I really tried to watch anything and everything but the Grammys. Better call Saul and The X-Files are back. Toss in “having a frank conversation about real issues with my wife” and “sitting in a room with bare walls and no lights for two-and-a-half hours” and you’ve got quite a few options that are more attractive than an awards show that doesn’t hand out awards for most of its runtime. I even watched the first 30 minutes of WWE Monday Night Raw, the venerable pro-wrestling show that prominently features shouting as a major dramatic selling point. Did I mention there will also be literal fireworks? That’s far more entertainment value than this year’s Grammy awards offered, and yet I watched the damn thing anyway.
That might be because the Grammys, and pop music in general, has more in common with Monday Night Raw than the recording business would care to admit. There may not be as much shouting or as many gratuitous explosions, but there’s still plenty of the same manufactured drama that made Vince McMahon a billionaire. Thanks to the escalation of the Taylor Swift/Kanye West feud after Taylor subtly refuted Kanye’s claim that he is responsible for her success, the music awards show is one step closer to wrestling’s orgiastic beatification of the grudge match.
The Recording Academy, the organization behind the Grammys, has been trying to turn the turgid mess that is its signature event into something resembling a fun television show for years now. It moved every single award that no one cares about to a non-televised event taking place adjacent to the arena where the televised Grammys takes place. It made LL Cool J the semi-permanent host, responsible for nothing more than reading a teleprompter and licking his lips on cue. It emphasised live performances and wacky combinations of artists. For example, let’s predict that in 2017, the Grammys will pay tribute to the Beach Boys by having Brian Wilson perform Surfin Safari with Ne-Yo and Imagine Dragons singing a cappella while riding surfboards in a wading pool.
All of these attempts to streamline and modernise the Grammys have failed, leaving us with the rudderless, manipulative junk heap we see before us. Last year’s event garnered the worst ratings for the show in six years, despite performances from heavy hitters like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Madonna, Rihanna, Paul McCartney and Katy Perry. Then again, it’s a tough time for music awards shows in general. The Grammys’ biggest rival, the MTV Video Music Awards, drew only 9m viewers in the US last year, despite airing simultaneously on 10 Viacom-owned cable channels and featuring a cameo from Miley Cyrus’s breast. When even gratuitous female nudity can’t energise the lazy pod people of America, then there’s nothing left but to turn these shows into Thunderdome for celebrities.
As social media becomes the pop star’s preferred method of communicating with their fans on a daily (or in Kanye West’s case, hourly, or sometimes minutely) basis, the awards show has become WrestleMania for whatever grudges might be brewing on the internet. The major storyline going into the 2015 VMAs was Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift’s public spat over Minaj’s Anaconda not being nominated for video of the year, which Minaj chalked up to racism and sizeism.
Miley Cyrus, who hosted the show, also got involved when she told the New York Times that she believed Nicki’s beef with the VMAs and Taylor Swift was “not very polite”. The media chatter around the show was less about the actual awards and more about whether or not there would be some sort of confrontation between the three artists during the broadcast. How would Minaj respond?
Would the bloodthirsty monsters among us be lucky enough to see some heinous act of violence on live TV? Of course, what happened was Nicki and Taylor made up, but Minaj dropped the now-infamous “Miley, what’s good?” line, the shade that launched a thousand memes. Even if it didn’t translate into actual television ratings, it was a moment that resonated and will outlast the actual award winners in the collective memory.
Taylor Swift’s IRL subtweet of Kanye West is a next-level expression of the idea that pop star feuds can get viewers to come back to music awards shows. This isn’t just a quickie rivalry drummed up around the event that will conclude once the hype cycle is complete. It’s not transitory or one-sided like Drake and Meek Mill. Taylor Swift’s battle with Kanye West has been going on since Kanye interrupted her acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards. It’s the sort of made-for-TV spat that hews closely to demographic lines, like Cam Newton and Peyton Manning in this year’s Super Bowl. Kanye represents fierce black masculinity and hip-hop bravado, while Taylor is the avatar for “adorkable” white America. She’s polite, but tough. coquettish, but mostly modest. An earnest seeker of ethnic and cultural understanding. She’s beautiful, but not sexually threatening. Her music is universal, but speaks deeply to a questioning and yearning spirit in the hearts of young people across the world. Both are standard-bearers for marginalised populations: black people and women. It’s such a perfect dichotomy that one has to wonder why they haven’t tangled at these awards shows more often. Seven years after their first encounter and they’re still after each other.
But what makes this so perfect for the producers of music awards shows in the next year is that Kanye was not there to respond. That means this thing will drag out for weeks or months before the public gets sick of it. There’s always another show to further the plot – the American Music Awards, the VMAs, the People’s Choice Awards, and the Billboard Music Awards are all still to come in 2016. It’s a narrative that will continue to evolve and will have more cultural staying power than a boob flash.
So, with that in mind, I want to propose something radical that’s sure to end the music awards show’s struggle for viewers: let’s just dispense with the awards completely. Every year, the audience is disappointed with some category, some snub, or some avoidable controversy that saps all of the legitimacy out of the handing out of the trophies. This year it was Taylor beating Kendrick Lamar for album of the year and Meghan Trainor taking home best new artist despite being noticeably terrible. Why bother with all of this pretension if it’s just going to turn people against your event? Also, while we’re at it, can we cut the musical performances, too? I doubt I was the only one questioning my life choices during the diabolical warbling of the Hollywood Vampires. And if you’re going to neuter Kendrick’s performance of Alright by bleeping his line about the “po-po killing us fo’ sho”, then by all means, don’t invite him next year. Don’t censor one of the most provocative, necessary artists working in his medium because you’re afraid of some jackals boycotting a show they probably don’t even watch. You are going to piss off cop haters or cop supporters. I happen to fall in the supporter category.
Let’s just give the people what they want: a series of confrontations between musical acts that hate each other, sort of like a presidential debate, but with slightly more decorum.
I’d rather watch Miley and Nicki, Drake and Meek, Amber Rose and Kim Kardashian, and Taylor and Kanye bark at each other for a few minutes than another second of whatever that Girl Crush song is. We could even put together some old-school battles to get the Gen-Xers excited. For instance, we lock Morrissey in a steel cage with the rest of the Smiths. In the corner of the cage is a bag full of residual profits from their back catalogue. We ring the bell and make them beat the holy hell out of each other until one man escapes the cage with the satchel of cash. If Morrisey doesn’t win, he can never perform How Soon Is Now? ever again. At GrammyMania 2017, the main event will be Kanye and Taylor, with the internet voting for the winner on Twitter and it will live-stream exclusively on Tidal. Vince McMahon would be proud.