows have already made and will surely make in the future, the idea of replacing them with “something new” seems unlikely, since the shows are organized and owned by the music industry. “They are an advertisement for what the respective industries have been able to produce in the last 12 months. Also, winning an award and getting on stage at a show suggests you’re pretty cool and it’s a pretty good feeling for artists,” said Ted Cockle, president of publisher Hypnosis Songs, who sits on the Brits committee.
Even more likely is that both events are chog-on, cut into ever-shorter clips, while TV viewership continues to decline until the format becomes obsolete. In less polished times the magic of those unexpected moments may be lost but, hey, at least there are tons of fun animal videos to watch.
Brit Awards broadcast Tuesday, February 88pm, ITV.