Music

Why the BRIT Awards Are More Progressive Than the Grammys

Unlike the Grammys, Britain's biggest music award show really hit the mark this year.
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Perhaps everybody’s most immediate criticism of this year’s Grammys ceremony was the "woke" attitudes presented in the nominations, and the subsequent let down of the winners. Perhaps the most jarring shock was when the Best Pop Solo Performance award went to Ed Sheeran, the only man in a group of women. The award went to a song about objectifying a woman ("Shape of You"), at a moment in entertainment when women are saying #TimesUp on inequality and workplace harassment. Even the night's biggest award, Album of the Year, only saw one female nominee, Lorde, who wasn't offered a chance to perform solo like her fellow category mates. Remember, this is also the ceremony that one year prior snubbed the black excellence of Beyonce’s Lemonade in favor of a “popular vote” Adele sweep, leaving everyone – Adele included – feeling that an injustice had been served.

In the end, it turned out that the new, more socially attuned Grammys failed to deliver on their promise of representation. The ceremony was a glorified sausage fest, dominated by hetero dudes while the women of the night failed to get the shine they deserved.

But across the pond, the United Kingdom’s greatest and most prolific music award ceremony, The BRITS, managed to get almost everything right when they dished out awards on Wednesday evening.

The thing is, we award our artists based on their creative merit — not just their cultural currency. While Bruno Mars was churning out hit after hit, performing at the halftime show at the Superbowl and selling shed loads of albums, the women in pop were creating much more impactful, meaningful music that the Grammys failed to recognize properly. Surely, those women deserved at least one of the six awards he took home?

From our perspective in the UK, The Grammys seem to vie for headlines, and openly embrace one artist sweeping the boards rather than a collection of greater, more deserving ones all fairly getting a piece each. That’s the way we like to do it. The most nominated artist at this year’s ceremony was, thankfully, a woman: Dua Lipa, pop music’s most fawned over new star, was up for five prizes. She took home two. 

While it’s not always been this way (the decision makers do have to strike a balance between mainstream pop and more "laudable" music), it was refreshing to see the approach to dishing out awards feel like a celebration of talent, rather than how much time someone had spent nabbing press coverage.

Our approach to diversity feels like a reflection of our country’s creative bloodline, rather than an example of industry "tokenism," with categories like the British Breakthrough Act being dominated by men of color. Dave, J Hus, Sampha and Loyle Carner all nabbed a nomination – with Dua Lipa, who took the crown, thrown in for good measure.

And the annual Critics Choice Award, bestowed upon homegrown talents like Adele and Sam Smith at the start of their careers, had a shortlist that was comprised of three women of colour. Brit-Jamaican rapper Stefflon Don and singer Mabel, whose mother Neneh Cherry has Sierra Leonean heritage, were the two runners up, while the angelic Jorja Smith – known best for her collaborations with Drake – was rightfully given the top prize. These line-ups didn’t feel forced, or demand high praise when they were announced; instead, they were accepted as the standard approach judging panels should be taking nowadays.

(Right image, Jorja Smith) 

The BRITs has always been an unsanitized affair, and it’s not uncommon to see artists use it as a platform for their political voices. While there’s no denying the #MeToo support and subtle Trump stabs that were made at this year’s Grammys still held power, no artist was willing to be as direct as Stormzy, the 24-year-old Grime artist who was born and raised in London.

His show-closing performance was a moment in the ceremony that will go down in history as one of its most potent and political; an example of an artist using a gigantic platform not for narcissism, but to push powerfully for social change.

He chose to address the tragedy of Grenfell Tower in his freestyle, a central London council block [social housing] that burned down last summer, leaving 71 dead and hundreds more homeless. Many of them are still seeking permanent housing today, and the current Conservative government is being blamed for the lack of funding behind these primarily BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) families, who are stuck in hotels until their situation is addressed.

“You thought we just forgot about Grenfell?” Stormzy rapped in a frenetic freestyle, designed to head straight for the party and Prime Minister Theresa May’s jugular. “You criminals, and you've got the cheek to call us savages / You should do some jail time, you should pay some damages / You should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.”

Watching Stormzy call Theresa May out so pointedly on a national broadcast watched by millions felt like a landmark moment for the cause he’s so passionately fighting. Part of me can’t imagine such an unfiltered put down of Trump ever making it to an uncalculated live broadcast, even less so on a platform designed for dazzling entertainment and for rich people to praise rich people.


At the end of it all, aging heteronormative white men didn’t have that great of a night at the BRITS, but since they’re still churning out music that people’s parents are buying, why should we have much sympathy for them? Unlike the Grammys, this year’s UK musical celebration was actually defined by the powerful women, and the BAME artists enforcing political change. All of this without the BRITS themselves pandering to any embarrassing, "fake woke" ulterior motives.

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