The Brit Awards intended to celebrate British and International music last night but, yet again, faced intense back-lash. This year’s controversy (in case you’ve been living under a rock), was the lack of female nominees in this year’s mixed gender categories.
But before blindly jumping on this band wagon, it’s essential to gain a basic understanding of the foundation of The Brit Awards.
A lot of people believe The Brits is a stitch-up between major record companies, evilly plotting out who will get the awards. In reality, each year the nominees and winners are determined by The Brit Awards voting academy which has over 1,000 members, comprising of record labels, publishers, managers, agents, media and previous winners and nominees.
For an artist to be eligible there is one simple requirement – they must have had success in the top 40 charts 12 months prior.
Previously, at the Brits 2016 there was the #BritsSoWhite controversy where Stormzy, followed by other artists and supporters, criticised The Brit Awards for a lack of diversity, specifically a lack of black artists. In response to this, Ged Doherty, chairman of The BPI and Brit Awards, met with Stormzy to re-think the voting system.
As a result, The Brits voting academy now includes 718 new pundits, where voters from BAME backgrounds have increased to 17% and the gender balance improved to 52% male and 49% female from the previously 70% male-heavy panel.
So, if The Brit Awards have improved diversity in the voting panel, then why are we still facing diversity issues in the year 2020?
Four categories are open to both male and female artists; group of the year, new artist of the year, song of the year and Mastercard album of the year. Within these categories, male artists accounted for 26 nominations, while female artists shared just four.
Mabel, daughter of Neneh Cherry, was the only UK female musician nominated in the gender-neutral categories, and won Best Female Solo Artist, but lost out on Best New Artist to Lewis Capaldi.
At first glance these stats reflect poorly on The Brits, however they appeared to be pre-empting this. The Guardian pointed out that the press release announcing this year’s nominees came with a footnote stating, “The eligibility list has been compiled by the Official Charts Company and includes artists who have released product and enjoyed top 40 chart success. Record companies have had the opportunity to inform Brit Awards Ltd (BAL) of any eligible artists they wish to be added or inform BAL of any incorrect entries.”.
This basically translates to “It’s not our fault, it’s the record company’s.”, and there is evidence to support this. Out of the 193 albums submitted for consideration for this year’s best album prize, only 35 were by women.
In fact, just 19% of the artists signed to record labels in the UK overall are women, according to research by music industry consultant Vick Bain.
To paraphrase Rhian Jones, a contributing editor to Music Business Worldwide, the pool of female talent is smaller, because the record industry anecdotally, are less keen to sign female talent because it costs more. There’s stylists, make-up artists and heavily produced shows, whereas Lewis Capaldi can just get a guitar out, put a t-shirt on and everyone loves it.
Considering this, the future of The Brit Awards is based purely on how we as a society choose to address the issue of diversity.
Ged Doherty, chairman of the BPI and Brit Awards, told the BBC during the #BritsSoWhite controversy that, “nobody wants to be doing something that could be seen as tokenistic in any way, shape or form” which is hugely important. The nominees should be reflective of the eligible talent and unfortunately if the talent pool isn’t very large for women due to record companies bias there will be less women nominated.”
The Brit Awards have improved the diversity of their voting panel, but they can’t control which artists record companies choose to invest in, making them eligible. So, instead of attacking The Brit Awards or demanding they change the eligibility standards we should be focusing on the record companies themselves, pushing them to invest in the female artists we want to hear more of.
The Brit Awards is an opportunity to celebrate artists for their talent – it is not about what race, gender or sexuality they are. If The Brit awards was to specifically nominate people for their gender, race or sexuality to meet a diversity quota it would devalue the very award itself.
Instead, we, as members of the public should support the artists we enjoy verbally and by buying their music (no pirating!) which shows record companies a clear demand for them. That sends a far stronger message than kicking off once a year, directing the frustration purely at The Brit Awards. In turn this will drive record companies to invest in a diverse variety of artists which we can then look forward to seeing succeed in future Brit Award ceremonies.
Alison McGann – Junior Art Director