Another Predictable Awards Ceremony
By Yonatan Collier
Following on from the recent #OscarsSoWhite controversy, last week's Brit Awards were embroiled in much the same debate. The awards, which are supposedly the key celebration in the British musical calendar, have come in for some heavy criticism since they released this years' short list without a single black British artist anywhere to be seen.
Numerous artists have spoken out in protest; Laura Mvula refused to attend the awards ceremony; Lily Allen asserted that the Brits are "blind to black talent." Grime artist Stormzy made his feelings known in a freestyle, "None of my G's nominated for Brits?/ Are you taking the piss? Embarrassing."
2015 was a huge year for grime in the UK, with artists such as Stormzy, Lady Leshurr, Skepta and Krept & Konan making big steps into the mainstream. What made this so exciting is that the majority of these artists haven't changed a thing about what they do; they are not commercializing their sound to try and find an audience, they've just kept plugging away, making the same great music, and the audience has come to them.
So why isn't there a place for someone like Lady Leshurr on the short list? It is very hard to say. She is an uncompromising artist who's "Queen's Speech Ep. 4" has had nearly 23 million views on YouTube at the time of writing. These kinds of numbers completely eclipse those of nominee Laura Marling, so this clearly isn't a straight popularity contest. Are these nominations purely down to artistic merit then? Well, with the greatest of respect, Amy Winehouse didn't exactly write any great songs last year, and she made the list. It's baffling.
While this lack of diversity is probably the most troubling thing about the Brits at the moment, the problems go much deeper than this. One look at the list of winners verifies what a safe, predictable contest this has become: James Bay, Adele, Coldplay, One Direction… More interesting nominees such as Jamie XX and Aphex Twin never really stood a chance of winning. Strangely enough, in the international categories, the choices were a little more interesting, with Bjork and Tame Impala picking up awards after a year in which they had both released oddball, critically acclaimed albums.
The frustration then, lies in how reluctant the Brits are to support any exciting, challenging British artists. This problem was discussed by another grime artist, Big Narstie, when he was interviewed for Channel 4 News. Discussing the fact that the only black nominees at the Brits were American, he said that "for our country to do good, we need to support our country"; the Brits committee should take note. A number of grime MCs did actually appear onstage at the 2015 award ceremony, but they weren't invited up there by the organisers. Embarrassingly enough it took an invitation from an American (Kanye West) to get these artists onto the Brits stage for the first time.
The Brit Awards are such a huge platform that they really do have the power to shine a light on areas of British music that deserve a bigger audience. We need to celebrate the diversity of our music, but also that weird, eccentric British spirit that runs through the best work of so many of our icons. It's all very well celebrating Bowie by playing his music up on stage, but how about celebrating his spirit by giving out some awards to the freaks and the weirdos?
Giving the awards to middle of the road artists that have already sold millions doesn't really achieve all that much. Everyone already owns the Adele album, so what exactly do we gain in showering her with statuettes? There is tremendous potential for the Brits to energize British music. Let's hope that at some point they realize it.
Published March 2nd, 2016
Yoni Collier is a music producer, composer and writer who has been signed by (and then fallen out with) too many record labels to mention. He now freelances as this keeps arguments with colleagues to a minimum. He has written music for TV and award winning short films, and has worked as a producer with numerous artists. He also teaches music production at Leeds Beckett University.