Tasman Keith criticises ARIA Awards eligibility structure: “Judge the art, not chart”

"A discussion needs to be had at ARIA and across the entire industry," Keith said in a statement that noted his debut album 'A Colour Undone' does not meet the criteria for multiple categories

Tasman Keith has criticised the current eligibility structure for the ARIA Awards, which he labelled “outdated”, after revealing his debut album, ‘A Colour Undone’, does not meet the voting criteria for multiple categories.

In a post shared to his Instagram page earlier today (September 13), the rapper and singer said that ‘A Colour Undone’ does not meet the voting criteria for either the Best Hip Hop Release or Album of the Year categories. “The criteria is still structured mainly around a system which upweights physical formats and downloads,” he claimed. “Not streams.”

“My validation doesn’t come from an outdated award platform held up by [privileged] white record executives [whose] entire purpose is to sell our stories while keeping majority of the profits,” Keith added.

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The rapper went on to say that while he was aware he was ineligible for the award categories weeks ago and is “content with no nomination”, he is calling attention to the issue as part of his “mission” to “occupy all of these spaces and in doing so represent for my community”.

“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. Judge the art, not chart. Especially when the charting criteria is still based on an outdated system,” Keith continued. “Being performative and providing the same playing field for those that suffer the affects of systemic oppression are two different things.

“ARIA needs to evolve. The system isn’t set up for the small town mission kid, it’s set up for the big label white man,” the Gumbaynggirr artist concludes in his statement. “And as a First Nations person I shouldn’t need to change the system to simply be acknowledge by it, that’s been the problem with Australia.”

“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,” a spokesperson for ARIA said in a statement shared with NME.

“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.”

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According to the ARIA Awards’ criteria, for an album to be considered for Album of the Year, it must have appeared in the ARIA Top 50 Albums Chart during the eligibility period. For the Best Hip Hop/Rap Release category, an album must have appeared in the ARIA Top 100 Albums Chart, ARIA Top 40 Hip Hop/R&B Albums Chart, or ARIA Top 10 Australian Hip Hop/R&B Albums Chart.

ARIA’s weekly charts are “based on retail recorded music sales and streaming activity within Australia”, according to the FAQ on its website. “The aim of the ARIA Charts is to reflect and inform consumer choice in a dynamic way… where once the ARIA Charts were predominantly tracking physical product sales, the charts now encompass physical, digital and streaming activity.”

‘A Colour Undone’ arrived in July after being previewed with singles like like ‘5FT Freestyle’, ‘Love Too Soon’, the Genesis Owusu-assisted ‘Cheque’, Jessica Mauboy collaboration ‘Heaven With U’ and more. In a four-star review, NME said, “Keith’s range heightens his storytelling as he reconciles dual selves: the egotistical and emotional; outer and private”.

“For ‘A Colour Undone’ Keith courageously looks inward, re-emerging with universally resonant music,” the review continued. “His endgame, too, becomes apparent: Tasman Keith aspires to be an artist, not merely a MC. ‘A Colour Undone’ can’t – and won’t – be ignored.”

Over the weekend, Keith celebrated ‘A Colour Undone’ with a sold-out hometown show at Bowraville Theatre. He’ll continue his tour in support of the album this Friday (September 16) at the House of MBC in Sydney, wrapping up at Colour in Melbourne on September 24.

Industry voting for the ARIA Awards 2022 concludes tomorrow (September 14). The awards ceremony itself will take place November 24 at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion.

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