#BritsSoWhite: audiences criticise the awards’ exclusion of black British artists

Commentators have been particularly surprised by the omission of British grime artists.

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The BRIT Awards are no stranger to controversy – including interrupted speeches, performance tumbles and literal mic drops. But this year the awards ceremony, which celebrates the most successful British artists of the year, faces more serious accusations: of ignoring black artists and privileging white ones.

Following on from a similar lack of diversity at mainstream American awards ceremonies like the Oscars and the Grammys, the hashtag #BritsSoWhite has been slowly gathering momentum over the last month, pointing out the lack of BAME British artists nominated for awards. A petition demands that the BRITs publish their voting academy’s diversity figures.

In seven of the 11 categories, all nominees are white. The British Group category entirely comprises white, male nominees  despite the international success of groups like Little Mix – as is British Producer of the Year. Both Male and Female Solo Artist categories only include white nominees.

The BRITs organisers defended themselves in the following statement:

"There are no individual awards for specific genres [...] and since only a small number of BRITs are awarded every year, the artists who are honoured tend to be those who have achieved the very highest levels of chart success."

The implication is that BAME artists would flourish only in genre-specific awards, or that they don’t dominate charts to the same extent as white artists. This is the inherent implication, too, of high-profile American awards like the Grammys: this year, black artists were rewarded in R&B, rap and “urban” categories, and did not secure any of the ceremony’s biggest awards.

But BRITs commentators have been particularly surprised by the omission of British grime artists like JME, Skepta, Stormzy, and Krept & Konan, who have all influenced mainstream artists and had mainstream success in their own right, all meeting the eligibility criteria of charting in the Top 40 from July 2014 - December 2015. The latter two artists both charted in the UK top ten this year, and one of the BRITs’ most far-reaching moments was Kanye West’s “All Day” performance last year, which saw him bring UK grime artists on stage.

Stormzy addressed this apparent hypocrisy in his recent "One Track Freestyle": “What? / None of my Gs nominated for BRITs? / Are you taking the piss? / Embarrassing.” The verse continues:

"Like wah gwan, is my face too dark?
"Last year, they told the mandem that to be nominated
"You've gotta go on UK charts
"Soooo… what do we do?
"We chart!
"Don’t come here with your lies, don’t start"

In a recent interview with Radio 1, he added, “It was such a great year for grime and underground music. I thought maybe this year it might get celebrated […] You know when you’ve got that little bit of hope and that little bit of faith, and then they didn’t. I thought it was such a shame. It’s just a matter of breaking the doors down and carrying on.”

In contrast, many have noted that the BRITs organisers have gone to special lengths to include some white artists: the deadline was extended to ensure that Adele, who released a new album in December, would be nominated for four awards. White groups Catfish and the Bottlemen and Wolf Alice were nominated for British Breakthrough Artist despite their debut album selling relatively few copies. Amy Winehouse is nominated for British Female Solo Artist five years after her death, for the soundtrack to the documentary Amy.

British singer Laura Mvula also spoke out, saying on the Andrew Marr show she will not attend the Brit Awards because of “the diversity issue”:

"Growing up my black identity is something that is hugely important to me and something that. As I’m now going in to my 30s, I’m thinking lots and lots more about. I guess the problem for me is knowing that there are young black kids growing up feeling that they’re not acknowledged in society, in media and in mainstream music."

Black artists, both British and international, are often invited to perform at the ceremony: this year, Rihanna tops the bill. During the #OscarsSoWhite conversation, Jada Pinkett Smith tweeted, “People of color are always welcomed to give out awards, even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments.”

The BRITs organisers have acknowledged that the line-up this year looks out of touch, stale and even discriminatory. Their statement continues:

"Given the rapidly changing landscape of music consumption, it may now be time to take a fresh look at the metrics around the BRIT Awards to ensure they reflect the full range of engagement with recorded music.

"The BRITs organisers are, therefore, and with the guidance of a new advisory committee comprising respected members of the BAME music community, exploring a number of initiatives that will enable the event to more effectively acknowledge diverse, breaking and established talent in future, including exciting genres, such as Grime, which aren’t always considered mainstream but are growing in popularity."

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.