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TikTok, time is up for the traditional Grammy awards

05 April 2022

By Emily Chen

Avid readers of the SEC Newgate newsletter will be familiar with my scepticism for traditional awards shows; the recent Grammy Awards ceremony however, was different. The 64th Grammy Awards took place on Sunday evening in Las Vegas, and this year’s winners represent a shift towards the democratisation of award ceremonies.  

The success of the Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Soundtrack suggests that public appeal was considered when choosing winners this year. Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear recorded fifteen Netflix-series-themed tracks in their bedrooms, published the videos on TikTok, and in doing so, clinched the prize for Best Musical Theatre Album, beating the 30th Anniversary of the Les Misérables cast recording in the process. Their initial stint as TikTok viral sensations was arguably the primary, if not sole reason that they were a contender, with the original ‘Burn For You’ video garnering 5.3m views and counting.  

Due to both the example above and the subjective nature of music, surely it should not be left to a Recording Academy’s voting members to determine what is ‘best’. If this remained the case, then music targeting the demographic most represented amongst members would consistently be more likely to win. In fact, the decisions of the voting body left Mariah Carey and music critics stunned when she lost in all nominated categories in 1996. Hence, when separating winners from nominees, I believe that voters should consider how much an artist has captured the public’s attention. Once artists have been officially Grammy nominated, they are of equal outstanding but incomparable quality. Therefore, protecting the existing nominations process and choosing the winner based on who has captured the most public attention ensures that Grammy winners are both popular, and good.   

If this is the future, could studio executives seek to buy views to get Grammys? The TikTok algorithm precludes this from happening. It deliberately brings videos with varying numbers of likes across every person’s For You page, meaning that studio-produced, big-budget video will not certainly make it across every user. Further, virality is based on interaction. For example, Barlow and Bear had thousands of people create ‘duets’ to their songs, which brought an even larger audience to their original videos. For context, a TikTok duet is when one is able to record a video that plays alongside the original when posted. Short of industry professionals paying millions of people to produce video responses to their artist’s music, which the Recording Academy would notice, TikTok is proving itself as a good measure of mass appeal. 

On balance, TikTok views are one thing to consider when choosing the ultimate winner of this prestigious music award, and I hope that this is one of the many lessons taken into the next awards season.