So, the iHeartRadio awards were yesterday… and I found out through a random clip that popped up on YouTube, almost scrolling straight past it. It seems strange that award shows which once dictated the movement of pop culture have now seemingly become irrelevant and have faded into obscurity. With viewership dropping quicker than celebrities can rush to the stage to accept the award that they’ve ‘won’, even the heavyweights are feeling the effect with the 2021 Oscars suffering a 56% drop in viewership from 2020, garnering the smallest tv audience in its history.
Now not all award shows are bad, but there’s a reason that they’re being drowned out and no one cares enough to throw them a life boat and try to keep them afloat. As a child of the 2000s I could not wait for awards season to roll around, I was glued to the TV waiting to see what everyone was wearing and itching to perform alongside my favourite artists in my living room. This era of awards gave birth to iconic moments that have become staples in pop culture history such as J.Lo’s infamous Versace dress and Lil Kim’s purple pastie jumpsuit all before anyone even stepped foot on the stage. These shows knew how to draw in a crowd and hold their attention, sure they had their deliberately daring moments to grab the headlines, but they also had the talent to support it, they knew how to put on a show and how to balance the madness with the magic. So, how could they go from being the beating heart of Hollywood to dying right in front of our eyes?
The Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys; steeped in a prestigious history, welcoming only the exclusive few into their select club, have now become antiquated systems out of touch with their audience with their own hosts joking that anything would be better than having to sit through an award show that drags on “for 3 hours”. Whilst this aims to be comedically self-aware, it becomes worrying when the host of your own show’s jokes appear to be more fact than fiction. As we dive deeper into what is causing this declining interest one of the most notable contributors to this is the lack of authenticity that is rampant in these shows. Although we are aware that Hollywood is carefully calibrated creation of celebrity, it only works when there is still an allure, an aura of mystery surrounding this foreign lifestyle, once too much access has been granted it becomes much easier to see how phoney this industry really is. Nothing seems genuine. This became blatantly obvious during the 2014 Grammys when Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar to the Best Rap Album win, this was met with heavy criticism with Macklemore himself recognising that he was benefiting from a system that priorities their own agendas over actual talent, this lack of authenticity created a strong lack of credibility that has now become synonymous with such award shows. Similarly, the Grammys repeated this mishap again in 2017 with Adele beating out Beyonce to win the Album of the Year. This again drew widespread criticism with Adele herself breaking the award in two, the repeated failings of these global establishments have caused the public perception of these shows to do a complete 180 as they strive to maintain their credibility to an audience that is no longer interested.
Unfortunately for award shows, a lack of authenticity is not their only problem. They also suffer from a desperate desire to grab the headlines, now this is not exclusive to recent awards shows in fact this has been a common practice throughout the history of pop culture. Creating controversial scandals as a selling point has worked in the past, from Kanye interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMA’s to Marlon Brando refusing to accept his award at the 1973 Oscars for his performance in ‘The Godfather’. These moments sent shockwaves through the culture and whilst they invited a plethora of attention, these shows were still able to deliver performances that are still considered amongst the greatest today. That’s not to say that there are no memorable modern-day moments, there are such as Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance from the 2019 Oscars, however this often comes with a large side of drama that ultimately detracts from the true purpose of these awards shows in favour of creating a silly circus-like spectacle in at attempt to draw more eyes to the show. Who could forget Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj’s feud at the 2015 VMA’s? Did it cause a stir for a few days? Yes. Was it entertaining? Yes. But was it also embarrassing that an awards show that it supposed to celebrate talent is unable to offer anything more captivating than two entertainers squabbling on a stage for a few seconds, creating a scene that is more akin to a scripted reality show? Yes. Here in lies the problem, these shows can’t compete with the world around them. Once upon a time when there was limited access to the celebrities and their mere appearance as these shows were enough to cause excitement and conversation these awards shows dominated the TV, but now in much more fast-paced social media age why would someone sit down for three hours to watch a mediocre award show with celebrities that they are already too familiar with when they can catch clips of the highlights on Twitter the next day? There is on incentive to watch these shows anymore, we already know what to expect from the performances, we already know who will win the award. They are only able to garner attention for their antics and when they’re not capitalising off of any drama that they can, they’re sloppily slapping together a show that has no cohesion or charisma leading to hours of dull TV where the presenters can’t even announce the winner correctly. It’s no wonder people don’t want to pay attention to these shows when the creators don’t either.
The final nail in the coffin of these once illustrious awards, is the explosion of the social media age, as previously mentioned. The widespread access to your favourite celebrities is at the tip of your finger, gone are the days of waiting for an award show to roll round to see your favourite singer, or eagerly waiting for an interview to hear from your favourite actor; you can now interact with whoever you want on a daily basis through social media. Whether it be Instagram, YouTube, twitter or TikTok the concept of ‘celebrity’ has become much more attainable for the everyday person, rendering the previous idea of ‘celebrity’ mute. The celebrity bubble has well and truly been burst, what was once thought of as a career that was so far out of reach for the regular person has not transformed into a viable option – and no I’m not saying that everyone can become a celebrity – but it’s not uncommon to see relatively unknown people catapult themselves into these spheres of fame and influence through social media, until they themselves adopt the status of celebrity. This would’ve been inconceivable before the social media era, who what have imagined two youtubers boxing each other would outsell a heavyweight championship fight?
Traditional awards shows have been steadily on the decline for years now and it’s time that we let them go completely. Whilst they are still making significant money, through their ads, it’s nothing compared to what it used to be. Whilst there are bursts of growth this usually disappears quicker than it arrived, taking more viewers away in the process. With the biggest dip in viewership being amongst to most sought-after demographic, 18 to 49, this represents a key shift in the landscape of pop culture, it’s time to finally put the awards shows to rest as the new age of social media no longer has any need for them.