It’s almost an awards show tradition these days that any list of nominated artists is met with a backlash. Despite constant calls for more diversity and for these ceremonies to reflect society and the varied stories within it, far too often do awards organisers still present us with lists of nominees that are incredibly monotonous.
The BRITs has faced such a backlash itself in years past, with #BRITsSoWhite taking over social media and stars using acceptance speeches to call out the lack of women in the running for the gongs. Its 2021 shortlist, though, looks like the beginning of a whole new chapter for the long-running show – one that might not be perfect yet but is certainly heading in the right direction when it comes to truly reflecting the British music scene and beyond.
Gone are the categories that are blindingly white, replaced by nominees who represent the diverse make-up of the UK – and without even a hint of tokenism about it. As it turns out, if you do something as simple as open up your voting academy to people who actually reflect British society rather than the board rooms of major labels, you get shortlists that don’t make you look ignorant at best. The Golden Globes (and plenty of other awards bodies) might want to take note.
The awards might not have been handed out yet but the biggest winner here is already UK rap, which – save for big names like Stormzy and Dave – has largely been shut out of the BRITs in the past. Back when grime was first experiencing its renaissance and felt like the scene of the moment, the 2017 show felt like that world didn’t exist. This year, that’s far from the case. Nottingham hip-hop duo Young T & Bugsey are up for three awards (Best British Group, Breakthrough Artist and Best British Single for ‘Don’t Rush’), while AJ Tracey is in the running for two (Best British Male and Best British Single for the Aitch collaboration ‘Rain’).
The Best British Male category also features Headie One, J Hus and Tracey among its five nominees, while Best British Single has nearly half of its 10 slots filled up by rap bangers from the last year. It’s thrilling that tracks like Simba’s ‘Rover’ and ‘Rain’ can go up against tracks by global superstars such as Dua Lipa and Harry Styles.
Women, too, feature more predominantly than in previous years. Most notably, the Best British Album category stars just one man (J Hus) and four ladies – Arlo Parks, Celeste, Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware. In the British mainstream, it’s hard to think of albums that would replace those nominees, so meaningful to the last year of our lives have they been, from the escapism of Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ to the comfort of Parks’ ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’.
Other mixed-gender categories fare less well, but all have at least one female act listed in them, be that Haim up for Best International Group or Little Mix in the running for its British counterpart. You could argue that there are plenty more brilliant women who deserve to be in these categories – in the voting options, the likes of Goat Girl, The Big Moon and Dream Wife could all be selected – and you’d be right. But the BRITs has always largely been about rewarding commercial success and, while those artists have all made great records of late, they’re yet to achieve the same big breakthroughs that their nominated peers have undeniable produced.
There is a lack of recognition for non-major label artists in the 2021 shortlist, with only six of the nominees on the whole list being signed independently. The last year has seen a flurry of indie bands and independently signed acts storming the upper echelons of the charts, and it would have been nice to see that reflected here. Perhaps in 2022, the nominations will catch up with that phenomenon.
Of course, it’s all well and good having this diverse list of nominees, but it means little if the winners go on to be the same old white men. The results have to be as representative otherwise the shortlist begins to look cynical. It’s not falling into the trap of tokenism to suggest this. All of the nominees have been given this nod for a reason – because they are worthy of winning.
At this stage, though, the 2021 BRITs nominations are something to be celebrated. At last, an awards show is listening to its audience, getting things right and hyping up talent from across our broad spectrum of life. Let’s hope they can keep it going.