Men are best at music. That is the opinion of the BRITs Voting Academy and the Great British public. It’s fairly likely that you’re a member of one or both of those, so you must agree.
So yeah, the nominations for this year’s BRIT Awards are out, and this year’s controversy is that in the newly announced non-gendered categories Mabel is the only female artist to get a proper look-in. That includes in the Song Of The Year shortlist, which has ten nominees based on sales and streaming stats, from which a final winner will be chosen by the awards’ thousand strong panel of industry insiders.
The gender balance is improved very slightly if you include the already announced Rising Star Award – the rebranded Critics’ Choice Award – which this year featured an all-female shortlist, ultimately topped by Celeste. If you’re not counting that in the main list though, then you’re left with very little else to cling onto.
The Group Of The Year and Album Of The Year categories are exclusively male, while Mabel de-penises the New Artist Of The Year category to a factor of one. Her track ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ is the only single up for Song Of The Year by a woman on her own and not in collaboration with a man (Miley Cyrus and Normani appearing on singles by Mark Ronson and Sam Smith).
In many ways, this is a vindication of those who were critical when it was rumoured last year that the ceremony’s organisers were planning to ditch gendered categories. Many of those against the idea argued that it would mean women wouldn’t be nominated for any prizes at all. Although BRITs organisers subsequently confirmed that they were undertaking a general review of the prize categories, they denied that they had any imminent plans to consolidate the awards currently handed out on gender lines, possibly for that exact reason.
Of course, it’s not clear how the solo artist categories – which are split along gender lines – would be affected if they were combined. The British Male Solo Artist category features a strong list of artists with massive commercial success, with Dave, Harry Styles, Lewis Capaldi, Michael Kiwanuka and Stormzy. The female category, meanwhile, is perhaps more creatively interesting – with Charli XCX, FKA Twigs, Freya Ridings, Mabel and Mahalia – but could have faced a tough battle against inarguably some of the biggest and most successful names in music of the last year.
In the international categories, however, the balance of power shifts almost entirely in the other direction. Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Camila Cabello, Lana Del Rey and Lizzo fill the International Female Solo Artist shortlist, with Bruce Springsteen, Burna Boy, Dermot Kennedy, Post Malone and Tyler, The Creator on the male side.
You could argue that such concerns over merging gendered categories are still irrelevant and that everyone should be allowed to compete (if ‘compete’ is the right word) on a level playing field. After all, having gendered categories perpetuates an outdated idea that there is some difference between the creativity of men and women – as well as blocking out anyone who does not want to be identified along traditional gender lines.
While organisers of the BRITs inevitably find themselves at the receiving end of large amounts of criticism when their shortlists have such a heavy gender imbalance, this turn of events perhaps reflects wider issues in the music industry. Despite efforts to improve the diversity of the BRITs voting academy in recent years – after the booming grime scene failed to receive recognition in 2016 – clearly there are still issues with overall diversity in the voting process.
Does that mean that further work needs to be done to improve the diversity of those voting in the awards? Perhaps. Although with a mainstream awards show impacted to an extent by commercial success, that alone wouldn’t necessarily help. After all, with the Song Of The Year longlist, it’s the public who ensured that male artists had a stronger showing simply by streaming and buying more of their music.
So is it that the British public are sexist and just don’t like listening to women as much as men? Maybe. Although does that begin with the way the music industry selects which artists to sign to the biggest deals and marketing budgets? Of course, there have been years when the most commercially successful British releases have come from female artists, who have then usually appeared in the following year’s single and album shortlists at the BRITs. Though often still alongside a higher number of male acts, suggesting there is, nevertheless, a general bias.
Now, the all-female shortlist for the Rising Star Award might be a sign that things are moving in the right direction, possibly thanks to the various initiatives in recent years to encourage and enable more female music-makers to pursue a career as a frontline artist.
However – whether it’s down to voting systems, consumer bias or industry practices – nomination lists like those published by the BRITs this weekend are a reminder that there is still plenty more to be done. Because there’s a real possibility that there could be just two awards handed to female musicians at this year’s BRIT Awards next month, both in categories where men are not allowed.
Whatever though, here are all of this year’s embarrassing BRIT Awards nominations:
Group: Bastille, Bring Me The Horizon, Coldplay, D-Block Europe, Foals
Female Solo Artist: Charli XCX, FKA Twigs, Freya Ridings, Mabel, Mahalia
Male Solo Artist: Dave, Harry Styles, Lewis Capaldi, Michael Kiwanuka, Stormzy
New Artist: Aitch, Dave, Lewis Capaldi, Mabel, Sam Fender
International Female Solo Artist: Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Camila Cabello, Lana Del Rey, Lizzo
International Male Solo Artist: Bruce Springsteen, Burna Boy, Dermot Kennedy, Post Malone, Tyler The Creator
Song: AJ Tracey – Ladbroke Grove, Calvin Harris and Rag N Bone Man – Giant, Dave feat Burna Boy – Location, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber – I Don’t Care, Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved, Mabel – Don’t Call Me Up, Mark Ronson feat Miley Cyrus – Nothing Breaks Like A Heart, Sam Smith and Normani – Dancing With A Stranger, Stormzy – Vossi Bop, Tom Walker – Just You And I
Album: Dave – Psychodrama, Harry Styles – Fine Line, Lewis Capaldi – Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent, Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka, Stormzy – Heavy Is The Head