For UK Black Music, 2018 Is The Brits’ Do Or Die Moment

Words: Yemi Abiade

With the 38th annual Brit Awards just days away, the black British music scene is set to witness yet more disappointment from the establishment. A cynical viewpoint to have perhaps, but the past couple of award shows have done little to instil confidence. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that social media was broken by #BritsSoWhite, in which not one black British artist was up for nominations in 2016. 2017 marked an improvement, with Skepta, Stormzy and Kano acknowledged, but they went home with nothing; arguably a bigger kick in the teeth than not being nominated at all, considering each man’s strides that year. 

In the wake of such a travesty, I stressed the need for the grime scene to move on from The Brits, placing more investment into award shows made for and by us—The MOBOs and Rated Awards—and I go into this year’s edition with the same foreboding that the scene’s current greatness will be overlooked once again. This is despite arguably the most dynamic nominations sheet in a long time, with a number of new acts kicking down the door and making themselves heard. The aforementioned Stormzy, along with J Hus, Dave and Loyle Carner are up for prizes across the show’s most hotly-contested categories: Best Breakthrough Act, Best Male Solo Artist, Best British Single and Best British Album. 

A group of young black men being up for such awards is an encouraging step forward and, perhaps, it speaks to a change in mentality from the British Phonographic Industry, who simply cannot ignore their influence in the wider music arena. The Brits, at least on surface level, have shown that they have moved with the times, and the nominations are indeed the most accurate representation of things in a few years. What triggered this change is anyone’s guess—accusations of racial bias and threats from black acts of a boycott are probably up there—but it places approval from the industry on a scene nurtured without its help. However, after nominating so many of our stars, they need to do what they’ve seemingly refused to do for years and translate British music’s popularity into award wins. 

At this point, it isn’t even about validating the artists nominated—they don’t need the approval the nominations symbolise—but more The Brits validating itself as a relevant and accurate barometer for UK music as a whole. At this point, they need it much more than any of the acts nominated, as it continues to lose the prestige it once had. Paying lip service after getting things so wrong simply can’t run anymore and, as The Brits’ credibility has been hit by such scandals as #BritsSoWhite, it may prove imperative to go all the way and award those really deserving. This is, of course, down to whether the British Phonographic Industry truly believe these artists deserve the accolades.

Putting my prediction hat on, I can sense one or two big wins for Stormzy—possibly in the British Male Solo Artist and British Album Of The Year categories (in which he’s up against his friend, Ed Sheeran). The British Breakthrough Act is the toughest to call, with J Hus, Dave and Loyle Carner in line along with pop sensation Dua Lipa and soul crooner Sampha. Though all three would be worthy winners, the likelihood is that Dua Lipa will take the crown for being literally everywhere in 2017. Hus is also up in the fiercely competitive Best British Single category, with “Did You See” warring tracks from the likes of Calvin Harris, Little Mix and Clean Bandit; the sheer impact of Harris’ “Feels” means that it is probably a shoe-in for the win. Jorja Smith’s Critics’ Choice Award win is the saving grace of a nominations list where black women are non-existent, but maybe acknowledging them as well as black men was a step too far for The Brits this year.

In the end, the Brit Awards will do what it wants, regardless of the image projected upon them as a result, and whatever critiques they generate will soon die off for another year. The black music scene will pay awards or snubs no mind because it’s in such a place that it doesn’t have to rely on industry recognition to reach new and bigger heights. But, for a fleeting moment this year, The Brits will either re-establish itself as an applicable representation of British music or prove just as bureaucratic and unrealistic as it has been. The ball is entirely in their court.

Image credits: Ashley VerseJamie Kendrick and Laura Coulson

Posted on February 13, 2018