Long Runtime, No-Shows Hinder 61st Grammy Awards

Awards shows have it rough. Given how subjective the material they celebrate is, it’s impossible for them to please everyone. The Grammy Awards, however, are special in that they rarely seem to please anyone at all. While this year’s ceremony was in several ways an improvement from previous Grammys, it was also hampered by the show’s usual shortcomings: its runtime and a lack of awards given out during the show.

As usual, the foremost issue with this year’s ceremony this year was its unbearable length. Even with a three-and-a-half hour time slot, the Grammys ran 13 minutes overtime. The show consisted of 18 performances but only nine awards. People complain about the little comedy bits that the Oscars and similar shows include to cushion the runtime of the ceremony, but the Grammys is easily the worst offender of wasting time.

The abundant commercial breaks certainly didn’t make the ceremony feel any shorter, as performances were often bookended by a five-minute set of commercials. This led to a 53-minute gap between the presentation of Best Rap Song and Best R&B Album. No matter how much you’re enjoying the performances, it’s counterintuitive for an awards show to near an hour without presenting a single award.

Apathy, on the part of many artists, was another problem that burdened the ceremony. Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Childish Gambino, three of the year’s biggest nominees, all declined to perform for unknown reasons. Additionally, the total absence of many notable artists was a surprise to most. Childish Gambino wasn’t present to accept his wins for Song of the Year or Record of the Year, which led to a couple of awkward moments; nobody accepted Childish Gambino’s first award, and Ludwig Goransson, a face very few in the audience seemed to recognize, accepted his second award. Nominated artists Jay-Z, Kanye West, Ariana Grande, Bradley Cooper and Taylor Swift were also absent from the ceremony for various reasons. Furthermore, several artists made jabs at the Recording Academy in their speeches, amounting to some of the night’s most profound moments. While accepting the Best Rap Song win for “God’s Plan,” Drake essentially said that winning a Grammy wasn’t that meaningful.

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,” Drake said.

Best New Artist winner Dua Lipa also referenced the comment that Recording Academy President Neil Portnow made at last year’s ceremony about women needing to “step up” if they want to be more prominent as artists and executives, exclaiming during her acceptance speech, “So many women! I guess we really stepped up this year.” It was great to see more female representation at this year’s ceremony, and the Academy seems to have realized how problematic Portnow’s statements were, as he is stepping down from his position later this year.

The evening’s performances were mostly strong with a few definite highs and lows. The best performances of the night were Janelle Monae’s imaginatively choreographed performance of “Make Me Feel,” vocally powerful showings from Lady Gaga and Brandi Carlile and a wholesome celebration of Dolly Parton’s career featuring singers like Katy Perry, Kacey Musgraves and Miley Cyrus. Parton and the other performers gave renditions of some of her biggest hits, including “Here You Come Again,” “Jolene,” “Red Shoes” and “9 to 5.”

Oddly enough, Rapper Travis Scott’s show was more energetic than his performance at the Super Bowl last weekend. This change shows how much of a difference performing in a venue designed for concerts can make, as the Super Bowl Halftime Show is a notoriously difficult stage to perform on. The weakest performance of the evening was Post Malone’s joint effort with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a combination that was too weird to ever work given their wildly different musical styles. Post Malone began with an acoustic rendition of “Stay” and a fairly straightforward performance of “Rockstar,” but things fell apart fast when he joined the Chili Peppers for their upbeat song “Dark Necessities.” It was confusing why the Chili Peppers were even there in the first place given the fact that they weren’t a nominated artist, and their lackluster performance didn’t justify their presence.

The Academy honored a variety of worthy musicians this year, with the trophies going to the most deserving artist in a lot of categories (although a lot of them could stand to have more varied nomination pools instead of relying largely on the year’s biggest hits). The night’s biggest winners were Kacey Musgraves and Childish Gambino; Musgraves took home the Album of the Year award for “Golden Hour,” as well as Best Country Album, Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance awards. Gambino won Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Music Video and Best Rap/Sung Performance for his single “This Is America,” although he was notably absent from the ceremony. Other big winners included Lady Gaga and Brandi Carlile with three awards each, and St. Vincent, Beck and H.E.R. with two each. Strangely, the two artists with the most nominations this year (Kendrick Lamar with eight and Drake with seven) only won one award each, and Lamar tied with Anderson .Paak at that. Other notable wins included Cardi B, who became the first solo female act to win Best Rap Album with “Invasion of Privacy” (Lauryn Hill won as part of Fugees in 1997), and Chris Cornell’s posthumous Best Rock Performance win for his song “When Bad Does Good.”

The Grammys viewership has been trending downward since 2012, and this year’s show netted only a slight uptick from 2018. Additionally, its ratings within the 18-49 age group were at an all-time low. If the Grammys want to fix their viewership problem, they need to make the show available to stream online in some capacity, because relying on the continually dwindling pool of cable television viewers isn’t going to work.

This year’s show did finally see some positive changes, like better representation and a solid lineup of performances, but the Academy still has a long way to go if it wants to embody the grand celebration of music that it claims to be.