Grammy Awards work hard to remain relevant
Change of venue follows Canadian example

Canadian Press - Irish singer Sinead O'Connor described the U.S.Grammy awards as representing "everything I despise about the music industry," when she refused her statuette in 1990.

The awards have long been ridiculed for embarrassing snubs and questionable salutes over their 38-year history. Some jaw-droppers included the Anita Kerr Singers (ever heard of them?) beating out the Beatles in 1965.

With the preponderance today of competing music awards, Grammy organizers have worked hard to make their kick at the can more relevant.

The Grammys overhauled the nomination system in 1996 to respond to criticism that big sellers mattered more than musical innovators.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences formed a 25-member panel to decide the top four nominations rather than the full, 9,000-strong academy membership.

Last year the new system passed the test, resulting in wins for cutting-edge artists such as Alanis Morissette, Pearl Jam and Coolio.

Melissa Ruggierei, pop music writer with the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, feels the Grammys are now "more in tune with the mainstream.

"You had the Three Tenors winning awards when major mainstream artists were nominated. That's when people really started to say, 'Hey, what's going on here?'"

Lydia Carole De Fretos, executive editor of the Montclear, N.J.-based Aquarian Weekly, said that while the Grammys are "a little bit hipper ... they still seem to make some pretty strange decisions."

De Fretos says some artists are equally unimpressed. "I interviewed Tori Amos and I said to her, 'I thought you were going on vacation but I guess you're going to be at the Grammys' and she just laughed. She said, 'Nope, it doesn't mean anything to me.'"

Winning platinum and gold sales awards mean much more to artists, De Fretos said.

MuchMusic, which ran a repeat of last fall's MTV Music Awards on Wednesday night as the Grammys were aired on CTV, poked fun at the Grammys in their commercials for the MTV rebroadcast.

"Forget the Grammys, Dennis Miller hosts the only award show that matters," the spot said.

While that's debatable, there's no question the Grammys have struggled to retain their relevancy and not be eclipsed by other awards shows.

That was a lot easier in 1958, the year record executives launched the Grammy Awards as the only major music awards in the United States.

Now there's the MTV Music Awards, American Music Awards, Billboard Awards and the annual Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner, not to mention a proliferation of country music awards shows that coincided with the genre's explosion in the early 1990s.

In Canada there's the Junos, Canadian Country Music Awards and the MuchMusic video awards competing for viewer interest.

In an attempt to inject some life into the tired format, Grammy organizers moved the 38th-annual awards to Madison Square Garden before 12,000 people. They had alternated between the 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan and the 6,300-seat Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles since 1978.

The larger arena allows for more music and less "mindless jibber-jabber" from musicians, the academy's Michael Greene says.

Organizers of Canada's Juno Awards have taken some of the credit for the Grammy move to the famed New York sports arena, saying the Americans have been impressed with the Juno presentation at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.

The Junos are back there March 9 before an audience of 10,000 people.