Early indications are in: The recent Grammy Awards ceremony was a ratings disaster.
I know—finally, some good news, right?
Don’t get me wrong. I love music. I’ve earned my living in the music biz my whole adult life, as has my dad, my uncle, and many of my friends. Everyone in my world genuinely loves music.
But what no one in my world loves is any of the garbage now being featured at the Grammys. The hard truth is, the Grammys no longer matters much to me or anyone I know. And if the ratings are any guide, your world is a lot like my world. Almost no one cares anymore.
The numbers are shocking. The 2021 Grammy Awards suffered an epic 53 percent drop in ratings over last year’s broadcast, plunging from 18 million to just 8.8 million viewers. That loss rate probably won’t continue, but if it did, Grammy viewership would be down to statistical zero within a few years.
I concede that recent Grammy Awards ceremonies have featured the odd stand-out. Just as one example, this year’s Silk Sonic performance was smooth, fun, and genuinely musical.
But we’re at a point now in the history of the Grammys where even the odd stand-out performances sting, because they occur just often enough to remind you of how rarely they occur anymore. They remind you of what the Grammy Awards used to be, still ought to be, but isn’t any longer.
And what the Grammys used to be, still ought to be, and isn’t any longer, is a genuine celebration of music, the people who create it, and the millions touched by it.
That original spirit of the thing is why artists like Ray Charles won in 1961 for his work on The Genius of Ray Charles, and the Beatles won for “A Hard Day’s Night” in 1964. It’s why Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song” won in 1973. It’s why The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours won in 1977. It’s why the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” won in 1979, and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” won in 1992. It’s why Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home” won in 1997, and U2’s “Beautiful Day” won three years later. It’s why fine live performances came pretty often: U2 in 2000, Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand in 1979, Eric Clapton in 1993, and many more.
Sure, there was always backroom politicking. Some odd omissions. Some unworthy winners. Some dumb words from the lectern. Every time homo sapiens does anything, that kind of stuff happens.
But overall, for decades, the Grammy Awards served as an important cultural institution. It helped connect people—artist, audience, and industry—with each other through music. Kenny Rogers was right when he said, in 1982, that “the Grammy is finally established in the minds of everyone as the most meaningful and highly desired award.”
But just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a sinking tide lowers them, and the Grammy Awards has become just another degenerating institution within our larger degenerating civilization. It now amounts to an orgy of laughably misguided self-congratulation; cliché-ridden social justice pontifications from multimillionaires living in Beverly Hills mansions; packaged rage; racist guilt-tripping; and pathological female autodegradation.
The most recent example of that last thing, of course, was the pornographic exhibitionism of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. That so many of our cultural overlords have applauded it, and similar Grammy performances over the years, as an expression of “female empowerment,” only shows how perniciously insane our culture has become. I await any intelligible explanation of how women publicly depicting themselves as nothing more than wank fodder “empowers all women, everywhere.” By this dysfunctional standard, Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine was the best friend your precious daughter ever had.
Of course, this wasn’t the only off-putting thing about the Grammys. The geniuses running it decided to tacitly endorse America-hating, Israel-hating, and Jew-hating by inviting Hate Queen Tamika Mallory to do her standard “Angry Shouting” routine during an anti-cop number (for more on Mallory’s career in hate, see here, here, and here). As if that isn’t nauseating enough, the same geniuses also broadcast—in the same show—a statement condemning hate and anti-Semitism. Nothing like your plate of hate slopped over with an extra helping of hypocrisy.
Even if we could get past this sort of obnoxiousness, the fact would remain that much—perhaps most—of the music now showcased on the Grammys just doesn’t resonate with a lot of people anymore. Ask a hundred ordinary folks to watch any recent Grammy Awards show, and most of them won’t even have heard of 80 percent or more of the increasingly niche nominees. (By contrast, quite a few of those people would have appreciated more respect shown to the late Edward Van Halen, a Grammy winner who revolutionized pop and rock guitar playing, and whom I’ve written about elsewhere. The Grammys all but ignored his recent passing).
Put all this together and what you have is an embarrassingly self-unaware, self-immolating awards show giving out awards fewer and fewer people care about, to musicians fewer and fewer people care about, for songs fewer and fewer people care about, in front of fewer and fewer viewers, all while ignoring musicians many people do care about, and slyly evangelizing the hate it pretends to oppose.
In other words, if you wanted to turn the Grammys into an off-putting farce, plunge it into obsolescence, and eventually get it canceled due to lousy ratings, you couldn’t do a better job than the Grammys is doing itself.
The Grammy Awards Show isn’t what it used to be. It isn’t what it ought to be. It’s dying, and dying by its own hand.
And for all music lovers out there, that’s a real shame.