The Brit Awards is the British music industries biggest event of the year where the industry celebrates the biggest and best commercial achievements over the past twelve months.
This year the show was better than it’s been for years. Big names, big performances, multiple A List presenters, an excited arena full of noisy music fans and all the industry dinner tables groaning under the weight of champagne, decadence, ego and anxiety. Would their artists win? Would their artists make a successful speech? Would their artists make the papers with their red carpet outfits? Would the publicity lead to an uplift in sales, streams and and congratulatory back-slap for the record label staff from their head honcho bosses?
Well, the excitement and anticipation paid off. The show was the best I’ve seen in years. There were the usual awkward speeches, one technical glitch that the producers managed to stitch together with a slight hiccup, the Saturday night extravaganza on ITV for the first time meant no work the next morning and there was an uplift of viewers from last years 2.8million to 3.8million this year so a good look for ITV.
I loved Lizzo’s set! She has captured me and the globe with her female positive empowering anthems this past few years. She’s totally unapologetic with her art, voice, lyrics and brand and I have her on my playlist non-stop!
I loved the fact that an unknown dup from the Isle of Wight- Wet Leg – came from nowhere the same week and bagged Grammies and Brit Awards. Their set was brilliant staging, lighting, greenery and rock n roll.
I loved that Cat Burns – a huge gay icon- was celebrated with a very powerful set.
I loved that Stormzy showed how much vast range he had by not repeating a dynamic, hard hitting political rain-shower set that held politicians to account for Grenfell. He showed he could gracefully sing and rap a set accompanied by the incredible Chineke Orchestra and a choir.
I loved Sam Smiths set- which had a tech glitch and came back later in the show than it seemed they were meant to be. I did wonder why people were so polarised about Sam Smiths appearance when Harry Styles also expresses gender neutral, flamboyant fashion tastes and is celebrated for it. Is it about Sam Smiths weight?
I loved Salma Hayek and Shania Twain – A List classic women still looking and sounding super dope!
CONTROVERSY – BEST ARTIST
However, the Brit Awards is no stranger to controversy. Yes there were some bleeped speeches, there were some obviously filler spots fillig for time on the floor by the host Mo Gillighan and more.
Whether its previous moments under the glare of the spotlight like #BritsSoWhite a few years ago, or this years uproar about the lack of female artists in the Best Artist category or the merging of the pop & R&B categories, there is always something for every awards show isn’t there?.
In recent years more gender neutral artists have been more outspoken and courageously come out to be able to express themselves authentically. This led to awards shows having to pivot to meet the challenge of including everyone in their categories. This is why the Best Male and Best Female categories were merged to become Best Artist like The Grammys. Of course, there were always concerns that this would sideline female music acts who are already sidelined with so many aspects in the music industry.
Women aren’t signed and celebrated in the same way. They have sexist systems that aren’t female friendly. Women don’t often feel safe in music spaces and women behind the scenes at record labels are often passed over for promotion and not nominated for awards like their male counterparts. The first year that the Best Artist category existed was last year when there was no lack of female winners. However, this year, in 2023 there wasn’t a female nominee in the category. Some say it’s as women didn’t have a strong album release cycle, others highlight numerous females who did have strong number one albums. So what to do? Is it better to revert to Best Male and Best Female categories? If that were to happen, where could artists who don’t identify as either fit? Isn’t the point of inclusion to include everybody? If anyone is excluded the industry would be intentionally being exclusive. So whats the solution? Could it be quota’s and human gatekeepers to ensure that every group can be included in the final shortlist? Is that fair?
CONTROVERSY – BEST POP/R&B
Similarly, It’s clearly not a good look to merge the Best Pop and Best R&B categories. R&B has a huge popular scene here in the UK with hundreds of R&B nights and talent who just never have the spotlight shone upon them. Is it racist? Is there an issue with music genres that originate in black music? It’s an ongoing discussion, but with the emergence of acts like Flo breaking through without mainstream support, clearly there needs to be more respect and a platform reserved for every genre.
Cultural tribes and music scenes would rather have their own bespoke category recognised and celebrated without it being on TV if need be, than having their genre remixed into a category which will never show them at all. It’s more powerful to label yourself ”Brit Nominated” than not be acknowledged at all. This is why The Mobo Awards will always be needed. Black music genres strongest and mutate year after year. If the mainstream industry cant keep up then platforms like MOBO, GRM, Rated, LinkUpTV, SBTV and more will fill the gaps and run with the marketing brands big budgets.
The BPI (British Phonographic Industry), who oversee the Brit Awards with the big record labels are aware of the uproar and are working diligently behind the scenes to rectify the awards annually and keep up with the changes required. For full transparency, I am a part of the BPI Equality and Justice Advisory Group -EJAG. Our job and purpose is to advise and challenge the BPI on matters initially focused on race and gender. Our ultimate aim is to further support and promote equality and inclusion in music alongside other industry initiatives. On this occasion our EJAG group weren’t privy to much of the detail behind this years awards, but rest assured, we are all working together urgently to ensure the awards are healthier from the point of inclusion moving forwards.
The entertainment industry tends to be more progressive and early to future trends, whether that’s around sounds, genres, styles, changes in accessibility and more.
Ultimately there will always be friction, tension and challenge in society because inclusion and equity in society is an ever-evoloving thing.
When my great, great grandparents were born historical atrocities like the holocaust and slavery were deemed acceptable. Times evolve healthily with people choosing to challenge the status quo .
When I was born being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community was a taboo, illegal thing. When I was at school there were no diversity opportunities for people like me from under represented backgrounds to even consider being a part of the media industry. When I was at college people talking about the planet and environmentally friendly practises were called hippies and ridiculed. When I worked in my early career at Channel 4 on the biggest pop culture show of the nineties – The Word, and later at MTV as a VJ, Producer, Director and Head Of Production, black British pop stars were practically invisible from mainstream media. It’s good to see that there was a very healthy representation of British black talent from all across the creative industries present and welcomed at the Brit Awards this year. From the performers, to the presenters and host, to the record industry tables and afterparties, the brits from working class backgrounds were certainly represented (probably not in the same volume as private school kids but we were in the house representing!).
It’s hard to put on a great show, tick all the production and TV platform requirements, have great security, positive press, and a show thats remembered for the right reasons. I’m not sure I ever hear a full 100% approval rate for any awards show. What I can say from my many years of experience, research, data and insight is that things have improved steadily, in recent years that improvement has sped up, but it will never be perfect, because as humans and society- we change definitions, identities, and definitions of success all the time.
Once upon a time The Brits and similar shows only shortlisted by commercial sales success. Now those goalposts are shifting to also include the biggest digital and online streaming stars and influencers. Next decade there’ll be something else new that came with new rules and changed the game again.
But whats wonderful is being along for the ride and watching a constantly evolving landscape where music stars are still delivering their best work for us and making our lives better. Where would we be without their willingness to wear their hearts on their Spotify sleeves? Salute the British music industry and its various tentacles. this giant monster that contributes so much to our economy is world beating and i love to see it win!
Congratulations to the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), ITV, Mastercard, YouTube Music, DawBell Ltd and all the various media teams for pulling together to create an epic #BRITAWARDS show this weekend.
Salute to my Equality and Justice Group at the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), the BPI team and production company staff who work to make our live shows the best on the planet. This weekend’s Brit show – despite the deserved criticisms and areas that will be improved for the future – was awesome.
We know that there is still much work to be done behind the scenes, and will be forever more because inclusion and equity shape shift all the time and awards show too must change and pivot to reflect the whole of society.
In an ever changing world where still new voices will need to be welcomed at every turn, it will never be perfect but it’s definitely stronger as we move together.
The public see the razzle dazzle of the main show but they don’t see the incredible funds that are raised for The BRIT School to enable young people from all backgrounds to aspire to a career in the creative arts. Watching the BRITs School students annually engage with the show is the most JOY!
Nurturing the future of creative talent with The BRIT School and promoting diversity and inclusion in performing arts and technology, all the teams pulling together behind the scenes are helping to develop the talent of tomorrow by empowering people of all backgrounds today.