18 Ways the Grammys Will -- And Probably Won’t -- Look Like the VMAs

The Weeknd
Kevin Mazur/MTV VMAs 2020/Getty Images for MTV

The Weeknd performs at Edge at Hudson Yards for the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards broadcast on Aug. 30, 2020 in New York City.

Now that the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards, which aired on Aug. 30, are in the rearview, the big question is how the upcoming Grammy Awards, set for Jan. 31, will be similar -- and how they’ll be different.

Here are 18 ways the Grammys will and won’t look like the VMAs.


The Grammys may or may not be permitted to stage a conventional show at Staples Center: No one knows what COVID-19 restrictions will look like nearly five months from now. Will the Grammys be able to return to their customary home at Staples Center in Los Angeles, or will the show consist, as the VMAs did, of performance clips filmed in various locations?

The VMAs were originally set to be broadcast from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. COVID restrictions made that impossible. That may have been a blessing in disguise. The VMA show-opener, with The Weeknd performing “Blinding Lights” from the top of Hudson Yards’ The Edge, 1,000 feet above Manhattan, was stunning. Jesse Ignjatovic, who co-executive produced the show with Bruce Gillmer, told Billboard's Lyndsey Havens, “I think I’ve watched Abel’s performance maybe 60 times, and it just never gets old.” He’s right to feel proud. It was a sensational opener. You can almost hear him thinking to himself, “Top that, Grammys!”

Even when state and city officials give awards shows the green light to once again pack an arena -- Staples Center, Barclays Center, Bridgestone Arena in Nashville -- will show producers want to? Why confine yourself to a stage in an arena when you can have the whole world as your backdrop? COVID forced producers to, quite literally, think outside the box. They shouldn’t be too quick to rush back into that box.

The Weeknd may win the top prize at the Grammys, as he did at the VMAs: The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” took video of the year in a mild upset over the Lady Gaga/Ariana Grande collab “Rain on Me.” The Weeknd’s propulsive single may well also take the Grammy for record of the year. If it does, it will become only the second work to win both of these awards in the 37 years the VMAs have been presented. The first? Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” 15 years ago.

BTS will probably finally receive their first Grammy nod: BTS won four VMAs, including best group and best pop. The very next day, Aug. 31, the group’s new single, “Dynamite,” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 1. BTS will probably finally receive their first Grammy nominations this year.

The nominations review committee may save a spot for “Dynamite” in record of the year. Even if they don’t, a nod for best pop duo/group performance or perhaps best pop vocal album for Map of the Soul: 7 seems likely. (The Grammys don’t have a category for best K-pop performance. It will be interesting to see if they finally decide to add one for the awards that are presented in 2022 -- or if they’ll continue to wait and see if the genre has staying power.)

“Rain on Me” could win at the Grammys too: The Gaga/Grande collab “Rain on Me” won best collaboration at the VMAs. It may very well win best pop duo/group performance at the Grammys. It would be Gaga’s second win in that category in three years. She and Bradley Cooper shared the prize two years ago for “Shallow.”

We’ll probably see some of the acts that were MIA at the VMAs: We heard a bit of Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” on VMAs night, but only because the producers used it as walk-on music for another performer. Assuming Styles finally receives some Grammy nominations -- a safe assumption -- we’ll probably actually see him in the flesh. Other acts that weren’t a part of the VMAs (except for being nominated) that will probably show up at the Grammys include Billie Eilish, Post Malone, Roddy Ricch and J Balvin. (The latter two were set to perform at the VMAs, but pulled out days before the show.)

Black Lives Matter will be mentioned on the show and reflected in the nominations: Our national reckoning on race came up several times at the VMAs. DaBaby used a cop car as a prop in his performance, and H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe won in the socially-minded video for good category. The Grammys don’t have a category along the lines of video for good, but at least one song that touches on race will likely be nominated for song of the year.

Several like-minded songs have been nominated in that category in recent years, namely Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” (2015), Beyoncé’s “Formation” (2016) and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” (2018, which won both song and record of the year).

Grammy night will probably have a strong Latin component: This marked the third year in a row that the VMAs have had one or more Latin performances. Maluma sang "Hawái,” CNCO performed “Beso” and Latin trap and reggaeton star Nicky Jam joined The Black Eyed Peas for their show-closing performance. At the Grammys, Bad Bunny is thought to have a fairly good chance of landing an album of the year nod for YHLQMDLG.

One of the most heartening trends of recent years is the way that Latin music has moved into the mainstream. It has, for one thing, brought a melodic, romantic sound that has been in short supply in pop music in recent years.

The Grammys will not deliver a tight, compact show: The VMAs ran a trim 2:15. (The Brit Awards in February were also right in that range.) The Grammys ran 3:40 this year, which shaved five minutes off their 3:45 marathon in 2019. The Grammys, Emmys and Oscars are simply too long. Less really is more.

Part of the reason the VMAs were a pleasure to watch is they weren’t exhausting; the show was over before anyone thought “God, this is endless.” It’s hard to imagine the Grammys or their fellow EGOT-level shows ever going to their networks and saying “Gee, we don’t need all that time. We’ll take less money from you and give you a shorter show.” But maybe they should.

The Grammys won’t let winners know in advance: The VMAs informed Taylor Swift, Megan Thee Stallion and H.E.R. of their wins and the artists supplied acceptance videos. The Grammys have never done such a thing; you show up and take your chances. Sometimes, as when Michael Jackson and Santana each won eight awards in one night, an artist is very glad they made the trip. Other times, such as when Jay-Z went 0-8 three years ago, they no doubt wish they’d stayed home.

There’s something to be said for artists not knowing if they’re going to win or not. Gaga and The Weeknd clearly knew they were going to win. It takes some of the fizz out of an awards show when winners know in advance.

The Grammys won’t invent awards to get a big star on the show: The VMAs gave Gaga their first (and probably last) “Tricon award,” presumably to entice her to appear. But it seemed redundant, given that she also won artist of the year. The Grammys have never given out “made-up” awards. The closest they have ever come to that is the Grammy legend award, which has a much less defined selection process than their lifetime achievement and trustees awards. The most recent Grammy legend award was to Bee Gees in 2003. It was presented six weeks after Maurice Gibb’s death.

We’ll probably see some recordings placed in different genre categories: The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” won the VMA for best R&B. It will probably be slotted in the best pop solo performance category at the Grammys. Five years ago, The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” was nominated in that category, while the more soulful “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” won for best R&B performance. Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” won best hip-hop at the VMAs. The Grammys don’t have a hip-hop category, per se. The Megan Thee Stallion/Beyoncé collab could be nominated for best rap performance or best rap/sung performance.

The Grammys won’t reveal as much of their process (unfortunately): The VMAs took fans deep inside one category, push best new artist. They first announced 17 “quarter-finalists,” then six “semi-finalists,” then three finalists and finally the winner, Doja Cat. It was interesting to see that such well-known acts as Brockhampton and Summer Walker didn’t make it past the first list of 17 contenders; that Ricch didn’t make it to the final round. The Grammys are loathe to reveal the inner workings of any of their categories.

The Grammys won’t have new, just-for-this-year categories: The VMAs are much more nimble than the Grammys, which have processes in place and rarely deviate from them. The VMAs improvised and added three new categories this year-- best quarantine performance (won by CNCO), best music video from home (won by Grande and Justin Bieber’s “Stuck with U”) and everyday heroes: frontline medical workers (all five “nominees” were “winners”). These categories helped make the show seem timely and current.

The Grammys won’t sell branding rights: Four of the VMA awards – push best new artist, presented by Chime Banking; video for good, presented by Pepsi; best music video from home, presented by Coors Light; and everyday heroes: frontline medical workers, brought to you by Extra Gum – had corporate sponsors. The Grammys have never done such a thing—and hopefully never will. (Shows below the EGOT-level shows often need to make such arrangements for financial reasons.)

There will be surprises and upsets at the Grammys, too: Some were caught off guard when BTS’s “On” won best pop, beating “Rain on Me,” among others. There are always surprises at awards shows; outcomes that no one saw coming. There will be at the Grammys, too.

We’ll probably see another strong host performance: Alicia Keys will presumably return as Grammy host for the third year in a row. She did a great job in her first two outings. But she’ll have her work cut out for her to meet the standard Keke Palmer set at the VMAs. Palmer always hit the right note, from a tender opening dedication to actor Chadwick Boseman, who died two days before show day, to sassy comic skits later in the show. The VMAs would do well to ask her back next year.

Stylish face masks will probably continue to be a thing: Gaga will be a hard act to follow in this area, but we’ll probably see more imaginative and outlandish face coverings at the Grammys. Will shows like E!’s Fashion Police start recapping the night’s best face masks? Most likely.

No one will have their crotch lit up on the Grammys: The Grammys aren’t as staid as they used to be. Still, it’s a safe bet that no one will have their crotch lit up like members of the Black Eyed Peas did in their show-closing performance at the VMAs. The VMAs “went there” to get people talking. The Grammys would probably say, “That’s not our brand.”

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