This year, it wasn’t the Grammys that made social media headlines. Instead, it was Dua Lipa.
From her crystalized designer Versace dress to her pink and purple disco-inspired performance of “Levitating” and “Don’t Start Now,” from her Grammy-winning album, “Future Nostalgia,” Lipa was the star of this year’s Grammy Awards.
But Lipa wasn’t the only woman shining bright. Beyonce made history with the most Grammy wins for a female artist, and Taylor Swift became the first female artist to win album of the year three times. With all this buzz, it would seem like the Grammys hit a jackpot.
Along with comedian Trevor Noah hosting and foregoing the virtual Zoom fatigue by strategizing a way to have an in-person award show on a smaller and safer scale, it seemed the Grammys had it all – except viewers.
The 2021 Grammys saw a 51% ratings drop, a new low for the recording academy, and a continuing trend in award show viewership this year — leading many to worry about award shows.
But to critics, it was actually a good Grammys!
“The Grammy presentation was the best of the award shows since COVID started,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.
“It didn’t rely as much on Zoom and all that kinda stuff, so it didn’t have that awkward feel that we’ve gotten in some of the previous 2020 award shows and that doesn’t seem to have helped it at all,” Thompson said.
So, what went wrong? Was it the Grammys or was it the viewers that led to this ultimate break-up song between viewers and award shows?
Chris Chavez, the director of doctoral programs at the University of Oregon with expertise in TV commercials and popular culture, said there is an oversaturation of content now.
The Grammys is just one of the many great programs on television right now, Chavez said, causing the Grammys to have to shout louder — to make an impact — in an already loud room.
Audiences’ viewing habits have also severely changed. Brad Adgate, an independent media consultant, said that instead of tuning in at the exact time to see what’s happening, we watch content on our schedules now.
For example, if viewers only wanted to watch Harry Styles perform “Watermelon Sugar,” on Sunday, they didn’t have to watch the whole three-and-a-half-hour show. Instead, they could either tune in when Styles performed or watch later on social media or YouTube.
“People are looking at it on their phones, on their tablets, sometimes watching TV, they’re chattering about it, and in some ways, they’re a lot more engaged than, again, a passing viewer experience of just watching television,” Chavez said.
But, that directional change in viewership is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s simply a sign of our times.
Chavez said that looking for clips of the award show makes it more accessible to a greater audience, allowing viewers to select the information they want to know and watch and leaving what they don’t.
But this short-form style also decontextualizes the award show and takes away the larger theme of celebrating the year’s best in music.
But the format of the Grammys lends itself to this flexibility in viewership. Its shelf life is longer than, say, Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah, which aired on CBS one week before the Grammys on March 7 and drew in a reported 17.1 million viewers, compared to the Grammys’ 8.8 million.
With Harry and Meghan, Adgate said the suspense drew in the audience. There was no release of what was going to be talked about. Because viewers didn’t know what to expect, and to learn about any anticipated bombshells, viewers had to sit and watch at the appointed eight o’clock time slot to find out.
Comparatively, viewers have an idea of what to expect surrounding the Grammys. If audiences tuned into the Grammys the next day, they didn’t miss any pressing information, Chavez said, as they would have with Meghan and Harry’s interview.
While these viewership changes seem fast-paced, it was bound to happen, Adgate said. But, the pandemic accelerated these trends that were going to happen several years from now.
Since it’s here now, this quick turnaround to a new form of viewership is setting off mental alarms, mostly as the Oscars, which is known for the suit and tie extravagance and doling out the most prestigious of film awards, is set to air April 25.
“If I am an Oscar advertiser, you have to be concerned, about not just the aging audience, but the total audience,” Adgate said.
Thompson agreed. He said by the looks of the data, the Oscars need to be worried. “As the Oscars are figuring out, the Grammys put on a pretty good show and it didn’t seem to matter.”
Although Adgate wouldn’t call this crisis mode just yet, all three experts agreed that with a decreased audience for both the 2021 Golden Globes and the Grammys, it is no doubt the Academy Awards are looking at the writing on the wall and wondering how these issues can be addressed, and fast.