Illy wore a shirt repping Australia’s R&B scene while presenting 2022 ARIA Award

The ARIAs were criticised last month after only four artists were nominated in the Best Soul/R&B Release category, despite most others having a minimum of five

While presenting the award for Best Soul/R&B Release at last night’s ARIAs, Illy made a subtle but significant gesture to highlight the breadth of R&B talent in the country.

Last month, when the nominations for the category were announced, many noted that while the majority of categories contain a minimum of five nominees, only four artists were nominated in the Soul and R&B category. Those were Budjerah for ‘Conversations’ (the winner on the night), Emma Donovan & the Putbacks for ‘Under These Streets’, KIAN for ‘SHINE’ and Vanessa Amorosi for ‘City of Angels’.

“In such a great year of R&B/Soul releases, being unable to find a [fifth] nomination is simply lazy,” argued Australian R&B bloggers Hooked R&B. They went on to point out that though both singles and projects were nominated for the Best Release category in other genres, but Best Soul/R&B only included albums and EPs.

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“If both singles and full-length projects are eligible for nomination, then how about using the opportunity to promote fresh, upcoming talent in the R&B/soul space?” they asked, before naming a slew of artists who they said were “snubbed as a result of an outdated method”.

Singer and producer Billy Davis put it more bluntly, tweeting that the nominations were “a joke”. Hau Latukefu of triple j’s Hip-Hop Show pointed out that artists and releases have to chart on the ARIAs in order to be eligible, but argued that was outdated. “We’ve seen some of the best R&B/soul been made these last few [years] in [Australia] since forever,” he wrote. “We need to see that recognised.”

Last night, when presenting the award alongside Flex Mami, Illy highlighted some of the many talented artists making R&B in Australia, by wearing a shirt with their names on it. Those artists were A.GIRL, Becca Hatch, KYE, Lara Andallo, Liyah Knight, Billymaree, Chanel Loren, Larissa Lambert, Pania and Shanae.

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Many of the artists whose names appeared on the shirt have since responded on social media, thanking the rapper for representing them. “Shout out to [Illy],” Knight wrote on Instagram. Using his space to bring attention to an incredibly special moment happening right now in Australian RnB.”

“I want this shirt… Yes [to] every name on this shirt,” added A.GIRL, while Lara Andallo wrote: “A G for this shirt.” Billymaree, Chanel Loren and Pania also acknowledged the gesture.

In September, Tasman Keith criticised the current eligibility structure of the ARIA Awards, revealing that his debut album ‘A Colour Undone’ didn’t meet the voting criteria for multiple categories, including Best Hip Hop Release and Album of the Year.

“A discussion needs to be had at ARIA and across the entire industry. Artists should have the same opportunity in these moments as those with the big budget,” he said at the time. “Judge the art, not chart. Especially when the charting criteria is still based on an outdated system.”

In a statement shared shortly after, an ARIA spokesperson said it has “always been ARIA’s mission to create opportunities for Australian music to be heard in all its forms, by all those who create it”.

They continued: “The ARIA Awards are a celebration of the best performing artists and music from each year, whose eligibility criteria is annually reviewed by members to ensure fair and equal representation, as evidenced by the independent artists who comprise 73 per cent of this year’s eligible entries.”

Last night’s ARIA winners were led by Baker Boy, who took home five trophies including Album of the Year and Best Solo Artist. Amyl and the Sniffers won both Best Group and Best Rock Album, while The Wiggles won Best Australian Live Act and Best Children’s Album. See the full winners’ list here.

In addition to performances by Flume, Amyl and the Sniffers, Baker Boy and many more, this year’s ARIA Awards also honoured three titans of Australia’s music industry who passed away this year.

Tones and I, Imbruglia, KYE and Peking Duk closed out the ceremony with a performance of some of Olivia Newton-John‘s most beloved hits. Budjerah, Jessica Mauboy and Thelma Plum performed Uncle Archie Roach’s Best Independent Release-winning ‘One Song’, while Casey Donovan and Dami Im covered Judith Durham.

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