2021 Grammys face rankings and credibility challenges

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By mid-November, Ben Winston was starting to remorse his choice to take over the Grammy Awards.

The British tv producer, greatest identified within the U.S. for turning James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” collection right into a viral sensation, had fortunately agreed greater than a yr earlier to imagine management of music’s greatest awards present from Ken Ehrlich, who’d overseen it since 1980 to a mixture of reward and criticism.

However that was earlier than COVID-19 upended the music {industry}, to not point out the enterprise of reside TV occasions, simply weeks after Ehrlich’s farewell version of the ceremony in late January 2020.

Months into planning his much-hyped debut — the 63rd Grammy Awards, following a postponement from January, will lastly air Sunday night time on CBS — Winston, 39, was feeling slowed down by the countless logistical calls for of working in a pandemic he’d by no means anticipated.

“How are we gonna afford this? Make this? Do this?” the chief producer recalled pondering of the present set to characteristic about two dozen performances by the likes of Taylor Swift, BTS, Cardi B, Harry Types, Billie Eilish, Lil Child and Dua Lipa. “In case you’d requested me then if I used to be glad I took the job, I’d’ve mentioned, ‘You already know what? Again to you, Ken — 41 years is what we want.’” He laughed.

“Now, in case you’re asking me as we speak, I’m delighted I’m doing it,” he mentioned this week, grinning brightly in a video name from his workplace on the Tv Metropolis complicated in L.A.’s Fairfax District. “We’re on the sting of creating one thing actually completely different and weird. And I really just like the problem of it.”

Simply then Winston’s telephone chimed with an incoming textual content message; he seemed down worriedly. “Each time I get the ding, my coronary heart drops: What’s gone unsuitable?” he mentioned. “However every part’s cool. That was from the supervisor of an artist. Mini-crisis averted.”

Beyonce

Beyoncé is nominated for 9 Grammy Awards on Sunday, however just isn’t anticipated to carry out.

(Andrew White / Parkwood Leisure)

Although it is going to be constructed as at all times round performances and awards bestowed by the Recording Academy — Beyoncé leads nominations with 9, adopted by Swift, Lipa and Roddy Ricch with six apiece — this yr’s Grammys telecast gained’t look very similar to the celebrations of the previous few many years.

As a substitute of enjoying out earlier than an viewers of 1000’s contained in the Staples Middle, the present will happen on a set of 5 small phases organized in a circle on the L.A. Conference Middle; in an effort to reduce backstage interactions, many artists have been prerecording their performances this week, although Winston, with out specifying, says some will occur reside on Sunday.

And fairly than having “megastar presenters handing gold statues to megastar musicians,” because the producer put it, greater than half of the night time’s awards will probably be introduced by personnel from a couple of of the numerous golf equipment and venues which have struggled through the pandemic, together with the Apollo Theater in New York and L.A.’s Troubadour and Resort Cafe.

Winston’s objective for his first Grammys — the present, with Trevor Noah as host, may also tackle the rising motion for racial justice, he says — is a “deeply intimate” manufacturing in purposeful distinction with the kind of spectacle during which Ehrlich specialised.

“How do you ship a Grammy second within the time of COVID?” requested Jack Sussman, govt vice chairman of specials, music and reside occasions at CBS. “I believe Ben and his group have cracked the code.”

But social-distancing limitations are removed from the one impediment Winston faces in his new gig, which he’s enterprise with a crew of collaborators that features co-executive producer Raj Kapoor and director Hamish Hamilton.

For one factor, Sussman’s community is relying on him to draw tens of millions of viewers at a time when many have burned out on digital awards reveals. Rankings for final month’s Golden Globes on NBC fell greater than 60% from the 2020 ceremony, whereas each the American Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards hit report lows final yr. The slide isn’t strictly COVID-related: The 92nd Academy Awards, which aired in all their in-person splendor in February 2020 on ABC, drew 23.6 million viewers, down from almost 30 million in 2019. And the pre-pandemic 2020 Grammys, that includes a historic sweep of the night time’s 4 prime awards by Eilish, drew its lowest rankings in historical past.

“Awards present are hurting the way in which most of linear broadcast tv has been hurting,” Sussman mentioned. “Occasion tv can nonetheless work — have a look at Oprah with Harry and Meghan on CBS. However is it gonna be what it was in its heyday when there have been three networks? No. Nothing is.”

Winston was upfront in regards to the rankings menace, acknowledging that, whatever the high quality of his present, “the quantity the subsequent morning will probably be down anyplace from 30 to 60% — I’m positive of it.”

“I instructed Ben to cease saying that,” Recording Academy interim chief govt Harvey Mason Jr. mentioned with amusing. “He’s bringing dangerous juju.”

The Weeknd

The Weeknd, proven performing through the Tremendous Bowl LV halftime present, didn’t obtain any Grammy nominations, main him to name the Grammys “corrupt.”

(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Photographs)

There’s additionally the academy’s persistent credibility drawback. Days earlier than final yr’s Grammys ceremony, the group’s former chief, Deborah Dugan, made worldwide headlines when she was ousted after making explosive allegations concerning discrimination, vote-rigging and monetary irregularities.

The controversy introduced consideration to the academy’s secretive insider committees that form Grammy nominations — consideration that solely elevated when the Weeknd was fully and unexpectedly missed for this yr’s nominations for his smash “After Hours” album and his single “Blinding Lights,” which simply turned the primary music to spend 52 weeks within the prime 10 of Billboard’s Sizzling 100.

“The Grammys stay corrupt,” the Weeknd wrote on Twitter when nominations had been introduced in November. “You owe me, my followers and the {industry} transparency.” (In a press release to the New York Instances on Thursday, the Weeknd mentioned, “Due to the key committees, I’ll not enable my label to submit my music to the Grammys.”)

Different artists — together with many artists of coloration equivalent to Drake, Frank Ocean and Sean “Diddy” Combs — have spoken out in opposition to what they are saying is the academy’s mishandling of hip-hop and R&B. Simply this week, in a collection of tweets that started “F— the grammys,” former One Route member Zayn Malik accused the group of making a system that “permits favoritism, racism and networking politics to affect the voting course of.”

In response, the academy has launched plenty of initiatives dedicated to boosting the racial and gender variety of a membership broadly regarded as dominated by older white males. In July the group invited roughly 2,300 recording-industry professionals — half of them girls and half underneath 40 — to affix the academy; 1,722 accepted, an academy spokeswoman mentioned.

Of the Weeknd’s shutout, Mason this week reiterated what he mentioned in November: that there merely wasn’t sufficient house within the Grammys’ 84 classes to appoint all of the music that deserved to be honored.

“I like his report,” Mason added. “Lots of people love his report.”

Ben Winston, left, and Alicia Keys

Ben Winston, left, with Alicia Keys on the set of “The Late Late Present With James Corden” in 2019.

(Terence Patrick/CBS)

But in an indication of the troubled relationship between the academy and the inventive group it ostensibly represents, Beyoncé, who’s up for report of the yr and music of the yr with “Black Parade,” isn’t on the invoice for Sunday’s present — the third time in latest historical past (after Kendrick Lamar in 2019 and Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, in 2018) that the yr’s most-nominated act has opted to not carry out on the telecast.

“It’s unlucky, as a result of she’s such a giant a part of the Recording Academy,” Mason mentioned of Beyoncé’s choice. “We completely want we had her onstage.”

Requested whether or not a viewer would possibly moderately suppose it unusual that Beyoncé isn’t there, Winston — who insisted he’s not planning a shock efficiency by the singer nor a rumored comeback look by Adele — paused and mentioned, “They may.”

The producer’s diplomatic response was a sign of his delicate place: He’s in command of the academy’s most public presentation however not of how the group arms out its awards.

“You already know that’s the deal whenever you take over the present,” he mentioned, including that he spent the primary three months after his appointment assembly with artists and label execs to listen to “what they thought in regards to the Grammys.” One unnamed performer he hoped to ebook this yr turned him down, he mentioned, “as a result of she was like, ‘I received snubbed three years in the past, and I’m nonetheless aggravated about it.’

“I instructed her, ‘Proper, however you recognize that’s nothing to do with me?’ She mentioned, ‘I don’t know — it form of is, isn’t it?’”

Winston’s pitch to these with complaints was that the change they’d lengthy been calling for on the Grammys had arrived. “So be a part of one thing,” he mentioned he instructed them.

Billie Eilish accepting the Grammy for album of the year in 2020.

Billie Eilish accepting the Grammy Award for album of the yr in 2020. Rankings for the present had been the bottom in its historical past.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Instances)

After all, the distinctive circumstances of 2020 and 2021 delivered much more change than he was promising. Winston, who past his work with Corden has additionally overseen TV initiatives by Bruno Mars and Kacey Musgraves, mentioned he feels lucky to be placing on his occasion after so many different awards producers “have had a go at it” amid COVID restrictions. Performers on some reveals, such because the Nation Music Assn. Awards, have struggled to seek out the wanted power minus full-sized audiences; different reveals, such because the BET Awards, have changed reside performances with glorified music movies. Winston mentioned September’s Emmys had been notably instructive as each inspiration and warning.

“That second when Jimmy Kimmel was pretending to be talking to folks inside Staples after which they turned on the lights and also you noticed how large and empty the room was — that’s after I knew we couldn’t do our present there this yr.”

Among the many Grammy moments Winston is proudest of is an prolonged “In Memoriam” phase he says will final about 12 minutes and can characteristic a number of performers paying tribute to musicians together with John Prine, who died final April from COVID-19.

That’s additionally one of many showcases Winston expects to resonate broadly on-line, which he insists is as beneficial a metric of success as no matter rankings quantity he’s handed by Nielsen.

“As any individual who’s made many reveals — some reside, some not reside, some late-night, some prime-time — I discover it fascinating the obsession with going, ‘60% down — that is disastrous!’” he mentioned. “Nicely, maintain on a second. Are we simply pretending that we don’t perceive that everyone’s watching streaming now?”

Sunday’s telecast will probably be out there on ViacomCBS’ new Paramount+ subscription service, and Winston is “hopeful that individuals will probably be watching the Grammys in excessive numbers there.” However he sounded extra excited when imagining the “digital impressions” that items of his present will make after the actual fact on social media.

“160 million folks watched the Paul McCartney ‘Carpool Karaoke’” following its broadcast premiere on Corden’s “Late Late Present” in 2018, in accordance with Winston. “1.6 million watched it that night time,” he mentioned.

“We didn’t make it for the 1.6.”

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