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COVID-19 Coverage

The omicron surge forces the Grammys to be postponed, Sundance to move online

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

2022 was supposed to be the year that big entertainment spectacles could resume. The omicron variant is squelching those plans. Yesterday, both the Grammy Awards and the Sundance Film Festival announced they will not hold their live events as planned. There is at least one part of the culture, though, that goes right on, and it's reporting. From NPR culture, correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: There's been a lot of industry chatter around this year's slate of Grammy Awards nominees. While pop idol Justin Bieber and rapper Doja Cat each earned eight nominations, it's bandleader, pianist and composer Jon Batiste who's leading the way with 11 nominations, including for Album of the Year and Record of the Year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

JON BATISTE: (Singing) When I move my body just like this, I don't know why, but I feel like freedom. I hear a song that takes me back. And I let go with so much freedom.

TSIOULCAS: The music prizes were supposed to be given out on January 31, with the Grammys' customary, splashy live telecast on CBS. But in a joint statement released yesterday, CBS and the Recording Academy, the organization behind the prizes, said that holding the ceremony in-person, quote, "simply contains too many risks." Along with the annual televised ceremony from Los Angeles, the Grammys also include a lengthy pre-broadcast awards event involving hundreds of other nominees. No new date for the awards has been announced. Even before the omicron postponement, the Grammy Awards were already facing an uphill battle. The viewership for last year's ceremony plummeted to 8.8 million, a 53% drop from its 2020 numbers and the lowest broadcast audience ever for the Grammys. Meanwhile, several prominent Black musicians, including Jay-Z, The Weeknd, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and others have criticized the awards for overlooking Black artists in the awards' top categories. Rapper and singer Drake removed himself from the competition entirely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAY 2 SEXY")

DRAKE: (Rapping) OK. All right. That's fine. OK. I'm feeling too sexy to accept requests. And I'm way too sexy to go unprotected. And she popped a Tesla, now she's going electric.

TSIOULCAS: In just a few minutes after the Grammys' postponement became public, the Sundance Film Festival announced that it is moving all of its offerings online rather than hold any screenings or events in-person in Park City, Utah. Last year, its breakout hit was the music documentary "Summer Of Soul," which chronicled memorable performances by artists like Stevie Wonder.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SUMMER OF SOUL")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Here we go again. We got to get a groove going. Got to get a groove going, baby, love.

TSIOULCAS: In its press statement, the festival said it would be irresponsible to make any other choice, adding, quote, "as a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds. But with case numbers forecasted to peak in our host community the week of the festival, we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk." The 11-day, all-virtual Sundance Film Festival begins January 20.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMER OF SOUL")

WONDER: (Singing) It's your thing. Do what you want to do. Don't let me tell you who to give yourself to....

TSIOULCAS: Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SUMMER OF SOUL")

WONDER: (Singing) Just as long - just as long - just as long as you give it to me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.