Lil Nas X’s record-breaking smash “Old Town Road” (featuring Billy Ray Cyrus) is competing in two categories at the American Music Awards on Nov. 24, vying for favorite song in both pop/rock and rap/hip-hop. That could never happen at the Grammys, where every recording can compete in only one genre category. (At the Grammys, “Old Town Road” is vying for a nom for best pop duo/group performance.)
That’s just one difference between the AMAs and the Grammys. Here are 14 more.
2. The most important distinction: Fans vote for the AMAs, while artists, producers, songwriters and others who work in some aspect of the recording field vote for the Grammys.
3. The word “favorite” appears in the name of 25 of the 29 AMA categories. The word “best” appears in the name of 79 of the 84 Grammy categories. In both cases, voters are probably picking their favorites. It’s just that when professionals do it, their choices are seen as somehow denoting the best.
4. The Grammys are part of the prized EGOT; the AMAs aren’t. Another sign of the Grammys’ greater prestige: The phrase “Grammy Award winner” appears high in the obituaries of virtually all artists who have won one. An artist’s history at the AMAs is rarely mentioned in obits.
5. The AMAs have three categories that the Grammys have never had, in any form: artist of the year, tour of the year and favorite social artist.
6. In 2011, the Grammys did away with separate categories for male and female artists. The AMAs have separate awards for male and female artists in pop/rock, country and soul/R&B.
7. The Grammys have only one category (best new artist) where artists aren’t nominated for any particular work. Most AMA categories (18 out of 29) work that way.
8. The AMAs have just three nominees in most categories (22 out of 29 categories). That reflects AMA creator Dick Clark’s desire to make it easy for the viewer to follow along and to root for a favorite. The Grammys had five or more nominees in all categories last year. (Last year, the Grammys jumped from five to eight nominees in each of its Big Four categories.)
9. The AMAs have a looser, less defined eligibility year than the Grammys do. Panic! at the Disco‘s “High Hopes,” which was released in May 2018, is nominated this year at the AMAs, as is Post Malone‘s Hollywood’s Bleeding, which was released in September 2019. Neither was eligible in this truncated Grammy year (Oct. 1, 2018 through Aug. 31, 2019), though a live version of “High Hopes” is entered in the Grammy process.
10. The Grammys have awards for numerous genres that the AMAs don’t recognize, including classical, jazz, gospel, new age, reggae, world music, children’s, spoken word, comedy, musical theater, Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk and regional roots music. Also, the Grammys recognize numerous industry professionals that the AMAs don’t honor, such as songwriters, producers, composers, arrangers, art directors, album notes writers, remixers and engineers.
11. Here’s a surprise: Even though the Grammys have nearly three times as many categories as the AMAs, the AMAs have more categories than the Grammys do in one field: country. The AMAs have five country categories, to the Grammys’ four.
12. The AMAs incorporate the term “hip-hop” in three categories. The Grammys have never used that term in the name of a category; they use the term “rap.” Also, the Grammys use the term “contemporary Christian” in the name of three categories. The AMAs use the more generic and perhaps euphemistic “contemporary inspirational.”
13. The AMAs combine pop and rock. Since 1979, the Grammys have had separate pop and rock categories. Also, the AMAs have a category for adult contemporary, which the Grammys have never had. (Though the Grammys’ decision this year to expand the definition of its best traditional pop vocal album category pulls it closer to the AMAs’ adult contemporary category.)
14. The AMAs have always emanated from Los Angeles. The Grammy telecast usually emanates from LA, but has aired from New York 10 times and from Nashville once.
15. The AMAs have aired in the fall (usually November) since 2003. The Grammys have aired in the first quarter of the year ever since they became a live telecast in 1971.
Clark created the AMAs in 1973 as a more viewer-friendly alternative to the Grammys. The AMAs first aired in February 1974. For the first five years, the show focused entirely on mainstream genres with the broadest appeal: pop/rock, soul/R&B and country. Clark’s philosophy was: Let the Grammys cover classical and jazz and other specialized music forms; we’ll zero in on the genres that the broad TV audience actually listens to and cares about. It proved to be a winning formula. For a time in the ’80s, the AMAs got better ratings than the Grammys.
Over the years, the two telecasts have become less distinct from each other.
The AMAs have had an undeniable impact on the Grammys; when was the last time you saw a jazz or classical segment on the Grammys? The Grammys may not be as overtly commercial and ratings-driven as the AMAs, but they have moved noticeably in that direction.
And over the years the AMAs have acknowledged that music isn’t quite as simple as Clark’s founding premise of focusing on three “super genres.” The AMAs have added 15 awards that didn’t exist that first year, including ones for rap/hip-hop, alternative rock, adult contemporary, Latin, contemporary inspirational and electronic dance music (EDM).
Post-script: Clark received a Trustees Award from the Recording Academy in 1990. Three years later, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. He died in 2012.
Clark would have turned 90 on Nov. 30 — six days after the AMAs telecast. Will the show acknowledge their founder on his milestone birthday? Would Clark have wanted them to, or would Clark, a TV professional to the core, have said, “Oh for heaven’s sake, who cares about that? Focus on today. “
Note: Grein worked with Clark in 1993, when he co-wrote the American Music Awards’ 20th anniversary special. dick clark productions, producer of the American Music Awards, is owned by Valence Media, which also owns Billboard.