To complement my movie coverage, I am introducing a new article series I’m calling “Pop Culture Chats.” Think of it as a version of your typical water cooler talk surrounding the latest in our pop culture zeitgeist.

What caught my attention recently was the Grammy Music Awards. The illustrious ceremony gathers countless eyeballs as music’s marquee names all wait to see if they receive the validation of an ugly gold radio statue. Mostly, they seem to be the same names year after year.

Like most award shows, the Grammys operate within the confines of an extremely narrow viewpoint. The artists who dominate the charts tend to receive the most recognition, while countless subcategories act as a supposed platform for spreading attention to an eclectic assortment of genres.

The thing is, these niche categories do more to trivialize diversity rather than recognize their merit. Jay-Z spoke frankly about how Beyonce, the artist with the most Grammy wins ever, has never received Album of the Year recognition. It seems like an odd occurrence for someone with a cultural footprint stretching over two decades in the industry. Similarly, a rapper like Kendrick Lamar can produce a profound masterwork like 2017’s “DAMN” that wins a much-coveted Pulitzer Prize but not Album of the Year.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Taylor Swift and acknowledge her seismic influence over modern music. Four Album of the Year victories remains an outstanding achievement, and many of those projects she won boast tremendous merit. That said, I think even Taylor would agree that the Grammys tend to play favorites. Their snobbery does not consider rap, metal, country, alternative or several other musical genres worthy of consideration compared to Billboard 200 pop hits.

The Academy Awards operates a similar racket. I’ve become so detached from what is considered cinema’s biggest event because it rinses and repeats the same formula year after year — voters falling in love with the story of what an award win would mean.

For example, award voters swooned last year over Brendan Fraser for his committed work in the admittedly cloying and melodramatic “The Whale.” The movie received mixed reviews and left a minor pop culture blip, but what attracted voters was the notion of awarding Fraser, a much-beloved ’90s star who returned to glory after a dormant period in his career.
The Oscars follow these narratives without fail. Recent winners like Alicia Vikaner for “The Danish Girl” and Raimi Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody” display voters’ penchant for crowning who they deem are emerging Hollywood stars, even though both films faced aggressive opposition from some critics and audiences.

Another Oscar favorite is the “let’s award the acting veterans” cliche. Whether it is a long-overdue star (Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”) or a sturdy character actor that shinned for years in supporting roles (Paul Giamatti, who is destined to win for “The Holdovers”), the Academy takes every chance they can get to pat themselves for honoring industry favorites. Often, these actors are winning for less beloved roles in their catalog.

Let us not forget that the Academy Awards often reward the same film brands. Historical biopics and meditative dramas dominate the forefront every year. I credit the Oscars for getting more adventurous over the years; this year features refreshing comedies like “Barbie” and “American Fiction.” Still, there are far too many overwrought duds like the Netflix clunker “Maestro” that somehow stumble to the podium.

The Emmys, TV’s award show, is barely worth mentioning. They tend to lazily regurgitate the same picks every year, evidenced by shows like “Modern Family” and “Veep” winning Best Comedy four years in a row. It is the epitome of copying the essay you wrote last year for your new assignment.

As much as I am ranting about these bizarre politics, award shows’ worst attribute is the notion of defining objectivity within subjective art forms. Why must we pretend that a best album or performance exists when there is no metric for defining it? Genres vary significantly in aesthetics and approach; how can you rank brilliance in one creative sphere over another?

Retired Reminder Publishing Executive Editor Mike Dobbs and I are passionate fans of cult B-movies and recognize their cheeky brilliance. We also know that no universe exists where a Vinegar Syndrome darling would receive mainstream accolades over stuffy period pieces.

If there is a message to be found within this rambling, it would be to stop paying mind to the glitz and glamor of award shows. Let’s spend more time celebrating the art we love and share it with others, which in turn exposes us to thrilling new worlds that do not need prize validation to be worthwhile.

Matt Conway
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