After years of second-class citizenship, it appears that music for television is finally being taken seriously by Grammy voters, based on this year’s unprecedented number of TV nominations in the visual media categories.
Seven of the 18 nominations, or more than one-third of the total in the score soundtrack, compilation soundtrack, and original song categories, originated in projects for the home screen.
By comparison, during the previous 20 years of Grammy nominations, Grammy voters chose only seven scores, 13 compilation albums and seven songs to compete in those three categories. And only three won: a song from “Malcolm in the Middle” (2001), the soundtrack from “Boardwalk Empire” (2011) and the score for “Chernobyl” (2019).
Grammy has rewarded TV music occasionally through the years. Henry Mancini’s jazzy “Peter Gunn” soundtrack won album of the year for 1958, the only time a TV soundtrack has actually triumphed in one of the top three categories (record, song or album of the year).
TV themes have managed to win in other categories over the years, among them “Batman” (1966), “Mission: Impossible” (1967), “Brian’s Song” (1972), “Hill Street Blues” (1981), “Miami Vice” (1985) and “Twin Peaks” (1990).
Legendary composer John Williams earned his first-ever show-biz awards recognition at the Grammys: a nomination for his “Checkmate” TV-series soundtrack in 1961. And nominations have been accorded in the past to such major TV scores as “Angels in America” and “Game of Thrones,” and such notably song-driven TV albums as “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood.”
But for Grammy’s 2020-2021 eligibility period, with so many people watching TV instead of going to the movies during the pandemic, music written for the home screen has emerged from the shadows to take center stage.
It’s most obvious in the score soundtrack category, where three of the five nominees are from TV: Kris Bowers’ music for “Bridgerton,” Ludwig Goransson’s for the second season of “The Mandalorian” and Carlos Rafael Rivera’s for the miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit.” Goransson and Rivera won Emmys for those scores just three months ago.
Their competition, however, is fierce: Hans Zimmer for the much-talked-about “Dune” – the only new movie in the category – and the trio of Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for last year’s animated “Soul,” which won them the Oscar and could be unstoppable in the voting.
Equally intriguing is the song category (officially “best song written for visual media”) where three of the six nominees originated in TV projects: “Agatha All Along,” the hugely popular “WandaVision” tune by Oscar winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (“Frozen”) that also won an Emmy in September; “All Eyes on Me,” one of the songs in “Bo Burnham Inside,” from the standup comedian’s special; and the title song from the music documentary “Pink: All I Know So Far” by Pink (formally credited by her real name Alecia Moore) and two other Oscar winners, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land”).
They face off against three movie songs, including one that’s already won an Academy Award and another that was nominated: H.E.R.’s “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the Oscar winner earlier this year; Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami,” its competitor for the 2020 Oscar; and “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” from the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect,” by star Jennifer Hudson, legendary songwriter Carole King and British songwriter Jamie Hartman.
Curiously, only one TV project made it into the compilation-soundtrack category: the album for the first episode of “Schmigadoon!”, the Apple TV Plus sendup of Golden Age movie musicals.
Four other nominees emerged from this year’s movies: the Disney film “Cruella,” and the musicals “Dear Evan Hansen,” “In the Heights” and “Respect.” The final two nominees were drawn from last year’s movie releases: “One Night in Miami” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”