Award season review: A new golden age?

The 2024 award season is finally behind us. As Margot Robbie hangs up her pink ensembles, and Cillian Murphy retires his Oppenheimer acceptance speech, we explore key takeaways from the season – including new-found audiences and platforms for celebrities and brands, and whether we’re now back in the golden age of awards.

Awards enter their Gen-Z era 

Just a few years ago, declining viewership figures signalled to some that we had seen the death of the awards show, which had in many ways become outdated and out of touch. Fast forward to 2024, and ratings suggest that annual awards could well be bouncing back, in part boosted by new-found interest from Gen-Z.

US viewership of the 2024 Oscars hit a four year high, with 19.5 million people tuning in. On this side of the pond, they were broadcast free-to-air for the first time in almost two decades, peaking at 1.1 million viewers (despite host Jonathan Ross getting lambasted on social media). But it’s not just film and TV awards returning to glory – the 2024 Grammy audience was the highest since the 2020 ceremony. 

There are so many factors at play when it comes to the salience of grand events (Taylor Swift’s attendance doesn’t hurt) – but this rebound is no accident. This year, in a post Hollywood strike world, we saw the establishment experiment with tactics to extend its own cultural relevance beyond the red carpet and outside of the elite. 

This included Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s BAFTA performance of Murder on the Dancefloor, which became a viral Gen-Z favourite after that Saltburn scene. At the Oscars, the red carpet was live streamed on TikTok for the first time, and mainstream online influencers were enlisted to host red carpets, tapping into their well-established, loyal, and largely young followings. Some critics questioned if influencers were qualified for the role of journalist, and if they should even be invited to ceremonies at all, but that had no bearing on the audience. 

While moves to make awards more relatable appear to be paying off, this pushback serves as a reminder that doing things differently and breaking away from tradition rarely comes without resistance.  

Stars (and the establishment) get creative on advocacy

Award ceremonies serving as a platform for political and social messaging is not new, but this year, more than ever, it was less about the designer you wore, and more about what you stood for. 

While one particular Oscars’ speech has drawn some controversy, the season demonstrated that both artists and institutions are getting more creative and open to sharing their views on issues that matter to them.

At several ceremonies, artists and actors opted to let fashion do the talking. High profile stars partnered with Artists4Ceasefire to wear pins calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

We even saw nudity used as a tool for advocacy. John Cena caused quite the stir, stripping down to present Best Costume Design to Poor Things at the Oscars. Many viewed this as a bold act to highlight the importance of the behind-the-scenes stars of the industry more broadly. 

Inclusivity and representation comes on leaps and bounds, but there’s still a way to go

Lack of diversity and representation in entertainment, which is then reflected during award season, has long been an issue. This year there was an active push to make the show more inclusive.

At the Emmys, Ali Wong made history as she became the first Asian-American actress to win Outstanding Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, and the first woman of Asian descent to win an Emmy for a lead role. We saw the Grammys introduce a new category for Best African Music Performance, a move that is seen as long overdue. 

In the UK, after a backlash in January when it was revealed that no women were shortlisted for the Best Artist prize (which replaced the gendered best male and female categories two years ago), the BRIT Awards increased the number of nominees for both British Artist of the Year and International Artist of the Year from five to ten, in the hope of balancing the field.

Despite growing progress, which has undoubtedly helped these establishments attract new audiences, there is still a view that the industry has a long way to go. For example, it faced criticism when Lily Gladstone did not become the first Native American to win Best Actress at the Oscars. Others saw the “Barbie snub” as the establishment’s failure to recognise female directors.

Brands and advertisers bet big on awards

The 2024 season reinforced just how prominent a platform live ceremonies can be and how brands can utilise these to place themselves in the cultural conversation. 

As ever, partnerships featuring luxury brands like Rolex and Hilton were prominent, but this year served as a reminder that such high profile exposure can be a double-edged sword. We saw this when Emma Stone’s Oscars dress malfunction led to people flooding the designers’ social media accounts accusing it of “poor craftsmanship”.

Elsewhere, high viewership figures led to ad space around ceremonies selling out. Experts claimed that 30 second ads around the Oscars went for between $2-2.5 million, in comparison to $5 million on average for the 2024 Super Bowl.

For decades, an Oscar, a Brit and a Grammy, have been the pinnacle of what aspiring artists and entertainers wanted to achieve. But after some years of conflict and controversy, that aspiration was at risk of becoming outdated. This year’s awards have reminded us that there’s  life in the entertainment establishment yet, and in many ways marked a return to form. But a form that is more progressive, more inclusive and ultimately more likely to have a lasting cultural impact outside the room.

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