FEATURE: Minor Evolution But No Huge Surprises: Why We Need an Alternative to the BRIT Awards’ Tired Look and Lack of Real Progress




Minor Evolution But No Huge Surprises


IN THIS PHOTO: The Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z) won for Best International Group and, despite adding much-needed racial and gender equality to the BRIT Awards, they were an exception and not the rule/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

Why We Need an Alternative to the BRIT Awards’ Tired Look and Lack of Real Progress


I do not normally watch the BRIT Awards...

but I did flick over to it and watched a few of the prizes being handed out. I still think music award ceremonies have potential and promise but, to me, we concentrate too wholly on the BRITs. Right from the red carpet, everyone was talking about who was wearing what and who was standing out. There was definitely glitz and glamour on display but, when the night truly began, it was a story of the same old thing. Presenter Jack Whitehall was back again – after presenting successfully last year – and, whilst he did deliver some good gags, there were some awkward moments and uneasy exchanges. He was pretty good but I did feel like his parts were more memorable than a lot of the speeches on the night. Little Mix performed Woman Like Me and were subjected to some inappropriate jokes from Whitehall – commenting on their attire and descending into crude, sexist territory. A few of Whitehall’s gags were mistimed and misjudged - and I felt he was a bit unnecessary regarding Little Mix. The group’s performance was highly energetic and well-choreographed but, as noted, it was mimed. I do wonder why the BRIT Awards allow miming on a night that is celebrating the best artists around. It would not have been too hard to sing and dance live so that was confusing. Jess Glynne performed alongside H.E.R. and delivered her (Glynne’s) hit, Thursday.

George Ezra was entertaining and popular on the night whereas Jorja Smith provided a sparkling and memorable performance. There were few genuine standout performances on the night and it seemed like a case of being very similar to previous years. Even though there was a lot of cheese and some stilted performances, P!nk’s medley/performance was noted. The Guardian provided this review:

Starting in her dressing gown in her dressing room – very much part of her #relatable image – she kicks off with Walk Me Home and is swiftly hoisted into a costume that looks like Big Bird in the climactic scene of Carrie. Up she goes into the heavens, with the flamethrowers from Kanye’s 2015 performance earning back some of their value for Just Like Fire – a highlight of late-period Pink, thanks to its vocal leaps as vertiginous as her drop to the arena floor. Then it’s into Just Give Me A Reason, in some ways her most melodically satisfying song; Nate Ruess’s part is done (very capably) by Dan from Bastille in the most quintessentially Brit awards moment of this year’s Brit awards. The medley klaxon has been well and truly sounded.

Another recent Brits cliche – projection mapping – is deployed for an upbeat take on Try before a change into a newsprint-covered mac for What About Us. It remains an utterly shameless ripoff of Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars, but remains just as cheesily satisfying. She and her dancers finish by holding lights in a gesture of solidarity for … what? Well, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes pop just needs to be uplifting”.

There were, I guess, a couple of good performances but nothing that will stick in the mind and be remembered! I wonder what happened to the days when there was a bit of fire and some controversy. Maybe it is indicative of the acts being nominated but it felt very safe and routine. Aside from a few great performances there was nothing on the night that was particularly great. I am not saying we need to see fights and explosions but there was a lack of guts and real punch. Look at all the performances on the night and the feel is still very much the Pop market. The 1975 performed too and, whilst they delivered a great acceptance speech when taking to the stage (more on that later), they are not a million miles from other performances. When it came to the actual awards itself, there was one already-decided winner: Sam Fender won the Critics’ Choice award and, when interviewed by Whitehall and others, he seemed chuffed if a little bored. I think Fender will go a long way and it would have been nice to see him take to the stage and perform more – deliver something a bit grittier and with greater edge. The performances, from Hugh Jackman’s opener to P!nk’s medley seemed rather safe and commercial. There were some shock winners last night but, largely, it was as expected. Tom Walker won the British Breakthrough Act which, granted, was not on the cards…


 IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Walker was the (unexpected) winner of the British Breakthrough award/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Nominees Jorja Smith and IDLES were tipped and, to be fair, many expected IDLES to win. Maybe the fact IDLES have produced two albums meant they are not instantly seen as new and ‘breakthrough’. In terms of quality and impact, IDLES have delivered more and were far worthier of the award. Walker is very BRITs-sounding and appropriate (husky George Ezra-like tones and a nice beard) but there is nothing about his music that is different or hugely impressive. Look down the list of the so-called best British singles and it is your usual Pop fare – from Jess Glynne and Anne-Marie through to George Ezra and Tom Walker. Dua Lipa won, as many predicted, for One Kiss (with Calvin Harris) but I did look at the nominees and ask whether it is as diverse and quality-filled as it could be. The Grammys, this year, was noted for putting more focus on genres like Hip-Hop and equalling the playing field regarding female nominees. The BRIT Awards have always been more Pop-leaning and many noted how this year was a bit different. Looking at the winners and not a lot changed at all. The Best British Album category sported a bit more artistic integrity and genuine quality – Florence + the Machine’s High as Hope and Jorja Smith’s Lost & Found were in there – but the Pop album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships won.

The 1975 were the big winners last night but I feel their latest album denied stronger records the prize. In my mind, the only category that truly got things right was Best Female Solo Artist: Jorja Smith walked away with it and she deserved it too! I feel she is a breath of fresh air so I am glad she was recognised. The mega-popular Ariana Grande won the International Female Solo Artist award and that did not shock me. Again, it went to an artist who is very Pop-orientated. Grande’s music is popular and has its market but fellow nominees Christine and the Queens and Cardi B, in my mind, are stronger and far more deserving. If the nominees were broader than years past then the winners definitely were not. Ed Sheeran won the Global Success award – a bit of a pointless honour – and The 1975 won British Group. Many were tipping Little Mix to win but, with Arctic Monkeys nominated, I was surprised it went the way of The 1975. I know the band is more than simple Pop but they are not breaking the mould. George Ezra won for British Male Solo Artist (beating the more diverse and interesting Giggs and Aphex Twin) and Drake won International Male Solo Artist – he was expected to win but his brand of Hip-Hop/Rap is a lot safer and more commercial than fellow nominee Eminem; the music not as dynamic and engaging as another nominee, Kamasi Washington.

I always think the BRIT Awards could afford one or two other categories as, compared to the Grammys, they are very short indeed. Maybe we do not need the same sort of depth but, looking at the winners, and one wonders where the diversity is. There was greater balance regarding gender if not race but, in terms of genre, it was a Pop triumph. The Grammys have specialist categories for genres like Hip-Hop and Country and, if one were to assess British music based on the BRITs then you’d think it was mostly top-forty Pop and the occasional credible slice of R&B! The Carters (Beyonce and Jay-Z) won the International Group award (not a strong line-up this year!) and I think it was a good call. In their acceptance speech, we saw a portrait of Meghan Markle dressed in a crown. There was social commentary and humour and, looking pretty cool, The Carters were the most diverse winners on the night. The 1975 talked about gender inequality and sexual abuse in music and, whilst some social media commentators were confused regarding the speech’s messages and cohesiveness, many congratulated The 1975’s Matt Healy. Very few winners had anything important to say and stuck with the same platitudes and generic thanks – what you might expect, I guess! In another year free from fireworks and any real memorability, The 1975 did provide some much-needed awareness.

It is rare to see a male artist/act calling out their peers and it was good to see an act use the time on the stage to deliver a speech genuinely stirring and important. There was some swagger and sway on the night – Sam Smith was especially diva-like and strutted on; a lot of the nominees looked great and turned heads – but 2019’s BRIT Awards will not go down in history. We were promised a bit more diversity and variation but, when the gongs were handed out, there was not a lot of change. I think the Grammys have some work to do – they snubbed Rap and artists such as Kendrick Lamar refused to attend – but there was a feeling that, this year, things were sort of moving forward. In any case, one can look at America’s biggest music awards and see some range and interesting inclusions. Here, we still have this mainstream fixation and not enough genuine music on display. A lot of the winners are either highly processed in the studio or they are what one would expect of a Pop act: singing other people’s words and singing, roughly, the same thing. If gender empowerment and equality was a theme then musical diversity and outstanding sounds was definitely not a huge consideration. Even though two-thirds of the winners were men, one feels there is a slow movement towards a more balanced playing field.

Calvin Harris won a producing award and many were surprised to hear him speak – assuming he was American and not realising he was Scottish! Maybe that is systematic of a certain naivety and thickness but maybe you can forgive the people. The biggest impression of this year’s BRITs was of a slightly dull and predictable night. There were few shock winners and, if you had to be honest, can we see much improvement and development over the past five years or so?! In fact, many felt Jack Whitehall’s compere duties saved the night from being a true write-off. The Telegraph had this to say on the subject:

The pop industry’s 39th annual back-slapping session came live from the soulless aircraft hangar that is London’s O2 Arena, hosted for the second year running by comedian Jack Whitehall. An ideal fit for this gig, Whitehall struck the perfect balance between slick compering and caustic wit. He showed up Joanna Lumley’s BAFTAs turn for just how shoddy it was.

“Meanwhile, host Whitehall stole the show from under all the musicians’ noses. As ever, his plummy public school tones contrasted neatly with the near-the-knuckle nature of his material. His opening skit riffed on last year’s disastrous Fyre Festival, about which there have been two recent documentaries. It was a niche reference but one tailor-made for the pop demographic.

Whitehall later broadened his material to include us oldies with a pair of Brexit gags, including: “Westlife announced they were back in the studio. Suddenly a hard border with Ireland doesn’t sound so bad”.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Let’s Eat Grandma would have added genuine alternative spirit to the BRIT Awards (and their 2018 album, I’m All Ears, would have been a worthy prize-winner)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jenn Five

I do think there is a place for music award shows and they are not, as many assume, pointless and outdated. I feel artists need recognition and (award shows) are a way of guiding people to music they might not be aware of or was not reported in the mainstream press. We have the Mercury Prize but, like so many awards, this has been accused of bias and being too restrictive. It is hard to get the balance right but I think the BRIT Awards is a rather mediocre and tired affair. Maybe we do need to be rid of it but we need to accept that British music is much more than Pop and men. The Grammys has its issues – too many categories and issues regarding race – but they are starting to make improvements and recognise multiple genres whereas our equivalent is still stuck in second gear. If we are to have a big annual music award show (which we should) then there needs to be consideration regarding what defines British music and how tastes are changing. For people like me – who listens to BBC Radio 6 Music and knows there is more to music than Pop – there is not a lot on the bill that speaks to me and defines British music. It is true a lot of last year’s best albums were from American acts but think about IDLES, Let’s Eat Grandma; Shame, Young Fathers and Sons of Kemit and you have some great and fascinating acts that did not get a nod.

It is difficult to please everyone but I look at the BRIT Awards and see a genuine lack of evolution and credibility. Aside from a few good winners – such as Jorja Smith – there was a surfeit of great artists winning; virtually no guitar music and a very white and Pop-based board. There are great British albums, songs and artists coming through every year and I do not think they are being represented fairly. Some artists, such as Christine and the Queens, stated how women were ruling this year and the tide was turning. Maybe there is a slight narrowing of the gap but we cannot say there is genuine equality and, again, more men walked away with awards than women – can we say women dominated this year when you consider the realities?! The same can be said of racial balance. Whilst there are more black nominees than previous years, there were still more white winners – even if black artists like Jorja Smith and The Carters helped shift the imbalance. I think there is the potential to create a balanced, fair and quality-laden music award show without dragging on endlessly and having the same issues as the BRITs and Grammys. For those who call music award shows pointless in a digital age, I wonder why they feel this. It is important we recognise outstanding work in music and it would be rather depressing if we just let people release music and leave it at that.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Anne-Marie was nominated for four BRIT awards (including Best Single for 2002) but walked away empty-handed/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If we are to move forward and create a genuinely equal and proud ceremony (that highlights the true best of British) then we need to address the BRITs’ small steps and speed up change. Laura Snapes, writing in The Guardian, focused on the problems still inherent:

These iconoclastic displays put the night’s other putatively political action in stark contrast: Jess Glynne’s earnest performance of her song Thursday – in which she along with 70 influencers and models removed their makeup on stage – felt try-hard. The presence of a branded microfibre makeup removal cloth, easily identifiable to many women, made the display about a woman’s worth not being tied to her appearance appear inextricable from the market forces that sell women the messages that sustain a culture of insecurity. (I give it a few hours before a press release for the cloth appears in my inbox.)

A BBC report published this week showed the decline of hit songs credited solely to female artists. Harris and Lipa encouragingly shared top billing and songwriting credit on their winning single One Kiss (though she thanked him for letting her appear), but many of the night’s nominated songs found female artists billed as featured artists to male producers – as well as primarily male production and songwriting teams...



“As women, we get moulded in to something that we don’t necessarily want to be,” singer Mabel told the BBC. And in the on-off 27-year history of the best producer prize, Kate Bush and Alison Goldfrapp are the only female nominees in an area where women remain dramatically underrepresented, illustrating the paucity of opportunity for women attempting to break in and of recognition for those who have done so. (Obviously, no woman has ever won this category.) Letting female talent flourish – and setting aside the “genius male producer” archetype – could be the first step to British pop breaking borders again”.

Change and improvement can happen but it requires action and awareness from the BRIT judges and organisers. If we can correct the gender and racial imbalance and ensure there is no such an insular reliance on Pop then I feel British music can really shine. We know how many great British albums and artists there and we need to show them off to the world! Maybe it is too hard to please everyone but I’d like to think that, with a little affirmative action and progress, we can turn the BRIT Awards into something genuinely...


IN THIS PHOTO: Critics’ Choice award-winner Sam Fender offers hope that future BRIT ceremonies might nod to more eclectic artists who stray from the Pop mainstream/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

WORTHY and diverse.