Friday, April 08, 2011

Grammys 2012: Bad news for lovers of long lists and scrolling

Having suddenly noticed that they're running a rambling, never-ending competition the Grammys are having a bit of a cull, shrinking from 109 categories to 79.

They're not bringing polka back, in other words.

There's two approaches they're using to get the numbers down. The first is by insisting that the category under consideration is worthy of giving prizes. So longlists must now contain at least 40 entrants; if a category can only come up with 25 to 39 entrants, they shrink it so that the nominations will only go to three entrants.

That speeds things up a little.

If there are fewer than 25 entries, though, the category simply won't happen. That's quite a big change. More interestingly, if a category goes three years without being able to hit the not-at-all-arbitrary 25 entrants, it will cease to exist.

It's not entirely clear what's meant to happen if a category becomes unfashionable for a few years and then suddenly shoots back into vogue - say, if 'best cajun or zydeco record' has a lean few years, only for Lady GaGa and Beady Eye to go cajun and start a revival, there doesn't seem to be a mechanism for that category to re-enter the awards.

It's a fair idea, though - if you can't find enough tracks, albums or acts to make it a real competition perhaps the award becomes a bit meaningless. It's not totally a way to use maths to force out minority music and allow a bit more time to focus on Justin Beiber.

The other change is much more significant, though: the Grammys have abolished gender. Male and female prizes - such as 'best male pop performance' and 'best female pop performance' - have been merged to create one category, 'best solo pop performance'.

This is long-overdue, somewhat radical and quite noteworthy. Somewhat surprisingly, it doesn't even merit a mention in the official release about the changes to the categories - it's as if the Provisional Government had focused on the detail of changes to the relationship between the civil service and the duma and didn't bother mentioning the whole abdication of Nicholas II.

It makes sense in the 21st century - what's important is 'who's the best singer' rather than 'who's the best singer who stands up to pee, and who is the best singer who sits down' - but you can understand the nerves at the Academy as they roll out this change. This isn't about telling Bluegrass musicians they're going to have to shape up; this is actually cutting categories that record labels care about.

Suddenly, instead of having a prize for GaGa and a prize for Bruno Mars, they're going to be fighting for a single prize. And I'm using "prize" in the sense of "airtime on network television" here. (In the case of the 2011 awards, I think it's fairly clear that Bruno Mars would not have had to interrupt his drinking to head for the stage.)

You could never imagine the Oscars doing that - even though they should.

We're still a few years away from the Grammys dropping all the album categories, but for now, this does feel like a big, brave thing to do. Even if they still have 79 categories.