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How might the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes affect music awards season?

On May 2 the Writers Guild of America (WGA) officially went on strike after negotiations broke down with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Later the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) also went on strike over similar issues regarding fair pay, residuals, AI, and streaming. Both strikes are still ongoing. While you might think the repercussions of these strikes will only be felt in the TV and film industries, the reality is that the music industry might be feeling them too, especially when it comes to awards.

With no one in the writers room, it’s unclear how these award shows will actually take place. During the 2007 writers strike, the WGA issued a waiver for the Grammys. If these strikes persist that long, will that happen again, or will the unions be stricter this time around? (The WGA already gave the Tonys telecast the go-ahead a couple of months ago, though the MTV Movie and TV Awards had to pivot to a pre-taped broadcast and the Emmys had to postpone.) If the Grammys do take place as scheduled, perhaps the strike would have a silver lining for the recording academy. After all, people will likely be eager to watch some sort of TV entertainment while other shows are halted, so the Grammys could be one of the few events to fill that space. As of this writing the MTV Video Music Awards are still scheduled for September 12, but how those awards will be presented has not yet been announced.

But the strikes’ impacts don’t end there. SAG-AFTRA members are not allowed to promote their work with struck companies. This extends to promoting music work made for films or shows, meaning that we might not get performances of songs from visual media. This might be especially impactful considering a few of this year’s big hits — Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?,” Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice’s “Barbie World,” and Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night” — are “Barbie” soundtrack songs and, as such, might be prohibited.

In addition, since TV shows are not running new episodes, artists will have limited campaign opportunities this year. Programs like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” are usually great stops for artists during awards season, helping increase their visibility to the general public and awards voters alike. But this time around awards hopefuls will have to be more creative and possibly rely on digital media instead, like NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert” series or interviews on web shows. The impact of more limited campaigning also means voters might be less swayed by promotion this year. That could result in academy members namechecking their already-established favorites. Or they might rely more on what’s being pushed on radio and playlists.

Of course, a lot of these impacts depend on how long the strikes continue. Hopefully the unions will be able to negotiate fair deals with the studios they are fighting with and we won’t have to worry about these downstream impacts. Until then, prepare yourself, because this might be a very odd music awards season.

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