As the Hollywood writers’ strike threatens to disrupt the 50th annual Grammy telecast, some in the music industry are befuddled, frustrated and even resentful. “I feel torn, because I’m a writer,” R&B singer-songwriter Jill Scott, who is nominated for three Grammys, told The Writers Guild of America, which went on strike two months ago, has said it was unlikely to grant the Recording Academy a waiver to allow writers to work on the Feb. 10 show, the music industry’s most important event, set to be broadcast live on CBS from Los Angeles.
The guild, which is seeking compensation for programs, movies and other content streamed or downloaded over the Internet, refused to grant the waiver for the Golden Globes and threatened picketing, and the Screen Actors Guild encouraged its stars to stay away as well. As a result, the typically lavish three-hour televised awards extravaganza was reduced to a one-hour, celebrity-free newscast on Jan. 13.
While Recording Academy President Neil Portnow has insisted that a full-scale Grammys will continue no matter what – and Beyonce and the Foo Fighters announced they still plan to perform at the event – some musicians may sit out the broadcast in solidarity with writers, especially top-level musical superstars who also are actors, such as nominees Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys.
Scott, also an actress, said she felt empathy for the WGA and didn’t know what she would do if asked to perform at a picketed show.
“That’s not an easy decision for me,” she said. “I would feel like I’m choosing between my parents.”
Best new artist nominee Feist, who is up for four Grammys, told the AP last week she planned to go to the event.
“It’s going to be kind of a reunion for `The Reminder,’ everyone who was involved,” she said of her critically acclaimed album. “For us, it’s just a night to see everyone dressed up.”
That may change if the WGA pickets. She admitted she doesn’t really understand the issues involved in the writers strike, and because of that, she said, she turned down an invitation to appear last week on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”
“I just balked,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself crossing the picket line. I don’t know enough about the cause to speak about it, for or against. You cross the picket line, you have to speak about it.”
Another best new artist nominee and SAG member, R&B singer-songwriter Ledesi, was hopeful the situation could be worked out, but indicated that she would not go if the WGA picketed and SAG directed its members not to attend.
“We have to do what we have to do,” she said. “I’m praying that I get to go – I’ve been wanting to go for years.”
Many in the industry have declined to talk publicly about the issue for fear of alienating either side. But privately, some expressed frustration and anger that a musical event would be ensnared by a writers’ strike.
“The overriding initial reaction is ‘I don’t even understand what this has to do with the music industry.’ That really is the bottom line, because the reality is that over 700 hundred union members work on this particular show, (and) two of them are writers,” Portnow said Friday.
“We are in complete agreement of the aims and the goals of the writers, and we aim for those very same goals and rights and royalties and compensation for our own creators. … We should not be penalized.”
If the show were drastically altered or canceled because of the strike, it would be a major blow to an already ailing music industry: The Grammys can provide huge sales boost for winners and nominees, and for other performers who are featured on the show. There’s a sense of urgency this year, after another year of sharp sales decline, to experience that bump.
Still, “whatever the case, we should respect the writers,” said Grammy-winning rock legend Tom Petty, who is not in the Grammy race this year.
And as far as all the consternation and hand-wringing from others in the music industry about the fate of the awards show, Petty said, “I’ve never met a musician who gave a damn about the Grammys, actually.”