When the Brit Awards first announced towards the end of 2021 that they would be making their prize categories gender neutral the response could be kindly described as cautiously optimistic – with a dose of scepticism. And yesterday (12 January), when the nominations for Artist of the Year were announced as Central Cee, Fred Again, George Ezra, Harry Styles and Stormzy the total lack of female or non-binary representation was taken as confirmation that the well-meaning experiment was an abject failure. What was intended to eliminate prejudice and increase equality had become its own punch line; inclusion was now something industry executives didn’t have to think of at all.
Already, amid the justified backlash from artists and fans, the argument has become convoluted and hateful. Perhaps inevitably, it has been twisted into one over “woke culture gone too far”, not just the industry being out of touch or sexist. “What about women?!” goes the rallying cry (meaning cis women). “Why are women always being forgotten about?”
Look a little closer and it’s easier to pick this argument apart. For starters, as Emily Bootle points out in the i, “the Brit nominations aren’t decided by a few white guys in a skyscraper”. They’re voted on by a group of over 1,000 industry executives and insiders. Bootle makes this point to illustrate that, unfortunately for us, there’s no one group to blame, whether that’s a “sexist boardroom” or a woke army. Muddying the waters further, the Brit Awards told the New Statesman that of those industry executives, over half (52 per cent) identified as female, while 31 per cent identified as black, Asian or another ethnic minority. The problem, then, seems to be neither traditional corporate chauvinism nor a kind of “political correctness gone mad”. It’s historical and institutional sexism in the creative industries. How else could 1,000 people distil Britain’s musical landscape to the best of the best and still arrive at Central Cee?
Then there’s the fact that this isn’t even the first year of the Brits’ gender neutral awards. Last year, with the same modus operandi, (cis) women cleaned up, with Adele winning Artist of the Year. It was, however, unsurprising that some parts of her acceptance speech (“I love being a woman”) made more of an impact than others (“I understand why the name of this award has changed”). What was missed from Adele’s speech was her intention: to illustrate the underrepresentation of women, both cis and trans, in the creative industries, which existed long before these awards moved towards gender neutrality.
This is not a problem that’s specific to the UK or to music. Almost every year without fail festival line-ups, literary shortlists, awards in acting and music are ripped apart online for being overwhelmingly male. It’s hard to imbue nuance and intention into debate about a list of some of the most boring musicians the country has to offer. It’s just a shame that, online at least, the conversation is dominated by people who don’t seem to care much about sexism and good music the rest of the year, too, when it doesn’t fit a political agenda.