Best of British?: Diversity at the Brit Awards

brits diversity

The Brit Awards, or any awards ceremony for that matter, rarely stray too far from controversy. Following in the footsteps of the Oscars the Brits have been accused of being “blind to black British talent”, as well as being too safe and commercialised. A number of celebrities have criticised the lack of prominent Grime artists such as Skepta and Stormzy and have even gone so far as boycotting the ceremony. How big is the issue here and how much do the Brits need to change?

First off lets just make things clear that things aren’t nearly as bad at the Brits as they are at the Oscars: the Oscars have failed to nominate a non-white person in a single category the past two years running, which is simply unacceptable. The issue that has been drawn was that, although there was plenty of diversity in the international categories and performances at the ceremony, the categories meant to celebrate British artists were whitewashed. The Brits have been criticised of ignoring Grime acts.

The simple fact is that they weren’t nominated, not because of some secret racist agenda, they weren’t nominated because they didn’t deserve to be. First off neither Skepta nor Stormzy, the two acts most often referred to by detractors, have released albums in the past year. Granted there have been a few singles, but being part of an underground scene they haven’t had as much media attention or as many sales as other artists. While you’re at it you could accuse the Brits of ignoring death metal and free-form jazz, it’s the same basic principle. The Mercury Prize, which considers all albums released by British artists regardless of sales figures, shortlisted artists such as Eska, Ghostpoet and overall winner Benjamin Clementine; plenty of black British talent but no Grime to be found.

Now let’s look at some of the international talent that was nominated at the Brits. Alabama Shakes have created a unique blend of Soul and Alternative Rock that earned them three Grammy Awards. Kendrick Lamar, while certainly not to everyone’s taste, released one of the most critically acclaimed album of the decade. ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was praised for it’s critique of inequality in American society, after which Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ pales in comparison. Grimes acts didn’t deserve a place at this year’s Brits and I don’t see why people are kicking up a fuss about their (perfectly valid) exclusion. Surely giving someone an award just down to the colour of their skin rather than the quality of their music is the exact thing people are supposed to be complaining about? If you want to be nominated make music worth being nominated, it’s not rocket science.

I’m the first to admit that the Brits have a fair few issues. The awards are too commercialised and often do not reflect true talent (Coldplay for best group? Really!?). We are still the workshop of the world when it comes to music and sadly a lot of it goes under the radar, but when someone creates truly great music then the media can’t ignore it forever. There’s a lot of commercial pop music with little artistic merit that keeps cropping up in awards but there’s usually enough genuine talent to keep the ceremonies afloat. The most deserving people often don’t win the awards that they should, but they are usually at least given a nomination. When exclusions occur it’s down to genre or simply not being quite good enough, not race.