The main feeling surrounding this year’s musical award ceremonies seems to have been disdain.
When I recently offered an opportunity to a few student journalists to live-blog the BRITs, I was met with groans and eye rolls, and even as a lover of music, it’s felt like more of a chore than a pleasure to keep up with them this year. Being a student and music enthusiast, with many student, musically enthusiastic friends, I thought I may have been speaking from an echo chamber, but it seems that this is a general attitude towards this year’s BRIT and Grammy awards.
Yesterday on the television, I saw an advert for the ‘BRITs album’, advertising itself as ‘all of this year’s top chart hits’, but to pretty much everyone apart from people who work in the industry, the charts do not matter any more. This year has seen artists like Chance The Rapper bring out phenomenally successful albums without a label, an outward rejection of the music industry and the charts that it stands for. When looking at the charts, the songs at the top are not the ones that people are buzzing about, and because so many people use streaming services over radio, they’re not forced to listen to ‘chart hits’. This just epitomises the problem of award ceremonies – they disregard what is truly successful, instead choosing to implement a warped view that the music in the charts is automatically the most popular.
To put this into perspective, let’s look at Emeli Sandé – a big and exciting name in music with a best selling debut record… back in 2012. Five years after falling into obscurity and irrelevance, Sandé still somehow manages to win BRIT awards year on year. Okay, she had a record out last year, but I don’t know a single person who listened to it, and though it charted well, it was by no means one of the biggest, most exciting or best critically acclaimed albums of the year. Yet, she still managed to nab the ‘British Female Solo Artist Award’. Not only does this seem ridiculous, but is an insult to the efforts and creativity of fellow nominees Anohni and Nao, both of whom also put out albums last year. The discrepancy here seems to be that these albums only charted at #17 and #26 in the UK charts, despite both appearing on multiple ‘album of the year’ lists. This is not to mention that Emeli Sandé now holds more BRITs than Radiohead, The Smiths and George Michael put together.
And it’s not only non-successful acts getting awards, but inactive ones. One Direction, who are publicly on hiatus and have not released anything since late 2015, still somehow managed to nab a BRIT award. Though it was for a video released in 2016, the single and album of origin were not. When non-working bands like One Direction are winning awards over all nine other nominated bands, you have to question the validity of these ceremonies.
It’s not even just me and other pretentious know-it-all music journalists thinking like this, either. Even the winners of this year’s music awards thought the academies had got it wrong. When Adele stepped up onto the stage at the Grammy’s and said “I can’t possibly accept this award”, it was clear that something had seriously changed with how these awards are perceived. Every year we are used to the Twitter backlash to awards ceremonies, but when this backlash comes, albeit graciously, from the mouth of an award winner, it’s something else entirely. Although Adele’s emotional reaction to the award makes it clear that these awards still mean a lot to those in the industry, is there any point in them when even the winning artists believe that they are wrongly awarded?
The most frustrating thing about these award ceremonies is that they refuse to listen to artists, industry workers and anyone else who disagrees with them. After last year’s outrage at the lack of PoC and grime artists in the nominations, the BRITs seemed to take this into account when this year’s nominations were decided. However, this can seem nothing but halfhearted when none of these artists actually won, despite grime being the fastest growing genre of the last year. The biggest joke here is Skepta being nominated for the British Breakthrough award, when his debut Greatest Hits celebrates its tenth birthday this September, and it comes across as not only out of touch, but a downright insult to Skepta and artists of his genre.
Even more laughable was the censorship of Skepta’s performance of Shut Down. A massive single of the last year, which literally mocks the censorship of black rap and grime artists at the BRITs, was censored at the BRITs despite it being after the watershed. The censored lyric “ring ring pussy” is less offensive than the language you hear on most 10pm BBC dramas, and the BRITs could not be doing themselves any more damage than obviously censoring an artist because of the colour of his skin and musical genre.
So really, musical award ceremonies have become more of a joke than a legitimate way to measure success in the music industry. None of the winners for the international awards at the BRITs turned up to claim their awards, and if that doesn’t epitomise how far out of touch these awards have gone, I don’t know what does.
Get Volume #17 here.