If you cast your mind back to the past year in UK music, who do you immediately think of? An obvious choice might be FKA twigs – the singer, producer and all-round creative visionary who released one of the most astonishing records (and videos) of the year. Or maybe you think of Stormzy, JME or Skepta – three grime supernovas who managed to put the fire back into the home-grown genre and take it global. Or maybe you think of Little Simz, this year’s ferociously talented North London breakthrough act.
Who I’d imagine doesn’t immediately spring to mind is Amy Winehouse, who sadly passed away in 2011, or 90s Britpop kings Blur, or Calvin Harris, whose recent significant contributions to British music have been sporadic at best. But while all the former artists have been ignored, the latter have all received nominations at this year’s Brit Awards. And astonishingly, with the exception of the ‘international’ category, every single nominee is white.
As we know, systematic, ingrained racial bias in the entertainment industry is unfortunately nothing new, particularly when it comes to award ceremonies. The recent #OscarsSoWhite hashtag emerged again this year to shed light on the bleak white monotony of Hollywood, a monotony that simply doesn’t reflect the creative talents of people of colour and women. Similarly, last year’s MTV Video Music Awards had a noticeable lack of POC up for nomination, which Nicki Minaj rightly called out, starting the best, most-quoted feud of the year and the still-catchy phrase “Miley, what’s good?”
However (and our international peers might disagree), Britain has always prided itself on staying ahead of the curve when it comes to pop culture, particularly in music. Some of the most exciting, innovative and forward-thinking sounds have come out of the UK, from our reinterpretation of acid house and punk music to the birth of garage to grime and everything in between. Even our mainstream pop music can feel inventive and bold, and this is in no small part down to our brilliantly rich, cultural heritage and celebration of difference. So why has the Brit Awards failed to recognise this? Or worse – chosen to ignore it?
A quick look at last year’s Brit Award nominees show a similar trend; a list that included not a single person of colour, with the exception of FKA twigs. Kanye West might have performed at the 2015 ceremony with a hoard of well-respected grime artists in tow, but this appreciation was not reflected in the awards themselves. The sinister connotation being, the Brits might give you a stage for the night but not a serious award, because serious awards go to white people.
So who exactly chooses these awards? According to the Mirror, “one guy at the Official Charts Company spends half the year vetting every single record released to ensure that it's eligible for inclusion at the Brits,” and then “more than 1,000 music people – everyone from managers to journalists and record labels to last year’s winners – individually select their top five.” Maybe, then, if the selecting panel themselves are primarily white (men), it would make sense that their choices reflect that. When Dazed reached out to The Brit Awards to receive diversity statistics on those who select the nominees, they declined to reveal how many were people of colour, or why their nominees were so overwhelming white.
It’s also worth mentioning that this year’s ‘Best Producer of the Year’ nominees were all white men (Charlie Andrew, Mark Ronson, Mike Crossey, Tom Dalgety), this year’s ‘Best British Group’ were also entirely white men (Blur, Coldplay, Foals, One Direction, Years & Years). As ever, it’s not only people of colour that aren’t getting their fair dues but women too.
So what can we do to change this? We could, of course, simply boycott the awards. If they choose to ignore representation of a huge percentage of Britain in favour of Ed Sheeran and James Bay, then Britain can ignore them back. But the problem is much bigger than the Brit Awards, which marks just one example in a sea of many examples of the white dominance of the creative industries. In order to get ‘real recognition’ for people that aren’t middle class singer-songwriters, inoffensive alt-rock bands or Brit School alumnus, there needs to be a serious reconfiguration and re-examination of what ‘real recognition’ actually means.
Follow Daisy Jones on Twitter here @daisythejones