Congratulations are due to the American Music Awards. During yesterday’s running AMAs diary, I pointed out that if it weren’t for the Billboard Music Awards, the AMAs would be the single shittiest annual music-awards show. Earlier today, Idolator reported that the Billboards won’t be happening this year, which saves me from two excruciating hours of TV and which officially renders the AMAs the worst award-show of the year, a distinction that Sunday night’s show certainly lived up to. The Billboard Awards have been happening every December since 1990, but their cancellation this year is no great loss whatsoever. Even back in middle school, when my critical facilities were still so weak and underdeveloped that I paid good money for an Ugly Kid Joe album, I knew the Billboard Awards were some bullshit. I knew they were bullshit because nobody who won an award ever seemed the least bit shocked or surprised. In fact, nobody involved in the production of the show ever bothered to manufacture any sense of suspense whatsoever. I can remember watching Kris Kross win the Best New Artist award in 1992 (I think they beat Nirvana), and rather than coming out of their seats in the audience to accept the award, they burst out of a giant Christmas-present box onstage and performed before making their way to the podium to accept the award. While I was watching the show, I remember feeling really gypped. Kris Kross obviously wouldn’t have been sitting onstage in that giant Christmas-present box unless they knew they were going to win that award, and if they knew beforehand that they were winning, that what was the fucking point?
The Billboards won’t be happening this year presumably because the show’s always gotten bad ratings and because those ratings have only gotten worse. I didn’t do a running diary of last year’s show (or, for that matter, last year’s AMAs) simply because I forgot that the thing was even on. If a daily music blogger can’t remember to watch a music award show, what hope does the rest of America have? I still have painful memories of the 2005 show: Chingy and Larry the Cable Guy struggling through their award-presentation banter, Ashlee Simpson performing with Pretty Ricky, Pharrell doing reggaeton. If the viewing public of America decided not to watch that ten-car pileup last year, who could blame them? The fools behind the Billboard Awards are saying that they’re canceling this year’s show so that they can put together a bigger and better show in 2008, but I’d be shocked if these awards actually return. Since the awards have always been forthright about acknowledging the biggest-selling artists rather than the by-consensus best, they’ve never looked like anything other than a cheap ratings-grab. That in itself isn’t terrible; the AMAs did just fine with that exact same setup for a while. But the Billboards always felt like an afterthought. For all the proof you need, check the list of past hosts at the Billboards’ Wikipedia page. They were prescient enough to get Jon Stewart in 1995 and Chris Rock in 1996, but the rest of that list is just grisly: Paul Shaffer, Phil Collins, Kathy Griffin and Andy Dick together. I can’t imagine anyone is going to mourn the death of anything this consistently shitty.
But the announcement of that death, coming right after a near-unwatchable American Music Awards, got me wondering what exactly has happened to the music awards show. Awards shows don’t actually reflect the state of the music industry; they only reflect how the music industry wants to present itself, which is why unthreatening MOR types so often walk away with armfuls of Grammys. But there used to be some sense of glamor when basically the entire music industry would assemble under one roof. That’s basically gone, and even the Grammys need to rely on stunts like luring boomer heroes out of semi-retirement because the actual music of today just won’t draw the large-scale ratings they need to survive. It’s getting boring to talk about the splintering and narrowcasting of what was once a vast pop-music audience; everyone knows it’s happening, nobody knows what to do about it or whether anything even should be done about it, and we’re all getting sick of hearing about it. As a result, the only dependably entertaining music-awards shows are the ones that focus on one specific corner of the music universe: the CMAs, say, or the BET Hip-Hop Awards. At shows like these, guys like Kenny Chesney or Lil Wayne end up looking like major stars only because they’re surrounded by their peers. At mass-audience award-shows, though, their names simply don’t carry the same weight. The AMAs had to give Beyonce a lifetime-achievement award to convince her to show up, and they needed her; she’s one of the only pop-music stars with a big enough name to actually attract eyeballs. Before long, there will be no Beyonces left, and maybe musicians will no longer gather in well-lit auditoriums to congratulate themselves and thank their managers, a truly scary thought.