amas 2020

Did the AMAs Learn Nothing From the CMAs?

The 2020 American Music Awards will be held in person, indoors, in a pandemic. Photo: Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

If we were listing off work that was essential, awards shows wouldn’t even come close. Yet here’s another awards show just trucking along, happening in person, indoors, in a pandemic. The American Music Awards will take place this Sunday, November 22, live from Los Angeles’s Microsoft Theater. That’s a string of words that should be sending shivers down your spine as COVID-19 continues to ravage the U.S., in a third wave that looks worse than the first two. Performers so far include new mom Katy Perry, Billie Eilish, BTS, Dua Lipa, Shawn Mendes, Jennifer Lopez and Maluma, Megan Thee Stallion, Bad Bunny with Jhay Cortez, and Lil Baby, while Taraji P. Henson is set to host. ABC hasn’t announced who will perform live and who will perform remotely, or how full the audience will be, or what specific measures will be in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

What we do know, though, is that four crew members have already tested positive for COVID-19, Deadline reported over the weekend. One of them had been inside the theater, and workers disinfected the area once their positive test came back, in addition to disinfecting the entire theater each night; sources told Deadline that the show has already conducted over 700 tests. It’s starting to sound like déjà vu from last week’s CMA Awards, when artists who were set to perform began testing positive days before the show, and more rolled in even hours before the broadcast. One musician, Lady A’s Charles Kelley, pretaped a duet performance with Carly Pearce, then found out someone in his band had a close contact who tested positive; Kelley and the rest of Lady A didn’t attend the ceremony, but the situation raised questions that were never answered, like when they taped the performance and whether that was before or after their contact. Not to mention, the actual awards looked to have an audience of around 100 country stars, sitting unmasked at four-person tables and sometimes high-fiving or hugging when they won awards. (We’ll give the CMAs this, it did look more distanced than the Billboard Latin Music Awards.) Hosts Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker joked about staying six feet apart when they really didn’t look to be six feet apart.

Also this week, the Latin Grammys are holding a virtual ceremony on November 19, billed as a “reimagined telecast” based in Miami, with performances from around the world. The MTV Video Music Awards did the same thing throughout New York City in August after initially planning for an in-person ceremony, and it ended up being pretty fun; the Academy of Country Music Awards and Country Music Television Awards followed with ceremonies spread throughout Nashville and Tennessee, respectively. Which is all to say: We don’t have to do this! Let the stars accept awards from their homes! Have the musicians perform at fun, outdoor sites throughout California! Aside from the whole pandemic safety thing, wouldn’t that just be more fun and creative anyway?

Update, November 17: A spokesperson for Dick Clark productions, which puts on the American Music Awards, gave further details around the awards show’s testing protocols. “The safety of all our productions and everyone involved is our No. 1 priority,” they tell Vulture. “The American Music Awards has rigorous COVID-19 safety guidelines and protocols, approved by the unions and with guidance from L.A. County Department of Public Health, that are beyond what is required. We have conducted approximately 1,200 tests during our onboarding and production process with less than .04 percent positive results, including those who did not report for their first day or were never inside the venue.” That’s an increase of around 500 more tests from November 14, when Deadline reported the show had conducted over 700 tests. The spokesperson continued, “In accordance with our strict protocols, upon a positive test result, that individual is immediately removed from production and asked to self-isolate, contact tracing is conducted and disinfection is completed. Production is continuing safely and we look forward to an amazing show next Sunday.”

Update, November 21: A spokesperson for the American Music Awards gave further details to Rolling Stone about how masks and PPE will be used during the indoor awards show: “Everyone inside our footprint, with the exception of artists onstage who are singing or speaking, will be wearing facial coverings and maintain social distancing at all times. When artists are not onstage singing, presenting, or accepting an award, they will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Additionally, we disinfect our set every evening and in between performances during pre-production, rehearsals and in the live show.” The spokesperson also confirmed that BTS will perform remotely from South Korea and Dua Lipa will perform remotely from London, but did not specify which other artists will be pre-taped and which will perform live from the Microsoft Theater. The spokesperson said that a decision about whether or not there will be a live audience will be made on the day of the show, Sunday, November 22. “If we do have an audience, it will be very minimal, everyone will be following all outlined safety protocols including testing, and will wear face-coverings and be socially distanced — unless they live in the same household.”

Did the AMAs Learn Nothing From the CMAs?