When the 81st Golden Globes arrive on Sunday, January 7, it may look a lot like the award show you remember: informal, mildly erratic, with caustic self-roasts and some nominees that cause a few spit takes.
But beneath its tipsy exterior, a lot has changed for the show. It has a new owner, a new network (CBS), a new host in comedian Jo Koy, new voting requirements, and crucially, more than triple the number of voting members.
Most importantly, after barely surviving a watershed scandal that nearly brought an end to our favorite quirky awards night, the Golden Globes have a lot to prove about what kind of awards show they want to become in the future.
What does that mean for the show? Mainly that, despite a return to relative normalcy — Barbenheimer and Succession lead this year’s nominations — no one is entirely sure what the new Golden Globes will be.
A year of firsts
This year’s Golden Globes are poised to be a fresh start on multiple fronts. Among the year’s nods are nearly 30 first-time nominees, including industry veterans like Chris Rock and Trevor Noah and newcomers like Finnish actress Alma Pöysti, nominated for Best Actress for her turn in the rom-dramedy Fallen Leaves.
The traditional — and sometimes confusing — split between genres has also gotten a shake-up, with the addition of two new categories for TV standup comedy performance and cinematic and box office achievement. (Though you might think the latter category is a strictly Billboard-style award based on metrics, it’s not entirely objective; the profitable but much-maligned conservative rallying point Sound of Freedom wasn’t on the list.)
Koy will likely also bring a different tone to the role of host. The Globes historically indulge in self-mockery, with hosts often taking aim at their guests and the entire Hollywood apparatus. In its past life, the production rarely feared courting controversy and daring to offend. This time, however, producers have vowed to keep things relentlessly positive and to keep the party vibes going above all else. Koy has declared the evening “a celebration,” not just for the Globes but for an industry that’s battled its way back, first from a global pandemic and then the most intense industry strikes in recent memory.
Whether they can pull the party off, though, especially given the pressure the event is under, will be easier said than done.
What happened to the old Golden Globes again?
Among the pantheon of Hollywood awards shows, the Golden Globes have always felt a bit like the boozy cousin living in the basement of the Oscars. Careening from controversy to controversy, the Globes are usually saved, certainly not by their taste, but by their quirks, attendees’ irreverence, and the high likelihood of at least one drunken acceptance speech thanks to the ceremony’s open bar.
In recent years, however, not even soused Emma Thompson has been able to save them. The 2021 Globes seemed to sink under the weight of their increasing irrelevance. Just how irrelevant became clear in a major months-long scandal over longstanding corruption and entrenched racism in the Globes’ organizing body, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).
Last year, the HFPA finally came to an end — and with it, presumably, the decades of scandal that tainted the awards. In its place, the Globes’ longstanding producer, Dick Clark Productions, took over the show with the goal of turning things around for the beleaguered awards.
The HFPA was historically a small, select, and non-public body of around 90 people, all of whom were supposed to be entertainment journalists. For decades, the industry had chafed over the sentiment that this tiny, secretive club used its unearned privilege — unearned because who the heck even were these people? — to garner access to Hollywood’s elite. In exchange, the HFPA grew notorious for nominating, not based on artistic merit, but based on whichever marketing campaign wooed voters the hardest.
And thanks to the perception that the Globes can influence the Oscars, woo they did. Since the Academy has over 10,000 voting members, the logic held, it was easier to directly influence 90 people to give your movie attention for the Globes and then hope that momentum carried through to Oscar night. At various points in the past, the Oscars have attempted to circumvent this trap by cutting off voting before the Globes ceremony occurs. Meanwhile, the Globes have sometimes changed their schedule to be closer to the Oscars, presumably to keep the tag-team impression (and thus their relevance) alive.
All that changed in 2021 when, under increasing scrutiny from the industry, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that, in addition to its long and well-documented history of alleged corruption, the organization was allegedly rife with sexism and systemic racism: None of its 87 members was Black. Not only that, but the HFPA hadn’t had a Black member in at least 20 years.
After so many years of resentment against the HFPA, the industry backlash after this revelation was so fierce that the HFPA collapsed. First, the awards show fell apart, with celebrities refusing to attend or present awards and longtime network NBC refusing to air the ceremony. After the organization promised to expand and change, for a brief moment things looked up. The Globes were acquired by Eldridge Industries, a business management firm co-founded and run by billionaire sports investor Todd Boehly, with the initial goal of creating a new private firm to control the HFPA and run the Globes. But even though the 2023 Globes were a relative success, viewership was abysmal at an average of just 6.3 million, NBC declined to renew its longstanding partnership with the awards, and despite its promise to change, the HFPA continued to flounder.
The final death knell for the HFPA came in June 2023. Instead of creating an independent company to oversee the awards, Eldridge sold the Globes to a subsidiary, the Globes’ longtime production partner, Dick Clark Productions (DCP). The sale went through with the provision that DCP would completely dissolve the 80-year-old press association and turn the Globes into a for-profit enterprise.
Will all that change impact the awards? Yes and no!
Dick Clark Productions is perhaps best known for producing the annual New Year’s Eve live celebration in Times Square, but it’s also been producing the Golden Globes since the ’80s. Named after the late popular event host, DCP has a long resume of awards shows under its belt, as well as reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance.
Because of DCP’s longstanding production of the Globes, its acquisition of the show shouldn’t make much of a difference in the overall aesthetic and format of this year’s ceremony. The voting membership, however, has undergone a much-needed overhaul. Eligibility requirements have expanded and membership has tripled to 300 members. The basic premise of membership — you have to be a journalist writing for a media outlet outside of the US — remains the same.
Already, the nominations feel less out of step with the culture than they have in years past — less inconsistent with fewer head-turning and baffling nominees. While there are some snubs in the lineup, most of the choices make sense. The frontrunners, including Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Succession, are all mainstream critical favorites, and so far, predictions for who will take home the acting prizes seem to align squarely with the rest of the critical establishment.
Still, if there’s one thing the Globes have taught us, it’s that there’s always room for the unexpected. After all, it’s not quite clear that the strange, co-dependent relationship that once existed between the voters and the industry has entirely ended. Add to that the fresh possibilities afforded by this year’s blank slate and the odds are good that at least one or two shocking upsets could well be on the menu.
But then, those record-scratch moments are why we love the Globes: Even when they’re serving us a quizzical trainwreck, we just can’t look away.