Fewer categories, more power to the jury, a different broadcaster, no live transmission and no Helene Fischer. By divorcing itself from tradition, is Germany's most important music prize undergoing a renewal?
The big winner at Thursday evening's ECHO awards was veteran German rocker Udo Lindenberg. The 70-year-old took the top honor in the category National Pop Artist (male) and is currently on the charts with his album "Stärker als die Zeit" (Stronger Than Time), which also won as Album of the Year. The album's producers also won an ECHO. The much-decorated singer said that winning a prize is "not a routine. It seems like the first time every time. And this is the flash we have to preserve." Later, when Lindenberg - a household name in Germany - returned to the stage to pick up another trophy, he feigned surprise. "That really knocks me out," he said.
Taking top honors in the category of Best National Video was the indie pop band Von wegen Lisbeth, and solo singer Ina Müller won the award als National Pop Artist (female). The musicians of the band AnnenMayKantereit took an ECHO as Best National Newcomer, while the distinction for Best International Newcomer and International Artist went to the English musician Rag'n'Bone Man.
The prize for Hit of the Year went to rapper Drake for his song One Dance. In the category of Folk Music, Austrian Andreas Gabalier took top honors.
Conspicuously absent from this year's bash was the German schlager singer Helene Fischer, who with 16 ECHOs holds the highest number in history and who completely dominated the spectacle in the past two years. For the 2017 ECHOs, Fischer wasn't even to be found in the list of nominees. Winning the award in the schlager category this time was Andrea Berg.
Taking top honors in the Hip-Hop/Urban National division was the group Beginner headed by singer Jan Delay. Their album "Advanced Chemistry" occupied the No. 1 position in the album charts last year. Beginner also took the Critics' Prize. Delay quipped that with all the bad critiques "Advanced Chemistry" had received, the Critics' Prize was "the biggest joke of the year."
Finally, the singer Marius Müller Westernhagen took the Lifetime Achievement Award. Westernhagen was described as "a person who loves beauty and will remain a Romantic until his final day," said his friend Olli Dittrich, who put him on a paar with the German poets Hesse, Tucholsky and Brecht.
"Exhausted and tired" is how Thomas Schreiber, Head of Entertainment at the German public broadcasting network ARD, described the ECHO Awards show last year, explaining why relatively tame public television had dropped the ritual. Now the show is being transmitted by commercial broadcaster Vox one day later than the actual event on Thursday in the Berlin Trade Fair Halls, hosted by German singers Sasha and Xavier Naidoo. The Twitter community asked, Why would anyone want to watch an awards show where the winners are already known?
Awarded by the National Association of Music Industry (BVMI), the ECHOs haven't exactly been cliffhangers in past years either, as they mainly reflect commercial success. That too was supposed to change this year: sales numbers now weigh in at 50 percent of the decision, the rest left to the discretion of a jury consisting of about 500 journalists, tradesmen, producers, former prize winners and nominees, and representatives of labels.
In another change, the number of categories was reduced from 31 to 22 to streamline the ritual.
Nonetheless, that didn't necessarily make it a happy event. There was much bickering in the run-up and in the show, with television satirist Jan Böhmermann calling the whole operation "empty commercial crap." Singer Campino of the veteran punk group Die Toten Hosen retorted, speaking of "Böhmermanian zeitgeist babble."
Numerous music stars and show business celebrities were on hand, including Wolfgang Niedecken, singer in the group BAP, Rammstein front man Till Lindemann and singer Lena Meyer-Landrut.
Here is the complete list of winners:
Album of the Year: Udo Lindenberg ("Stärker als die Zeit")
Hit of the Year: Drake feat. WizKid & Kyla ("One Dance")
National Pop Artist (male): Udo Lindenberg ("Stärker als die Zeit")
National Pop Artist (female): Ina Müller ("Ich bin die")
National Pop Band: AnnenMayKantereit ("Alles Nix Konkretes")
Schlager: Andrea Berg ("Seelenbeben")
Folk Music: Andreas Gabalier ("MTV Unplugged")
National Hip-Hop/Urban Act: Beginner ("Advanced Chemistry")
National Dance Act: Alle Farben ("Music Is My Best Friend")
National Rock Act: Broilers ("sic!")
International Band: Metallica ("Hardwired... To Self-Destruct")
International Artist (female): Sia ("This Is Acting")
International Artist (male): Rag 'n' Bone Man ("Human")
National Newcomer: AnnenMayKantereit ("Alles Nix Konkretes")
International Newcomer: Rag 'n' Bone Man ("Human")
National Producer: Herbig/Menzel/Seifert for Udo Lindenberg ("Stärker als die Zeit")
Best National Video: Sophie Lakow/Doz Zschäbitz for Von Wegen
National Critics' Prize: Beginner ("Advanced Chemistry")
Lifetime Achievement: Marius Müller-Westernhagen