The Academy Awards have always been thought of as the Super Bowl of awards shows. The ceremony has traditionally enjoyed months of advanced hype and speculation from pundits and bloggers, which inevitably amounts to higher ratings than its cousins, The Emmys and the Grammys. That’s why it became news when, a couple of weeks ago, this year’s Grammys attracted more viewers than last year’s Oscars. What did it all mean? Are movies no longer the pinnacle of American entertainment? Did audiences decide to give the long-suffering music industry a break? Or has the long slog and self-masturbatory nature of Hollywood’s awards season generated audience fatigue for its grand finale? These are important questions.
The Grammys struck ratings gold for a few reasons, including an unusual amount of tabloid-friendly story threads coursing through the night. There was the unfortunate boost in interest after Whitney Houston’s sudden death the night before the show. Morbid curiosity caused people to tune in who otherwise might have skipped the broadcast for Law & Order: SVU. Then there was Chris Brown. Not only was Breezy returning to the scene of his crime, but he was finally going to be in the same room as his victim. The social media landscape became an epic battlefield between Team Breezy and everyone else. Who would prevail? (Chris Brown won, according to Chris Brown.) Then there was the drama surrounding Adele’s first live performance since throat surgery. How would she do, we wondered. (Perfectly, we found out). And then there was Adele herself. The monster sales of her album, 21, christened the British singer as pop music’s new queen, and the Grammys were her coronation. Anyone who bought her album—and there are 7.3 million of you—wouldn’t miss it.
The Oscars, on the other hand, are notoriously lacking in drama. Thanks to the parade of awards that precede them, the winners are all but predetermined. And since movie stars are traditionally more allergic to controversy than musicians—who often seek it out and flaunt it—darker undercurrents and backstage intrigue are largely absent. Beyond the red carpet fashion show, The Oscars have mostly become an opportunity to grade the host’s performance, and talk about how long, boring, and predictable the whole night is. That can only hold up for so long.
Since televised awards shows are thinly-veiled opportunities for mega-rich industries to make more cash, both the Oscars and the Grammys have made desperate attempts to lure more eyeballs. The Oscars tap James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts, and the Grammys forgo actual awards in favor of a televised concert. It’s a strategy that works, and it often leads to some pretty unpredictable—though well-rehearsed—moments (let’s unleash Nicki Minaj onstage and see what happens! The Oscars’ only live performance of last night, from Cirque de Soleil, was impressive, but oddly lethargic). On the other hand, there is nothing more predictable than Billy Crystal opening the Academy Awards with a hey-i’m-in-the-nominated-movies! montage. Even Crystal himself acknowledged the painful inevitability of his song n’ dance number that followed. That is not a good sign.It’s gotten to the point where the only fun and spontaneous moments during the Academy Awards arrive when comedians decide to take matters into their own hands. Sacha Baron Cohen, Chris Rock, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifiankis, and the Bridesmaids cast, each made the other presenters—with their staid, predetermined banter—look bad. At least the Grammys don’t go for laughs and fail miserably. LL Cool J doesn’t need to crack jokes to be a good host.
And finally, there’s the fashion, which, in the case of the Oscars, is almost more obsessed over than the awards themselves. But how many starlets in designer dresses does it take before they all start to blend in? Isn’t it more fun to see what Lady Gaga will wear, than say Penelope Cruz? We’re not sure about you, but we’d take an egg over Armani Privé any day of the week.