Amidst all the events of the recent Brit awards, there has been some controversy lurking in the background – namely the #BritsSoWhite twitter debate.
The main argument has been that all of the Brit award winners – even the international artists – have been white, which has led to some criticising the Brits for pandering to a white audience and neglecting talented artists of different ethnic backgrounds.
While the absence of up-and-coming artists, such as grime rapper and MOBO winner Stormzy, is unquestionably obvious, it does raise questions about the importance of race in the music industry, and whether artists truly are being discriminated against on these grounds.
On a similar note, Kanye West recently criticised ‘white publications’ such as Pitchfork and Rolling Stone over twitter, claiming that they did not understand where he was coming from as the descendant of slaves. It is easy to write off his rant as a just another manifestation of his egotistical personality, however, could he actually have a genuine point?
Is it possible that the lack of non-white nominees, particularly grime artists, is because their music is less relatable to a white audience? Before 2015, this could been said to have been the case, however last year, the UK music scene seems to have been taken by storm by grime, with artists such as Stormzy, Skepta, and Krept & Konan all achieving commercial success. Although the genre has been around in some form since the early 2000s it seems to have broken into the mainstream in ways not seen before; in particular it is popular all over university campuses, with people of all ethnic backgrounds enjoying its sound.
Could the problem, therefore, be not in the attitudes of the public, but in the way the Brit nominees are selected? Their website states that all albums and singles released in the ‘eligibilty period’ are evaluated, then once the final list is decided, it is sent to various VIPs in the music industry, such as record labels, managers, and media outlets.
One thing worth mentioning is that the nominees are required to fit into the award categories, of which a grime, hip hop, urban, or even electronic category is conspicuously absent. Electronic music can be said to be incredibly prominent in the UK music scene, but yet it too is not given its own category, even though the genre can be said to have a much more ethnically diverse range of artists than other musical scenes.
Maybe then, the way to alleviate the perceived ‘whiteness’ of the Brits, would be to update the awards categories to make them more representative of the musical landscape of the UK: for example, a best urban/grime category, a best dance category, or a best indie/rock category, as opposed to the much more generic best male/female solo artist and group categories.
Maybe then, there would be less of an incentive to segregate the awards scene: the MOBO awards emphasis on black artists is an odd parallel to the Brit controversy.
With changes like these, it would go a long way toward promoting the multiculturalism that is so prominent in the UK today.