Artists weigh in on Tasman Keith’s comments about “outdated” ARIA Award criteria

Briggs, Urthboy, Jaguar Jonze and Nina Las Vegas are among those who've since weighed in on Keith's criticism

After Tasman Keith shared a statement criticising the ARIA Awards’ current eligibility structure – which he labelled “outdated” – other Australian artists have weighed in on his comments.

Yesterday, Keith revealed that his debut album, ‘A Colour Undone’, was not eligible in either the Best Hip Hop Release or Album of the Year categories. 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.

Similarly, 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. According to an FAQ section on its website, ARIA’s weekly charts are “based on retail recorded music sales and streaming activity within Australia”.

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In his statement, Keith argued that the criteria remained structured around a system that valued “physical formats and downloads” over 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 “My validation doesn’t come from an outdated award platform held up by [privileged] white record executives [whose] entire purpose is to sell our stories while keeping majority of the profits,” he added.

“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 Especially when the charting criteria is still based on an outdated system.”

Among those to show support for Keith’s comments on Instagram were Emily Wurramara, Ninajirachi and Nina Las Vegas, who wrote that dance and electronic music faced a similar issue. “Exceptions can be made – but you need to be an [ARIA] member to be notified [to] make a case,” NLV said. “Do you have a spare $500 a year? I don’t.”

On Twitter, Jaguar Jonze wrote, “I stand with you [Keith] and fkn love your art”. She also encouraged members voting in the ARIA Awards this year to consider the recent findings published in Raising Their Voices, an independent review into sexual harm within the Australian music industry.

“If you want to be part of the change, it starts with you. You have the power to change the representation. Use your vote to make a difference,” she wrote.

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Rapper Urthboy also lent his support for Keith, and elaborated on his thoughts with a lengthy Twitter thread. In it, he wrote that “when a significant body of work is locked out for administrative restrictions we’re all the worse for it”.

Urthboy went on to say that the ARIA Awards’ chart requirements “arguably rig the system in favour of majors”, acknowledging Keith highlighting the “advantage the chart system gave to physical products”.

“Can’t talk about this without acknowledging DSPs (Spotify) gatekeeping role in who gets playlisted – and the huge disadvantage local artists face against [international] artists… which is why you don’t see locals in the main charts anymore (also why the charts have lost relevance),” he continued.

One artist who had a different perspective was Briggs, who won two ARIA Awards himself in 2017 for ‘Reclaim Australia’, the debut album from his A.B. Original project with Trials. “You want participation awards, go to school,” the rapper and Bad Apples label head wrote on Twitter.

“Nah, I simply want to have a fair playing field in this country for artists in general,” replied Keith. “Let alone myself as a small town mission kid. It’s wanting that, and representing my community on that platform / taking those spaces.” Keith went on to argue that the problem is “within the chart system and it not reflecting current consumption of music”.

Briggs responded, “No one’s coming for you, the metrics are the metrics. Talk to your label about how to build and do better.” He added: “There’s no divisiveness over [ARIA], it’s a chart system bruz; you gotta chart to be in. It’s the ARIAs; it’s a numbers game,” pointing out that his 2021 single ‘Shadows’ with Troy Cassar-Daley was also ineligible for nomination. “It is what it is.”

Asked for comment on Keith’s statement, a spokesperson for the ARIAs told NME that it had always been the organisation’s mission to “create opportunities for Australian music to be heard in all its forms, by all those who create it”.

The spokesperson added: “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.”

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

Keith released ‘A Colour Undone’ in July after dropping singles ‘5FT Freestyle’, ‘Love Too Soon’, the Genesis Owusu-assisted ‘Cheque’Jessica Mauboy collaboration ‘Heaven With U’ and more. The record received four stars from NME, with Cyclone Wehner writing that Keith “courageously [looks] inward, re-emerging with universally resonant music”.

Last 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.

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