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We are in the throes of awards season. Social media is flooded with images of your favorite actors and musicians on red carpets, accepting awards, telling themselves and each other how great they are. I haven’t seen most of the nominated films and television shows, but that doesn’t stop me from tuning in to all these bloated, three-plus hour circles of self-congratulation. The painful red-carpet interviews where people you have never heard of (except for Laverne Cox, she’s good) enthusiastically ask celebrities the worst possible questions are the perfect amuse-bouche for the big show, where even legends get aggressively played offstage by a producer in a headset armed with elevator music. Everyone performs: Some winners go funny, others go emotional or political. It’s a dice roll when any name is called, and I can’t get enough.
At the Golden Globes, Jo Koy’s innocuous Taylor Swift joke fell flat, especially after they cut to her in the crowd with a disapproving look on her face. Niecy Nash started her rousing and emotional Emmy speech with a shout-out to the presenters of her award, Quinta Brunson and Marla Gibbs, and she ended by thanking herself—a funny but honest reaction. Matty Matheson accepted The Bear’s sixth Emmy of the night, but not before getting a victory kiss from costar Ebon Moss-Bachrach. These moments were discussed on social media, in my group chat, and even, wildly, in real life.
My love affair with awards shows started with the MTV Video Music Awards. Those were a loose spectacle, the opposite of the more stuffy Grammys. In its heyday, the VMAs produced countless memorable moments, from Britney Spears performing with a snake to Lady Gaga parading around in a meat dress to Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift onstage. I have attended the VMAs a few times. The first was in 2006 in New York, when the show opened with The Killers debuting a new song, “When You Were Young,” from their best album, Sam’s Town, which I still listen to often. I took frequent trips to the bathroom, marveled at Paris Hilton’s height and stiletto size, and rode in a Sprinter to an afterparty somewhere in the Meatpacking District, where a record label president introduced me to Jessica Simpson.
I went again in 2019 as a guest of my friend Naomi Fry. This time it was at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, which was decidedly less glamorous. We were bussed from Midtown with other members of the media, and our seats weren’t great. Still, we were both taken by the odd choice of host, comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, and how deep Video Vanguard winner Missy Elliott’s catalog is.
These days, I will watch any of these shows. You can catch me on the couch tuning in to the CMAs, where I barely know half of the country artists nominated. This month, I was glued to the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, and the Emmys. Award shows are the last gasp of appointment television, the rare happening during which you can log on to Twitter or Instagram and see your peers talking about the same things: how cool Ayo Edebiri and Greta Lee looked, that Barbie was robbed, how the real star of Saltburn was Barry Keoghan’s dick, and was Jo Koy the best choice to host?
It is reminiscent of a different time, when everyone gathered around the television at 8 p.m. on Thursday nights for NBC’s Must See TV, and a single episode of Seinfeld or Friends would dominate the conversation—actual, in-person conversations, that is—until the following week. Getting the collective to focus on a single piece of entertainment feels insane in 2024, when we have everything we could want, anytime we want it. Awards shows serve a purpose beyond Hollywood navel-gazing and back-patting. They bring us together—fun, harmless jokes and debates about the beautiful and successful may be the last things we can all agree on.
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