Hitfix goes to the Grammys: Why is U2 performing?

01.29.09 9 years ago

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Today, U2 was announced as one of the performers at the 51st annual Grammy Awards, airing Feb. 8 on CBS.

That’s great. I love U2. However, a quick scan of the nominations shows that U2, a perennial Grammy favorite, is not up for any Grammys on Feb. 8 because the Irish band didn’t release anything during the Oct. 1, 2008-Sept. 30, 2009 eligibility period.

And therein lies the rub. Not only is U2 playing the show, but the rumor is they are opening it. With a new album coming March 3, the timing is perfect for them, but their appearance shows just what a delicate dance NARAS (the body that puts on the Grammys) must negotiate between trying to earn high ratings and staying true to honoring the current slate of nominees.

Last year’s ratings were the third lowest in the history of the show (it still drew more than 17 million viewers, so that’s hardly anything to sneeze at) and the Grammys, like almost all awards show, are reexamining what they need to do to boost ratings without completely selling out.

This year will be the third year that the Grammys have “My Grammy Moment”-a contest that fans can enter that allows them to perform with an act (one lucky winner sang with Justin Timberlake two years ago). This year, people could make their own video singing along to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” Winners will be voted on online; the top three videos will be shown on the Grammys (I imagine as a backdrop during Perry’s performance). It’s cheesy and it skirts a line to me, but I don’t blame the Grammys for trying to bring in a younger audience.

The Grammys also tried a new move this year by announcing the nominations via a prime-time concert instead of the usual, early morning press conference. The Dec. 3 special, also on CBS, came in fourth in its time slot, but still drew seven million viewers. As the show’s co-executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, told me, “that’s seven million more people than might have known about the nominations otherwise.”

And yes, whether it’s the Grammys or the Oscars or the Golden Globes or the American Music Awards, there is the simple fact that these shows are about ratings, but they’re about more than that too-The Grammys and the Oscars, especially, are the high-water mark of excellence in peer-voted awards. There is something to be said for the pure art of it. I know all shows on broadcast television now live and die by how many 18-34-year olds tune in (which is ridiculous, by the way), but I have to believe there’s still a place for 17 million people to watch-even if U2 isn’t on the bill.

In addition to U2, there’s the usual strong, diverse slate of entertainers-the rest of whom are actually up for Grammys this year. So far, four of the five nominees in the album of the year will perform: Coldplay, Lil Wayne, Radiohead, and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. (Ne-Yo is the only one missing and artists are still being added). Other performers include Kid Rock, Rihanna, Kenny Chesney, Jennifer Hudson, Jonas Bros., Paul McCartney, T.I. and Timberlake, Carrie Underwood and Jay-Z and Kanye West, who will joint T.I. and Lil Wayne in a performance of “Swagga Like Us.”

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