Grammys vs. AMAs: critical vs. popular or just a matter of time?
Lehren Hollywood

While the Grammys are well behind us (but coming up quickly again), we still have the 43rd American Music Awards to look forward to, which air this Sunday on ABC. Given that the two awards shows have been competing for nearly 50 years, we thought it would be nice to take a stroll down memory lane to see how the AMAs and Grammys evolved together.

The Grammys were first held in 1959. They were created when The Hollywood Walk of Fame committee was trying to compile a list of record industry people who would qualify for a star on Hollywood Boulevard. When they realized that not everyone could get a star, they created the Grammys to honor members of the music industry who might not make it to the famous walk. The AMAs were the brainchild of American Band Stand host and music industry legend Dick Clark when ABCs contract for the Grammys was up and taken over by CBS. Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond co-hosted the first show in 1974.

The AMAs weren’t just a Grammy clone; simply put, they are different in that nominees are chosen by popular vote whereas Grammy nominations are decided by votes from The Recording Academy. Predictably, however, the two award shows tend to mirror each other.

For instance, in 1974 (the first year the AMAs were held) Stevie Wonder took home two AMAs (Best Soul/R&B Male and Best Soul/R&B Single for “Superstition”) and four Grammys for R&B Vocal and R&B Song both for “Superstition” as well as Pop Vocal for “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” and Album of the Year for Innervisions. R&B singer Roberta Flack and country artist Charlie Rich also won similar crossover awards at both the Grammys and the AMAs the same year.

Flash-forward to 1984, or as it should properly be referred to “The Year of Michael Jackson.” MJ won a record breaking eight Grammys, and guess what? Another record breaking eight AMAs, all in similar categories. Marty McFly form 84 to 2014 (okay, I’m a year off). The big winners at the 2014 Grammy were Daft Punk (5), Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (4), and Lorde (2). But here’s the shocker, none of those artists won an AMA that year. Looks like we Marty McFlew too far.

One thing that may account for the discrepancies is that the Grammy’s are held at the beginning of the year have been since the inception of the AMAs. So they honor accomplishments made in the previous year. The AMAs started out airing their program at the beginning of the year to compete with the Grammys. But in 2003 there were actually two different AMAs (those were the days), one aired in January and one aired in November. From 2003 to the present the AMAs have aired at the end of the year and honor accomplishments largely made in that year.

So, to quote Austin Powers, “What does it all mean, Basil?” It means that ABC made a pretty good move in moving the AMAs to the end of the year ahead of the Grammys and that the AMAs are a pretty good barometer for who is going to win at the Grammys but not necessarily vice versa. For example, as noted above, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won four Grammys in 2014 and two AMAs in 2013. But this isn’t a sure fire way to predict the Grammys. It seems that popular vs. critical still comes into play. The AMAs in recent years have been a bit more bubblegum oriented, because it is mostly teenagers and music buyers keen on selling to teenagers who vote and because the rift between pop music and other genres has widened in the past 25 years or so. The Grammys offer a relatively more mature selection. For instance, at the 2013 Grammys, Gotye and Kimbra won Record of the Year for “Somebody I Used to Know” and Gotye, Jay-Z, and The Black Keys all took home three awards, the common denominator here is these artists were dealing with slightly more mature subject matter.

So, as far as predictions go (read some of our AMA predictions), the AMAs are bit unpredictable but a safe bet is with the pop stuff, and the winners should give us a pretty good idea of how the Grammy nominations will play out. Enjoy!