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And the Gold Disc goes to… well, what did you expect?

by Steve McClure

Show-biz awards ceremonies — who needs ‘em? They’re formulaic, plastic, inane, banal, maudlin, crass . . . There’s no end to the pejoratives one can use to describe them.

Despite all this, awards shows do serve a purpose. At the very least, they give people something to talk about besides the weather (“Did you see Toni Braxton’s dress on the Grammys? It must have been held on with tape.” “No, I’m sure it was glue . . .”). But they also help the movie and music industries promote what they so sensitively refer to as “product.” Eminem’s appearance on the Grammy show, for example, resulted in a big sales boost in major music markets, including Japan.

Ayumi Hamasaki won for domestic artist of the year.

As you may know, the Grammy Awards are voted on by the members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Over the years, the predominantly middle-aged members of NARAS have been criticized for being out of touch with the music scene. A classic example was when the hard rock/heavy metal Grammy went to Jethro Tull (!) in 1988. NARAS also got a fair amount of stick this year when veteran acts U2 and Steely Dan walked off with sacks full of awards, while younger, more contemporary acts didn’t do nearly so well.

One good thing about the Grammys, though: As with filmdom’s Academy Awards, a certain dramatic frisson always surrounds them. This year, of course, the big deal was the duet between alleged gay-basher Eminem and the openly gay Elton John.

Unfortunately, that kind of suspense and show-biz panache is missing from Japan’s music awards shows. The Recording Industry Association of Japan’s Gold Disc Awards, presented March 14, are strictly sales-based, so there are never any surprises among the list of winners. At last year’s awards, the prize for domestic artist of the year went to Utada Hikaru — you could say it was “Automatic.”

The Gold Discs ceremony is definitely a second-division affair compared to the Grammys, the Brit Awards in the U.K. or even Canada’s Juno Awards. The relentlessly (one is tempted to say sickeningly) cheerful presenters are a pain, and the staid format and low-budget production are real turnoffs. Surely an industry with so many talented and creative people — and I mean that — can come up with an awards ceremony with a little more sparkle and pizzazz (and less of Morning Musume . . . please!)

As for the yearend Record Taisho, sponsored by TBS, winners are chosen by a relatively small group of critics and media people, meaning large sections of the music industry have no vote.

The problem is that Japan, unlike the United States, doesn’t have an association like NARAS (which has some 16,000 members) that includes people from a broad cross section of the music industry. The nearest thing to NARAS in Japan is the Federation of Music Producers, which, although a worthy body, has too narrow an organizational focus to match what NARAS does with the Grammys.

I’ve asked people in the music biz here why this is so, and the consensus seems to be that there’s very little will to cooperate among the various labels, production companies, music publishers and all the other companies and organizations (and let’s not forget the artists) who make up the music industry. Which is a pity.

Like many other industries in Japan, the music business is having a hard time of it. Sales keep declining year-on-year, and so the idea of spending a lot of time and money on putting together a really first-class music awards show may seem ill-advised. But it’s precisely because the music industry is in crisis mode that it needs to hype itself a little better, and a high-powered, glitzy — and credible — awards show might be the way to do it.

Instead of having just two presenters, why not do what the Grammy folks do and have a wide variety of presenters from both inside and outside the music biz. Beat Takeshi, the Kano sisters (wearing some Jennifer Lopez hand-me-downs), “Knock” Yokoyama (just kidding), Ichiro Suzuki — people like these would certainly liven up an awards ceremony.

My final word to the Japanese music industry on this subject: Boys (and girls), be ambitious!