Covering awards shows like the Grammys and Oscars made me grumpy. They allow rich and famous people to become even more rich and famous, and I was part of the problem.
I understand some of the psychology behind stars making a big deal out of getting cheap tchotchkes, corporate “attaboys.” They overcame huge odds to achieve their fleeting fame, after all. But they’re also millionaires with fancy cars, big homes and jet-setting lifestyles. Isn’t that reward enough? And, not to sound too idealistic, but why are we treating artistic endeavors as if they were the Olympics? It’s remarkable how a serious performer’s cynicism towards awards shows melts when he gets a prize.
I can’t decide if it’s good or bad that awards shows have been reduced to fashion shows. The talk of the 2000 Grammys was not Santana’s sweep of the top prizes but Jennifer Lopez’s plunging Versace dress, which incidentally is stored at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
None of the on-camera glamour is evident in the cramped and distant press rooms. Maybe if the organizers had plied the media with alcohol and a buffet, I would have been more enthused. We struggled to follow the developments on TV monitors which were periodically silenced when trophy-toting celebs graced us with their presence to answer penetrating questions like, How does it feel to win your award/meet other performers? What’s next in your career? But those were genius compared to the random zingers thrown their way by the investigative reporters from People and US Weekly: Who are you wearing? What are you doing for Thanksgiving (which may be several months away)? Do you have favorite school moments?
Sometimes I enlivened things to stave off boredom. Citing a recent news report that Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” was the most requested song at British crematorium funerals, I asked the pop diva backstage at the 1994 American Music Awards if she planned to have the song played at her own funeral. She glared at me, and then-husband Bobby Brown looked as if he might pounce. Well, we eventually found out the obvious answer.
The last question I ever asked at an event was to Blake Lively at the MTV Movie Awards in 2011, shortly after some nude photos hit the Web. We had been told the pretty Gossip Girls starlet would not take questions because she was simply going to pose for the photographers who shared the tent with us. Undaunted, I yelled out as she walked past the press contingent: “Blake, do you plan to pose for any more nude photos?” She either ignored or didn’t hear me. Her publicist shot me a venomous glance, and an MTV stooge reprimanded me, “No questions!”
I went on auto-pilot for these throwaway shows, where the winners were subordinate to the performances and the red-carpet fashions. Someone gets the most prizes, someone is snubbed, someone makes an ass of himself. The end. The American Music Awards are a low-rent version of the Grammys. (The top photo shows ‘N Sync at the AMAs in 1999.) For many years, the big AMA winners did not even turn up. Those who did pretended to be ecstatic to add a pointed acrylic statuette to their collection of junk. The performances were lip-synched, which never bothered the excitable civilians dressed to the nines in the cheap seats.
The Grammys, for some reason, brought out my obsessive-compulsive competitiveness and some good old-fashioned professional pride. I covered them singlehandedly, crushing AP’s large crew. A week or two beforehand, I prewrote stories, gathered statistics and fun facts, and color-coded artists’ names in the weighty list of nominations. With 100-plus categories to keep tabs on, a lot of math was involved and the organizers were too inept to provide tallies or historical data. Nowhere on the Grammys website can you find a list of the most-honored artists in Grammy history. I have that list. Every year I prepared a story in case Neil Young won the first Grammy of his 40-year career. Finally he won in 2010, and my exhaustive piece went worldwide within minutes of his name being called out.
I was genuinely pleased for underdog or surprise Grammy winners, especially if I had interviewed them. But it was a slippery slope. Why did I care that Carlos Santana or Justin Timberlake or Jay-Z had been judged to be the “best” in their musical genres? Did I really gasp when Maroon 5 was named best new artist? Or when Eminem got beaten for album of the year a couple of times? I should have taken a page from his rule book. He doesn’t seem to give a crap about awards. He did not even show up to the Academy Awards to collect his songwriting Oscar for 8 Mile.
I was a no-show sometimes, too. I monitored some events on television from the office. Once I watched Miss USA on one channel and the Daytime Emmy Awards on another, writing my stories simultaneously on a split laptop screen. I never missed the Spirit Awards, though. The art house version of the Oscars was a boozy midday gathering underneath a marquee on Santa Monica beach, and I composed some of my best literature while loaded on gin and tonics.
The other big Hollywood events – the Oscars, Golden Globes, Primetime Emmys – were team efforts under others’ control. Some of my colleagues lobbied furiously to attend these shows, desperate to be a part of the glamour. I preferred the relative calm of the office, where pizza was ordered in – or from home, where I didn’t have to bother getting dressed. Far from the madding crowd, I carved out a niche as Mr. Negative, writing about the “losers” – the films and TV shows that were snubbed.
I probably should have been embarrassed to attend awards shows once I reached the wrong side of 40. Backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards a few years back, I surveyed my fellow two-dozen scribes. They were mostly eager young women who knew the names of all the reality-show B-listers on hand. The old-timers with whom I had covered these things a decade or two earlier had grown up, moved to proper jobs or been laid off, or simply died.
Copyright © 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING