1. “Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic,” Public Enemy
Released in 1988, the 16 tracks from Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back were among the first to be eligible for the newly minted Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance. Not that anyone expected the members of Public Enemy to care: “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” Flavor Flav interjects during the first verse of Nations Of Millions’ “Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic.” Among the record’s many lyrical targets, the Recording Academy is the least threatening—but failing to acknowledge hip-hop for so many years only helped to marginalize the accomplishments of Public Enemy and its peers. Not that deeming the music worthy of consideration did much on that score: One of the ’80s most potent records, Nation Of Millions fielded no nominations for the 31st Annual Grammys. Flavor Flav’s words looked more prescient in following years, as the Grammys rap honors were doled out to safe choices like Young MC, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, and “Back On The Block,” the trend-jacking title track from Quincy Jones’ Album Of The Year winner. (At least that last track featured Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee, and Melle Mel.)
2. “The Real Slim Shady,” Eminem
The sequel to 1999’s “My Name Is,” “The Real Slim Shady” established Marshall Mathers’ tradition of heralding new records with a catchy, nose-thumbing tirade against whatever pop culture nuisances popped into the MC’s periphery between recording sessions. Like its predecessor, the lead single from The Marshall Mathers LP enjoyed a lengthy stay on the Billboard charts, multiplatinum sales, and the esteem of Grammy voters—who awarded both “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady” with the statue for Best Rap Solo Performance. Bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy there: While shooting teen-pop fish in a TRL-shaped barrel, Eminem takes a cue from Flavor Flav, rhetorically asking, “You think I give a damn about a Grammy?” It’s more of a middle finger than Public Enemy’s raised fist, but it was lyrics like this that established Mathers as the preeminent symbol of petty rage against the shallow machinery of turn-of-the-21st-century culture. Never mind that the anonymous body of critics he calls out in the next line aren’t the voting body for the Grammys. That would be the recording professionals just like him, who cuss like him, who just don’t give a fuck like him—and who’ve continued to award him with hardware even after he graduated to an Oscar with “Lose Yourself.”
3. “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet,” The Simpsons (1993)
A pop culture time capsule stuffed with Beatles trivia and 1980s ephemera; “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” relates the forgotten chapter of the Simpson family history in which the man of the house sang four-part harmonies for Springfield’s own Be Sharps. Like many a one-hit wonder before and after, The Be Sharps burned bright and faded fast, but not before snagging a Grammy in the tightly contested category of Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word, or Barbershop Recording. For vintage Simpsons, one joke wouldn’t do when there was a second (or third) to be made, so the script by Jeff Martin takes a quartet of additional digs at the awards: First, a disenchanted Homer gives his gramophone to a bellhop in lieu of a tip. Next, the bellhop’s reaction, an immortal summation of the Grammys’ place in the award-show pecking order: “Wow, an award statue! Oh… it’s a Grammy.” Before the scene is over, the trophy is dumped over a balcony and declared garbage, a fitting tribute to an award that only went to The Beatles a staggering six times (out of 22 nominations) while the band/“Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” inspiration was still together.
4. “Sad Songs Are Nature’s Onions,” Mr. Show (1998)
The official line on Mr. Show’s enduring appeal is the sketch series’ lack of topical premises—neither dated references nor moldy catchphrase will ever suck the comedy out of Jay Johnston forever tumbling into racks of thimbles. But that doesn’t mean the show was pop illiterate; a majority of its creative brain trust had served on The Ben Stiller Show after all. In the titular sketch from season four’s “Sad Songs Are Nature’s Onions,” Bob Odenkirk and David Cross play the perennial competitors for the Teardrop Award, an annual prize honoring the year’s saddest song. The foundation of the sketch is the ghoulish undercurrent of Eric Clapton’s 1990s comeback, a redemption story that netted the musician an armful of Grammys in 1993—and all it cost him was his son Conor, whose death inspired triple Grammy winner “Tears In Heaven.” As Clapton analog Horace Loeb, Cross celebrates his Teardrop a bit too much, touching off an accolades-over-art orgy of death that eventually claims Loeb’s life, too. For a cautionary tale about the dangers of chasing acclaim, it’s hilarious. Unfortunately, the end credits start rolling before it’s revealed if Loeb’s ghost showed up the next year to fulfill his destiny in the Teardrops’ cycle of inappropriate enthusiasm and wanton destruction.
5. “People’s Golden Global Choice Awards,” SCTV (1982)
By the late ’70s, TV networks had become so addicted to awards shows—cheap, one-time-only productions that offered a way to fill an evening of programming with plenty of big stars who would show up for free—that they were ginning up new ones, such as the pseudo-populist People’s Choice Awards, which in the pre-Internet days were based on the results of Gallup polls. Around the same time, the more venerable Golden Globes were suffering an all-time dip in reputation, especially after Pia Zadora’s 1982 win for New Star Of The Year for her performance in Butterfly, an award that her husband was said to have paid for with freebies to the voters. SCTV satirized both trends with its own awards show, a rigged scheme cooked up by network president Guy Caballero and scurrilous tabloid publisher Rawl Withers to lavish prizes on undeserving SCTV personnel. When the studio audience begins to catch on, Caballero and Withers throw up a smokescreen by hastily presenting an award to Hill Street Blues, a show that network executives had learned to brandish like a cross in front of a vampire as proof that they did so care about “quality TV.”
6. In & Out (1997)
The script for In & Out was written by the playwright Paul Rudnick, who has also reviewed movies for Entertainment Weekly and the defunct Premiere magazine in the persona of “Libby Gelman-Waxner.” The story, which was inspired by Tom Hanks’ Oscar acceptance speech for Philadelphia, is about a small town, high school drama teacher (Kevin Kline) whose own sexual orientation is so deeply repressed that he doesn’t realize he’s gay until one of his former students (Matt Dillon) casually outs him, on national television, during his acceptance of an Academy Award. Rudnick also uses the award-presentation scene to have some fun with the kind of roles that seem to impress Oscar voters and those that don’t. Dillon’s competition includes Paul Newman for his performance in Coot, Clint Eastwood for Codger, and Steven Seagal for Snowball In Hell.
7. The Teddy Awards, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Starting with the first-season episode “Bob And Rhoda And Teddy And Mary,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show made something of an annual tradition of skewering awards shows with the Teddy Awards, a low-rent, Minneapolis version of the Emmys that usually caused vexation and anxiety among the staff of the WJM newsroom. In the early episodes, the Teddys were just a handy arena for farcical scenes of public humiliation, but after a few seasons, the show began to use them to mock commonly perceived failings of actual awards shows. Ted Baxter, WJM’s clownishly incompetent anchorman, pimped himself a Teddy in the show’s fourth season, not by improving his performance, but by embarking on a massive, high profile charm offensive. He subsequently felt depressed, because the empty win didn’t seem to do anything for his reputation or career. The next year, it was Lou Grant’s turn to be depressed, when he learned that he was going to be “honored” with the Albert Mason Award, a crock established as a tax write-off that insiders know is presented to past-their-prime losers as a prestigious tombstone to their careers. Over the course of its seven seasons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show itself won 29 Emmys in a variety of categories, so whatever inspired these episodes, no one could accuse the talent of sour grapes.
8. Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)
In the yuk-a-second world of the Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, the Academy Awards are where top-shelf stars like “Weird Al” Yankovic and Vanna White arrive via limo, and where the Lifetime Achievement Award is given to Samuel L. Bronkowitz. Oh, and it’s also where villain Rocco Dillon plans to carry out his latest act of villainy by placing a bomb in the envelope for—wait for it—Best Picture. Beyond that obvious jab, this installment of the Academy-unfriendly Naked Gun series depicts the awards as hopelessly cheesy and self-important: Mary Lou Retton is up for Best Supporting Actress for Fatal Affair (“One woman’s ordeal to overcome the death of her cat, set against the background of the Hindenburg disaster,”) and Phil Donahue and Raquel Welch present the award for Best Director. (Fingers crossed for Spike Lee for X II: The Merchandising!) And wouldn’t you know it, Lt. Frank Drebin looks an awful lot like Donahue…
9. “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” Kanye West
Kanye West’s obsession with awards is equal parts attraction and revulsion, and if there’s one thing West has been able to do across his career, it’s turn that potent psychological mixture into great music. The first single from 2005’s Late Registration, “Diamonds” second verse leads off with “I was sick about awards / couldn’t nobody cure me / Only playa that got robbed, but kept all his jewelry,” positing Kanye’s Grammy fixation as a disease. Comparing it to a toddler’s temper tantrum follows this, but at least he’s honest about it. There are a few happy endings, though. For Kanye, both the album and song won Grammys. And for the listener, West and Jay Z did a catchier, smarter remix of the song that replaced the conflicted feelings about awards with an examination of conflict diamonds.
10. Stardust Memories (1980)
Woody Allen’s disdain for the Oscars has been evident since at least 1977, when Annie Hall won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Allen was a famous no-show, playing his usual jazz clarinet gig at Michael’s Pub in New York and reading about his victory in the next morning’s paper. In interviews over the years he has pegged the Oscars as a popularity contest unworthy of serious consideration, but his most cutting remark came in this Fellini-esque look at a filmmaker’s relationship to his critics and fans. Reluctantly attending a weekend film festival dedicated to his work (particularly his “early, funny ones”), Sandy Bates (Allen) reacts to the introduction of “a classic scene from his Academy Award-winning motion picture” by saying, “I would trade that Oscar for one more second of life.” None of this has deterred the Academy from continuing to shower his work with awards (most recently a Best Writing, Original Screenplay statue for Midnight In Paris), nor did his conspicuous absence avert an awkward and controversial tribute at the Golden Globes earlier this year.
11. “In Camelot,” The Sopranos (2004)
Throughout the run of The Sopranos and even to this day, creator David Chase has never passed up an opportunity to denigrate the medium of television and note that, if he had his druthers, he’d rather be working in film. Chase’s feelings on the matter found their way into this fifth-season episode in which Christopher (Michael Imperioli) meets TV writer J.T. Dolan (Tim Daly) in an AA meeting and proceeds to ruin his life in traditional Soprano fashion. Deep in debt to Christopher, Dolan is reduced to trying to hock his Emmy at a pawnshop, but the proprietor won’t offer more than 15 bucks for it. “If you had an Oscar, maybe I could give you a little something. An Academy Award. But TV?” Of course, this also doubled as a shot at the Academy Of Television Arts And Sciences, which had denied The Sopranos its top award in each of its first four seasons. It’s some measure of poetic justice that the season to feature this episode was the first to take home the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.
12. “The Zappys,” The Fairly OddParents (1999)
Billy Crystal sacrificed a lot of goodwill when he began tapping the muggiest parts of his persona as a regular Oscars host. So, when The Fairly OddParents parodied the nature of award shows, it only made sense that none other than Billy Crystalball would host The Zappys. As the ceremony opens with the expected cheeseball jokes, something beautiful happens: Jorgen Von Strangle (a veiled jab at Arnold Schwarzenegger) hurls a fireball at the stage, which barely misses the host’s head, prematurely ending the stage banter as he demands that they get on with the show. He then continues to win each award through intimidation, while simple and not entirely memorable jokes about the many annoyances of award show fodder continue before Timmy Turner and his fairy godparents save the day. But in that moment of pure rage provided by Von Strangle, the viewer is able to live vicariously in a world free of the unwanted interruption that is an awards host.