Not even the most sexually explicit show in Grammy Awards history could turn out the viewers.
The 63rd annual awards ceremony that aired Sunday on CBS was on pace to hit a ratings low with a time-zone-adjusted audience of 8.8 million, according to CBS Entertainment. That’s a 53% drop from the 18.7 million who tuned in to last year’s program.
Viewership plunged despite, or maybe because of, a politically woke show that featured tributes to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and a speech from former Women’s March leader Tamika Mallory, who declared, “President Biden, we demand justice, equity, policy.”
The program moved quickly from PG to NC-17, however, when rapper Cardi B did a pole dance and performed her hit song “WAP” by joining Megan Thee Stallion for a sexually explicit interlude on a giant bed, a scene that for mainstream news outlets was indescribable.
“As a news service that must adhere to strict editorial standards, we can’t tell you what WAP stands for; and we can’t really say what Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B were rapping about or simulating during their performance either,” the BBC said in its coverage.
“Let’s just say that the live TV debut performance of their X-rated hit took place on a giant bed and they did not look at all tired,” the British network said.
In other words, the episode went well beyond the most memorable performance of the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, when Madonna and Britney Spears kissed during a song, but it failed to spark anything resembling the same uproar.
Some viewers were certainly surprised. “Wow this is on network TV,” tweeted CNN senior editor Brandon Griggs.
The Grammys tweeted “What A Performance” with emojis of hand claps, eyeballs and fire. Billboard magazine called it “a truly wild performance.”
Conservatives who took note tied their comments to the entertainment industry’s cancel culture.
“The left is fine with the disgusting performance Cardi B just gave at the Grammys but Dr. Seuss is too dangerous for our children?” tweeted Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, referring to Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision to stop selling six titles over “hurtful and wrong” racial imagery.
Ian Haworth, editor for the Daily Wire, tweeted: “Kids are now more likely to see Cardi B doing this than Dumbo,” the 1941 animated film recently blocked from the Disney+ children’s menu because of racial stereotypes.
If the sexually provocative performance at “the biggest night in music” failed to bring out the torches and pitchforks, however, it could be because conservatives, like most other Americans, weren’t watching.
The network reported that the show earned a 2.1 rating in the key 18-49 demographic, attracting “the largest audience and best key demographic delivery for an awards show since The Academy Awards on Feb. 9, 2020.”
That may be a low bar. Entertainment industry awards programs, once must-see TV, have gone into ratings declines as viewers cut the cable cord and seek alternative programming, and as Hollywood loses its cache.
Two weeks ago, the 78th annual Golden Globes hit a 13-year low with 6.9 million viewers, a 63% drop from 2020, when 18.4 million watched.
Christian Toto, editor of Hollywood in Toto, said most viewers “know that awards shows today are hyperpolitical and the emphasis is rarely on entertainment.”
“There’s certainly a massive disconnect between the Heartland and the values espoused on these shows,” Mr. Toto said in an email. “I think the celebrity culture is in decline, too, meaning the average person cares less about what they have to say — they’ve been exposed as angry, often hateful and often ill-informed.”
There was no shortage of politics at this year’s Grammys. Rapper Lil Baby performed his song “The Big Picture” with choreography that included a White officer shooting an unarmed Black man as he fled, and a protester setting a building on fire with a Molotov cocktail.
“President Biden, we demand justice, equity, policy, and everything else that freedom encompasses, and to accomplish this we don’t need allies; we need accomplices,” Ms. Mallory, the former Women’s March leader, said during the performance.
She stepped down in 2019 as a co-chair of the Women’s March, along with Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland, after denying accusations of anti-Semitism.
The Grammy Awards were still going strong in 2012, when nearly 40 million tuned in during “the year of Adele and her ‘21’ album and the song ‘Rolling in the Deep,’” said ShowBiz411’s Roger Friedman.
“Losing 10 million viewers from last year isn’t great, but that’s the new normal,” Mr. Friedman said. “Oscars beware.”