Let's talk about #BritsSoWhite
- Alex Johnston
- 27 January 2016
The Oscars aren't the only award ceremony that could do with more diversity
The 36th Brit awards will be held on Wed 24 Feb 2016. The British Phonographic Industry's annual awards have been held every year since 1982, and are the most widely-publicised music awards in the British music industry. The 2016 ceremony, like the 2015 one, will be hosted by Ant & Dec. It is not yet known whether anyone will fall down, drunkenly rush the stage and get sworn at by a pensioner, have their acceptance speech cut short halfway through, swear at a co-presenter, fail to read the autocue, fire blanks at the audience, get nominated for Best Newcomer despite being on their third album, make lame jokes about the Queen's naughty bits, throw a bucket of water over a cabinet minister or generally act like a colossal dickhead, but if so, it would be business as usual from the Brits: several hours of arse-busting tedium interrupted by a few precious seconds of foul-tempered dishevelment. But the Brits are suffering from a worse problem than just being boring.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has lately received a dose of well-deserved flak for failing to nominate a single black actor or actress in any of the Oscar categories, not to mention failing to nominate a single film directed by a black director or written by a black screenwriter. Bear this in mind when we consider the Brit Award for British Album of the Year. The very first Brits in 1977 gave it to The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an odd choice, considering that it had been released ten years earlier, but the 1977 Brits were a one-off. The Brits assumed their current form in 1982 and in the 34 years since then, British Album of the Year has been awarded to a black artist only five times: Michael Jackson in 1984, Sade in 1985, Fine Young Cannibals (by virtue of their mixed-race singer Roland Gift) in 1990, Seal in 1992 and Emeli Sandé in 2013. It will not have escaped your notice that one of these artists can by no stretch of the imagination be described as 'British'.
Compare the Mercury Prize. Over its 23 years, the Mercury Prize has bloody-mindedly refused to take heavy metal seriously, partly to do with judging panel chairman Simon Frith's well-documented distaste for the genre. But it's consistently recognised black and Asian musicians: previous winners include M People, Roni Size, Talvin Singh, Ms Dynamite, Dizzee Rascal, Speech Debelle, Young Fathers and Benjamin Clementine, and a glance at the nominees reveals even greater diversity. Of the 2016 Brit nominees for British Male Solo Artist, British Female Solo Artist, British Group and British Producer of the Year, all 19 of them no doubt deserve to be nominated for something; but all of them happen to be white. Also, one of them happens to be no longer alive. The late and undoubtedly great Amy Winehouse got her Brit for Best British Female Solo Artist in 2007: four years after her sad death, was there really nobody else more deserving of the same award?
To be fair, the international awards are a tad more diverse, but no less predictable. The five nominees for Best International Male include Drake, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd, but also Justin Bieber. Best International Female is, well, let's just say, nothing like as multi-ethnic as it might be. International Group includes Alabama Shakes and Major Lazer, but also U2.
Who votes for the Brits? According to their annoyingly-hard-to-navigate website, the voting panel consists of 'over 1,000 music enthusiasts representing every sector of the music industry: record labels, publishers, managers, agents, media, NUS Ents officers and, introduced last year, the nominated artists or Award winners from the previous year.' So, let's just get this straight: the voting panel consists of pretty much every kind of person you can find in the music industry, except that only in 2015 did they think to include musicians. This goes a long way to explain the predictable, self-congratulatory nature of the Brits: the mainstream music industry's primary index of quality is market success, so the most famous thing is usually regarded as the best thing. (If you don't have your money on Adele to win Best British Album then you probably have it on Coldplay, but you'd be brave indeed to have it on anyone else.) The Brits have locked themselves into being the most boring award ceremony out there, so they have nobody but themselves to blame for the consistent decline in their viewing figures.
As for us, when Wed 24 Feb rolls around, we'll be doing something more exciting. Possibly cleaning out the cooker hood. We just don't know. We like surprises.