This might have flown under your radar, but this April Kirby, Nintendo’s fluffy pink mascot, has won the video games’ second Grammy award. Of course, it couldn’t have been done without the help of 8-Bit Big Band’s Charlie Rosen and Jake Silverman, video game world’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who reimagined the 1996 Kirby Superstar song “Meta Knight’s Revenge” in all its jazziest, 8-bit colors.
Most of the time video game music fits into these award categories like an awkwardly placed tetromino.
For all its worth, video game music has been shaking the award industry’s tectonic plates for quite some time now, with Civilization IV’s standout piece “Baba Yetu” (Christopher Tin) becoming the “patient zero” of receiving such a prestigious award in 2011 – a year when video game music still seemed like an albatross hung around the neck of some amazing pieces of music specifically composed for our beloved interactive medium.
Fast forward a few years and another watershed moment happened as Austin Wintory’s soundtrack for JOURNEY went head-to-head against Hans Zimmers, John Williams and Trent Reznor for the “best score soundtrack for visual media” award (it was snubbed, to our disappointment, by the score of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).
The problem with this is that even if games like Cuphead, Genesis Noir or The Last of Us make the headlines for their chart-breaking jazzy soundtracks – or simply because they made us feel things the way no other interactive entertainment did in a while – most of the time video game music fits into these award categories like an awkwardly placed tetromino. And that, we suspect, might be one of the biggest reasons why we hear so little of our favorite soundtracks being recognised by Grammys and other award shows.
The good news, then, is that the Recording Academy finally recognised video game music worthy of its own category. The ‘Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media,’ as it was announced on June 10, along with four other categories, including one for ‘Best Alternative Music Performance,’ will recognize “excellence in score soundtrack albums comprised predominately of original scores and created specifically for, or as a companion to, a current videogame or other interactive media released within the qualification period.”
While it’s a big, celebratory moment for us, video game music aficionados, and the ones making it, it’s not entirely unexpected. Since Grammys first opened its gates to game music back in 2011, this niche industry slowly bloomed into one favored by some of the finest artists in the world. As Jon Batiste, the Grammy-winning jazz musician and bandleader for Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” told Washington Post, video games, particularly Final Fantasy VII, inspired him to become the musician he is today. Then there’s Michelle Zauner, a.k.a. Japanese Breakfast, another Grammy-winning artist who composed and recorded an entire soundtrack for Shedworks’ debut indie game Sable – collaboration hardly imaginable by last-gen’s norms.
Asked why the Recording Academy decided it’s about time video game music had its own separate spotlight in Grammys, this is what Uziel Colón, genre lead for this category (Visual Media) told GameMusic.net:
“Momentum has been building for this field as video games have evolved into a mass cultural movement. There is such a rich history of music in video games, housing a whole community of music creators dedicated to composing works that help shift audience realities and energize interactive experiences. Inspired by this community and committed to keeping aligned with the changing musical landscape, our Recording Academy voting members felt it was necessary to begin formally recognizing this genre with its own dedicated category.”
Still, however exciting is the Academy‘s decision, we can‘t help but wonder if there isn‘t an ulterior motive behind all this. Not to come across as a major party-pooper but Grammys, just like most award shows (except, well, E3 which simply decided to throw in the towel this year), been steadily bleeding viewers like Fortnite‘s former favorite “Ninja”: after its 2021 show, it was reported that more than half of its previous (pre-pandemic) year’s audience didn’t tune in, resulting in record low viewership.
Taken that video game music is experiencing its well-deserved new golden age – considering how Steam, the largest PC games‘ retailer, recently added soundtracks as a separate category (as in: you no longer need to own a game to enjoy its music); or how Epic Games, with its endless pockets and more impressive rolodex, delivered one of the most impressive virtual shows in years – it‘s safe to assume the ‘Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media’ award is just one of Recording Academy‘s Hail Marys. Attempt to get back on its feet with a little help from interactive entertainment.
There is such a rich history of music in video games. – Uziel Colón
And so, 11 years after Grammy’s former vice president Bill Freimuth uttered the words “this could be viewed as a first step in the direction of video games getting their own category” – we’re finally here. Won’t this be another case of Academy’s approach to animation – we’ll just have to wait and see. Until then, we’re more than thrilled and so are the composers.