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The BRITS Categories Were Genderless For the First Time: Pros & Cons

There was much concern surrounding the BRITS first year of genderless award categories. In a nutshell, the argument was that although it gave more visibility to non-binary artists, music is a very male dominated industry. The worry was that the genderless categories would mean for a male-dominated list of wins. Culture secretary Nadine Dorries even expressed that women would be disenfranchised by the BPI’s “sad decision”.

However, in the ceremony’s first year without gendered categories, women and female-fronted acts dominated proceedings, winning 10 out of 15 prizes. Whether this sense of balance will maintain for the years to follow we can only hope. 

There are, however, other slightly problematic elements surrounding this year’s categories. Namely the ‘Best Pop/R&B Act’ category which this year was won by Dua Lipa. Whether pop and R&B should even be merged as one genre is one question; take artists like Jorja Smith or American Ari Lennox who are at least 90% R&B and not at all poppy. If anything, Dua Lipa has hardly any R&B influence in their music. Secondly, R&B is a genre created by black artists and this year the category saw not one black artist nominated with Joy Crookes and Griff, both of Asian heritage, being the only artists of colour nominated in this category. 

This left the hip-hop/grime/rap act category, won by Dave this year, as the only category for black artists to shine. Considering how much the black British community contributes to music, this seems unjust and out of balance. 

In continuing with this point, the category for ‘Best International Artist’ also exposes how little the British music industry appreciates the music of other cultures. American Billie Eilish won for the third year in a row. American artists always dominate this category and a non-American act hasn’t won the award since 2016 which was won by Bjork whose music is mostly English speaking. Despite the fact that the UK is home to many communities from Indian and LatinX to East Asian and Arabic, the lack of reggaeton, bhangra and other international genres mentioned in this category reveals how anglo-focused British culture can be when it comes to music. 

A final issue these awards have revealed is the industry’s failure to recognise true up and coming artists. Independent London rapper Little Simz, AKA Simbiatu Ajikawo, was named best new artist – despite releasing her debut album more than six years ago and other singles a few years even before that. This has led to confusion online among the young and independent music community who feel that the BRITS are more a popularity contest than a judgement and research for really great British music and artists. 

Nevertheless, Simz’s acceptance was moving and hopeful for many viewers. “Look at what you done, Mum,” Simz said, as she brought her mum up on stage to help her receive the award. “I am living proof that if you work hard at something, no matter your background, your race, you can be something extraordinary. This is for all the kids, keep dreaming, keep pushing. I am you, you are me, lessons.”

Younger audiences were also considered with genre categories replacing the old gender categories, and the winners voted for by fans via TikTok – one of many new Brits initiatives to engage younger music fans who may have little affinity with the stalwart ceremony.

The decision to rid gender based categories came after criticism of the 2021 ceremony by non-binary singer Sam Smith, whose gender identity meant they couldn’t be nominated in the male or female artist awards. They said: “I look forward to a time where awards shows can be reflective of the society we live in.”

Whether future awards will truly reflect not only society but the real hustle and diversity of the independent music community in Britain… Only time will tell. 

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