Music Biz Waits and Worries: Grammys to Air Despite Strike, But What Will Be Left? - Rolling Stone
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Music Biz Waits and Worries: Grammys to Air Despite Strike, But What Will Be Left?

The Grammys are definitely happening, but will they be hobbled by the Hollywood writers’ strike? The Grammys broadcast remains scheduled for February 10th on CBS, but striking writers are “unlikely” to grant the show a waiver, a Writers Guild of America spokesperson says, which means performers and attendees would have to cross a picket line.

That could rob the show of significant star power: Musician-actors such as Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé, as well as strike-sympathetic musicians like Steve Earle and the Beastie Boys, are up for awards. “Anyone who’s a Screen Actors Guild member can’t go, because they won’t cross the picket line,” says Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, “That cuts out a lot of people from going.”

“The sense I’m getting is, a lot of artists aren’t going to cross picket lines, even though some have done it to go on Leno and stuff,” says a source at a major record label. “If you have a couple of superstars on the show, you have a nice bump in album sales. It’s a missed opportunity.” In recent years, artists like Ray Charles and Green Day saw significant increases in album sales after taking home statuettes, while last year’s show ended with a huge boost for Corinne Bailey Rae even though she didn’t win anything. Clearly, a pared down broadcast would have a negative impact across the industry.

For nominees and potential performers, who have been looking forward to this kind of publicity boost, the strike has left many musicians in a confused state of limbo. “I don’t get the sense that [the broadcast] is going to be canceled because it doesn’t really involve writers. It’s less affected, for example, than the Golden Globes,” says Evanescence manager Andrew Lurie. “But [Evanescence] empathizes with the creative people who are just asking to be paid for the fruits of their labor.” He says the band plans to attend the Grammys and is negotiating with the Academy about a possible performance. As to whether the band would cross a picket line, he says, “I don’t know. That hasn’t come up in a conversation with Amy [Lee].”

The Writers Guild of America strike began November 5th, when roughly 12,000 Hollywood scribes couldn’t reach an agreement with movie and TV producers over compensation for DVD residuals and Internet-oriented content. The strike has had little impact on the music world thus far, but actor-musicians such as Alicia Keys have made appearances in solidarity with the writers. (She later crossed a picket line to perform on NBC’s Last Call With Carson Daly; reps from her label, J, wouldn’t speculate about what Keys might do for the Grammys.) At the very least, actors who’ve presented Grammy Awards, like Chris Rock and Nicolas Cage last year, are likely to boycott the broadcast in solidarity with the striking writers.

The biggest victim may be the Recording Academy, which runs the Grammys. (A spokesperson did not return calls.) “If you’re the Recording Academy, this show is what funds your entire operating budget. If they don’t do the show, I don’t know how they operate,” says the major-label source. “Do they do some Grammys Lite bullshit version of it, so they can fulfill the contract? Or what?” Recording Academy president Neil Portnow insists the show will go on unaffected: “We will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that a program so vital to our industry, artists, charitable beneficiaries, and the great city of Los Angeles is held as planned,” he said in a statement. “Accordingly, all preparations by the Academy for our milestone 50th Annual Grammy Awards remain in full-swing.”

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