2021 Virtual Awards Season: How the Culture Industry Got Creative

8th Jun 2021
Entre les lignes

Awards ceremonies are usually vibrant festivals of cultural escapism. Most years, the Oscars, the Grammys and the Cannes Film Festival give us an opportunity to press pause on our day-to-day lives and celebrate the arts through a world of star-studded parties and haute-couture fashion. 

This year viewers needed a cultural escape hatch more than ever. And the arts industry, also reeling from the effects of a global pandemic, needed the PR boost and global visibility that comes with awards season. 

The good news is that despite the Covid-19 risks and regulations that put a kibosh on crowded live events and international travel, awards organisers have been thinking outside of the box and finding new ways to resonate with audiences. This article celebrates how creative awards ceremonies around the globe adapted to the limitations of 2021’s very unusual awards season. 

Entre les lignes helps brands craft messaging across languages and cultures. Want to learn how we can help you with translation and transcreation? Get in touch today. 

Rising to the challenge of 2021

Ceremony organisers in 2021 have been faced with a range of obstacles. 

Typical awards ceremonies involve crowds mingling at events and afterparties, from awards nominees and their entourages to photographers, journalists, stylists, and fans. Clearly, this isn’t possible mid-pandemic. 

Before the ceremonies start, artists, producers, studios, and award organisers usually embark on months of screenings and networking events for publicity. Covid-19 made it difficult to generate the usual pre-event buzz. 

Events that went fully virtual faced particular challenges in getting viewers engaged:  Zoom fatigue is real, and audiences are tired of sitting through televised videoconferences.

Luckily, the creative industries are nothing if not, well, creative. The best awards ceremonies of 2021 found ways to connect deeply with fans and voters alike. 

At Entre les lignes, we value creativity, culture, and inclusivity. We want to commemorate the awards ceremonies that turned limitations into advantages this year with intimate events that recognised independent movies and music and celebrated art made by women and minority groups. 

Here are our top picks: 

The Oscars

The 93rd annual Academy Awards built a virtual buzz around this year’s ceremony by announcing early on that all nominees would attend in-person, unlike many other events. They engaged their audience with a strong social media presence, including a classic Hollywood-style video announcing the nominees. 

The ceremony itself was spread out across several locations, with different celebrities rotating in and out of each, and was directed by Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh. 

The Oscars offered the glamour we’ve been craving with a twist, including candy-coloured visuals and a bright pink carpet rather than the standard red. The ceremony started with a bang: the unusual opening sequence tracked presenter Regina King as if she were on a film set, following her all the way to the presenter’s podium. It was a key talking point that drew viewers in and created a sense of spectacle.

Without the big-budget PR stunts we normally associate with the Oscars, small, independent movies got more of a look in. Since the pandemic has increased the use of streaming services over more traditional cinema by major studios, it’s also no surprise that Netflix had the largest haul, with seven trophies. 

But there was also a strong emphasis on other forms of diversity. For several years, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign has called for greater inclusion of marginalised groups. The 2021 Academy Awards ceremony was a step in the right direction: the first all-Black producing team got a nomination, the first Black makeup and hairstyling team won an award, and Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao took home the Best Director Oscar for Nomadland – only the second woman ever to win in this category.

There was political urgency to this year’s event, with several impassioned speeches referencing #BlackLivesMatter and other movements, though the night ended in disappointment for those hoping to see a posthumous Best Actor awarded to the late Chadwick Boseman.

The Grammys

From the start, the team behind the Grammys made it clear that this wouldn’t be just another virtual awards ceremony. They piqued interest by announcing that the event would be live and in-person, positioning themselves as an antidote to the flatness of big Zoom awards ceremonies. 

The 2021 Grammys was all about connecting with the audience in a deeper, more intimate way. Award nominees and performers attended the physical event, which was held outdoors to manage Covid restrictions, and there was an emphasis on stripped-down staging. 

Unlike the Oscars, where best song nominees pre-recorded their performances, the Grammys had live, real-time music, with performers spread across five different stages. Without the energy of a live audience, they needed to do something different, which they achieved through a more intimate performance style, with cameras giving close-ups of the musicians.

But that’s not to say there wasn’t any spectacle here: the Grammys this season included several history-making performances, perhaps most notably Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s explicit performance of WAP, which set the internet aflame. 

Like the Oscars, the Grammys were much more inclusive and culturally diverse this year.  K-pop sensations BTS gave a stellar performance, and women musicians took home the most awards. A bevvy of prizes this year made Beyonce the female artist with the most awards in the history of the Grammys, and there was a touching moment when her daughter won a Grammy. 

Next year’s Grammys look set to further improve diversity and fairness – they’re just announced that they will be making nominations processes and committees more transparent after several groups boycotted this year’s event. 

The Goya Awards

The Goya Awards, Spain’s version of the Oscars, were held in Málaga this year. Social media lit up when the organisers confirmed that one of Málaga’s most famous natives, Antonio Banderas, would host.  

Los premios Goya, as the awards are known, adapted to a hybrid format. The nominees participated and gave speeches via Zoom with a physical gala where hosts, prize givers, and performers took the stage live. 

The ceremony was a lesson in making the most of this year’s limitations. Rather than trying to recreate a large-scale awards ceremony, the Goya awards took the opportunity to offer an intimate, stripped-back approach. Antonio Banderas spoke passionately and directly into the camera with all his characteristic charisma and charm. There was also the intimacy of seeing into celebrities’ homes as the nominees tuned in on Zoom, with all the classic celebrities-are-human-too moments when actors forgot to mute or unmute themselves. 

There was still some dazzle, though: the Goya de Honor won by Ángela Molina was a standout moment, with choreography by a troupe of masked flamenco dancers with bright red fans. 

Several international actors, including Helen Mirren, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and Emma Thompson attended via Zoom – an unlikely turnout had this been a standard in-person ceremony.

The 2021 event was the first time the Goya have allowed films screened on streaming services to be nominated, and platforms like Netflix took home several awards. The big winners of the night included the movies Schoolgirls, Akelarre, Adú and Ane. 


The BAFTAs promised to be a very different ceremony to previous years, partly due to Covid, but also because they’ve engaged in a radical overhaul designed to make the awards more diverse and democratic. While almost every single nominee for acting last year was white, this year, 16 of 24 acting nominees were people of colour. Nomadland took home the most awards. 

Unlike many other ceremonies, they went with the classic two-host format, with Dermot O’Leary and Edith Bowman offering the typical onstage banter in an empty Royal Albert Hall, with only presenters and a handful of celebrities present. But they also used the virtual conditions to experiment with staging – the ceremony opened with Liam Payne’s holographic avatar beamed onto the platform. 

The freedom of going virtual allowed the BAFTAs to run a two-day ceremony this year, acknowledging the more “minor” awards that don’t usually make it into the main ceremony the day before. 

Like other virtual awards ceremonies in 2021, less focus on schmoozing and spectacle meant there was more emphasis on the quality of the movies themselves. This led to a more democratic awards season that benefitted filmmakers without a giant marketing and travel budget. 

How will the Cannes Film Festival engage viewers?

Next up is the Cannes Film Festival, which looks likely to go ahead with a mainly live ceremony in July 2021, despite uncertainty around Covid travel restrictions.

Cannes faces extra challenges as it’s not a one-day event but a series of film premieres and screenings across a couple of weeks in multiple locations. 

It looks likely the organisers will use outdoor venues as well as running a virtual Cannes online market in June. They’ve already started building a media buzz by announcing major auteur-led films that will participate, including Leos Carax’s Annette, starring Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver, and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. 

If all goes well, Cannes looks set to offer viewers a glimmer of hope for the return of live, large-scale awards ceremonies.

But it will also incorporate the lessons learned from the virtual awards season.

Awards ceremonies in 2021 showcased the resilience of the arts and culture industry, drawing viewers in with events that offered a combination of spectacle, intimacy, and diversity. There’s been a trend towards lower viewership over the past few years, even before the pandemic – so it’s crucial that awards ceremonies continue to innovate and find new ways to engage audiences even under the most challenging circumstances. 

Entre les lignes helps brands craft messaging across languages and cultures. Want to learn how we can help you with translation and transcreation? Get in touch today.