The Grammys, the crowning jewel of the music industry’s calendar year, happen a fortnight before the film industry equivalent, the Oscars. The musical awards pit peers against each other like every other awards ceremony, but do so in a way that makes more sense than most. It means excellence is rewarded across the medium, rather than have everyone fight for the same title.
The Grammys do have a “General” category which tends to favour chart toppers and musical sensations. It was no real surprise when Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars won Record of the Year for Uptown Funk at last year’s ceremony – it was undoubtedly the song of the twelve months prior.
Pop music is wide-ranging, and so the Grammys break it down further. While winning Record of the Year inevitably meant it would have similar success in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category under the “Pop” strand, having a separate Best Pop Solo Performance category meant Ed Sheeran was able to duke it out with Kelly Clarkson, Ellie Goulding, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd, while Ronson and Mars fought off Florence + The Machine, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar, and Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth. There are separate categories for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Vocal Album under the “Pop” strand as well, and so a genre is represented, while not being compared to something that aims to be wholly different.
Meaning, Ghost were able to win Best Metal Performance against August Burns Red, Lamb of God, Sevendust, and Slipknot because the “Rock” strand exists to distinguish that type of music from what appears under “Pop.” Same goes for “Dance/Electronic” and “R&B” and “Rap” and so on. Where Ed Sheeran’s mastery of twee-indie tear-stained pop was rewarded appropriately, so too were Ghost’s demonic-Pope-led Abba-influenced metal tunes. Sheeran and Ghost do not appeal to the same people, are not setting out to achieve the same thing, and are as comparable as apples and oranges.
As journalists, film fans, and publications compile their year-end lists and award ceremony picks in the film industry, the lack of categories becomes increasingly frustrating. Diversity in film is a problem regarding white dominance and whitewashing, but diversity in the type of film we are exposed to is also stunted due to the Oscars and the BAFTAs simply have one “Best Picture/Film” category. There is a reliable trend that the winner of the top prize will see a box office boost following the ceremony, and so there is a real responsibility faced by these bodies to showcase significant achievements.
Except film, like music, appeals to a broad range of people. A victory for Ghost in Best Metal Performance might encourage a metal music fan who has never heard of them before to check them out, but that same fan is less likely to feel the same way towards Ed Sheeran’s win.
And so we are faced with the issue of films like Moonlight, La La Land, and Arrival competing for one prize. Moonlight is an exceptional human story about blackness, masculinity, sexuality, and the crushing weight of expectation. La La Land is about chasing artistic dreams, reaching for the stars, and reinvigorating the musical genre. Arrival offers up intelligent and accessible sci-fi about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, communication, and inevitability.
Moonlight and La La Land are Ghost and Ed Sheeran competing for the same prize. Moonlight tells untold stories, putting blackness front and centre, dealing with masculinity in a raw and relatable way, and wants people who see themselves in the film to raise their eyes from the ground and look straight ahead with confidence. La La Land wants you to enter a fantastical world where there is already an established fine-ness, upon which you have the luxury to dream big and dare to fail, while empathising with those who show that bravery. Both are exceptional films, but they hardly deserve to compete against each other.
The Golden Globes works perfectly for this exact dilemma – the Best Picture category is split in two, one showcasing Drama and the other Musical or Comedy. While this presents its own problems (a mood that Musical or Comedy is secondary to Drama), it does allow exceptional achievements to be rewarded appropriately. Moonlight is not appealing to the same audience or trying to say the same thing as La La Land, and vice versa, and neither should be punished for that by being made to compete. Moonlight won in the Drama category, and La La Land won in Musical or Comedy.
There is already an unfortunate hierarchy within award shows. Having Best Animated Feature Film and Best Foreign Language Film categories at the Oscars pigeonholes the featured films as worthy of praise but not enough to feature in the Best Picture category. Genre fiction is rarely rewarded even if there is broad critical consensus that it is a strong body of work, with one of the few exceptions being a healthy showing from the Lord of the Rings series.
Breaking film award ceremonies down to offer more variety would allow us to celebrate more artistry. Sci fi is often neglected, horror is rarely mentioned at all, and even a category for blockbusters would add some fun, since those that make over a billion dollars at the box office are not given recognition.
A number of the films featured in the highest categories resonated with me on a personal level, and all of them did it through different methods. As films, it makes sense that they are given the appropriate recognition by being featured in the Best Picture category, but it is a shame only one can win when they all reach for such different goals, audiences, themes, and emotions. Like putting pop against metal against rap, it makes little sense, and Moonlight against La La Land against Arrival makes for a stacked competition on the surface but a flawed delivery underneath.