The Grammys’ new video game category is bad, actually — here's why
It’s time to face the music.
The Grammys marked an important milestone for the recognition of video game music this year. Kirby Superstar took home the Grammy for Best Arrangement, Instrumental, or A Cappella. Arrangers Charlie Rosen and Jake Silverman won the award, marking the second time in the show's history that a video game received an award. Today, June 10, the Grammys announced several new categories, including Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games. What should be news for celebration set off alarm bells in my head, this might not be the wonderful recognition it should be. Going against common knowledge, let’s look this gift horse in the mouth.
What took so long?
The official announcement from the Grammys says that those behind the decision are “... so excited to honor these diverse communities of music creators through the newly established awards and amendments, and to continue cultivating an environment that inspires change, progress, and collaboration."
Video game soundtracks have been around for an awfully long time. The chiptune music of the NES and SNES era allowed composers to create music that delivered a large amount of the emotional weight to classic games such as The Legend of Zelda.
Hell, 2022 marks the 35th anniversary of the Final Fantasy franchise, a series known for its incredible music. Longtime franchise composer Nobuo Uematsu has been out here for 35 years making some of the best modern soundtracks in any genre or medium. The Grammys only began allowing video games to be considered for awards starting in 2011, that is 26 years after the North American launch of the NES. But I’m sure the awards have come around to video game music and they are often seen on nominations least each year?
Not by a long shot.
Since 2011, the grand total of video game music that has been nominated at the Grammys comes out to a measly three nominations. In the very first year of consideration, Christopher Tin won an award for his song “Baba Yetu” which was originally part of the soundtrack for Civilization 4. Then in 2013, the awards could not overlook the masterpiece of music that was the score to Journey composed by Austin Wintory. While Journey received a nomination, it did not win. Then eight years passed before another video game was nominated, Kirby Superstar.
Video game scores and soundtracks have been an integral part of the medium since its earliest days. They are at least on par with, if not often better than the soundtracks of film and television. Just listen to any track from Persona 5, The Last of Us, or anything from Supergiant Games. I’m listening to Final Fantasy soundtracks as I write this.
What’s the catch?
Let’s talk about Beauty and the Beast. Just trust me here, this is relevant.
Disney released the film in 1991 and it was quickly praised as one of the company's best films. It was the studio at peak performance in the middle of a new golden age of animation at Disney. At the 64th Academy Awards, Beauty and the Beast became the first animated feature film in the history of the awards to be nominated for Best Picture, the most prestigious award a film could receive.
After Beauty and the Beast, other animated films from Disney and studios like Dreamworks and Pixar (also part of Disney) continued to deliver a high caliber of storytelling. Despite this, the film community tended to look down upon these movies as “for kids.” In 2001, the Academy announced the creation of the Best Animated Feature category. Again, this should be a good thing, but it comes with some caveats.
Since the creation of a dedicated category for animation, only two animated films have reached the same height at the award show that Beauty and the Beast did, receiving a nomination for Best Picture. These two films were both from Pixar, with Up in 2009 and Toy Story 3 a year later. Members of the animation community have criticized the Academy for using the creation of the Best Animated Feature category to effectively keep animated films out of the running for the “serious” awards.
With the announcement that the Grammys are creating a dedicated category for video games, I cannot help but think of the Academy's approach to animation. Come 2022 the Grammys will have to prove that it values the contributions to music that video games have made. The incredible work in this medium deserves recognition, not relegation.