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The Grammys, who have always been unpredictable, are in for some surprises this year

This was intended to be the year when the Grammy Awards returned to their previous form. A flu outbreak in 2021 forced organisers to postpone the ceremony by six weeks and replace it with a stripped-down outdoor concert with no crowd, which impressed reviewers with its intimate feel but received only average numbers from viewers.

This year, after yet another postponement — this time due to the Omicron variation — the 64th annual Grammy Awards have been moved for the first time to Las Vegas, where they will be televised live on CBS on Sunday night from the MGM Grand Garden Arena. However, this was followed by a flood of further difficulties. Because of his disturbing internet conduct, Kanye West was forbidden from performing at the Grammy Awards. On tour, Taylor Hawkins, lead singer of the Foo Fighters, who was due to play at the event, passed away.

And then, on Sunday, at the Oscars, Will Smith struck Chris Rock in the face onstage, an event that made headlines around the globe and prompted fresh questions about how award show producers should handle star-on-star altercations broadcast live on television.

Despite the shocks — and in the wake of years of controversy at the Recording Academy, the nonprofit group that organises the Grammys — organisers say they are prepared for anything and have laboured to give the programme a new appearance. There will be an arena crowd this year, and full-scale performances by singers including Olivia Rodrigo, Silk Sonic, Billie Eilish, J Balvin, Carrie Underwood, John Legend, and Lil Nas X will take place on the main stage. Some other highlights include an homage to Stephen Sondheim and a brief minute of silence to reflect on the conflict in Ukraine. Trevor Noah will serve as the show’s host once again.

Whether Rodrigo, the 19-year-old singer and actress whose song “Drivers License” became a hit last year, will be able to sweep the four major categories, including album, record and song of the year and best new artist, will be the most highly followed battle of the night. In terms of competitiveness, she faces everyone from the meme maestro Lil Nas X to the 95-year-old Tony Bennett, who is competing with Lady Gaga for the Cole Porter record “Love for Sale.” In this year’s nominations, Jon Batiste of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” is the most nominated, with 11 nominations.

Following a four-decade run by Ken Ehrlich as the Grammys’ producer, Ben Winston won praise for innovative touches such as in-the-round performances and video segments that fleshed out the back stories of the nominees for record of the year, which has quietly displaced album of the year as the Grammys’ most coveted award in recent years.

Only a few days before the concert, there are still some questions regarding who will perform and even which celebrities will be in attendance. The producers have been working feverishly since Hawkins’ passing on March 25 to put together a fitting memorial to the drummer. Covid-19 was detected in two members of the K-pop group BTS, sparking concerns on whether or how they would be able to continue with their planned performance.

The Recording Academy had no comment on BTS, and representatives of the group did not react to queries regarding the group’s future intentions when reached for comment. Despite being nominated for three prizes, Foo Fighters decided to cancel their planned performance.

The biggest unknown is likely to be West, whose invitation to perform was cancelled after a storm of problematic online conduct aimed at his estranged wife, Kim Kardashian, as well as at Noah, among other people. West, on the other hand, is still nominated for five categories, including album of the year for “Donda,” which he released last year. According to a spokesman of the Recording Academy, after the incident at the Oscars, “plans have been put in place for a number of different circumstances.”

President and Chief Executive Officer Harvey Mason Jr. said in an interview that the school was attempting to restore trust among its members. In his words, “my goal is that we will be able to gain the confidence of everyone who has been suspicious of us.”

Willie Stiggers, better known by his stage name Prophet, is an artist manager and co-chair of the Black Music Action Coalition. He says he believes Grammy executives when they say they are committed to fostering diversity inside the organisation. “The Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is a mirror of American culture,” he said. I think it is going to take more than a year or two to unpack everything.”

There is an ongoing argument in the music business over the importance of award presentations in general, and the Grammys in particular, in an age of fragmented viewership and dwindling ratings. Despite drawing only 8.8 million viewers this year, the Grammys had its poorest showing in history, and the revenue gains that artists and record labels used to reap from a significant Grammy participation have all but evaporated in recent years.

According to Will Page, an economist who specialises in the music industry, Adele’s two-week sales increase after winning album of the year in 2012 for “21” was worth $1 million in estimated artist royalties, whereas Swift’s win for “Folklore” last year was worth only $50,000 in estimated artist royalties, according to Page.

The producers of the television programme, on the other hand, believe that it is critical to keep the event seeming new. And they claim to be up to the challenge.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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