The British music industry’s focus on the male solo artist at the expense of female musicians has been thrown into sharp relief by the nominations for the 2020 Brit awards, in which only one British woman – and no groups featuring women – was nominated across 25 slots in mixed-gender categories.
Pop singer Mabel was nominated for best new artist and best song for Don’t Call Me Up – but the nine other song nominees and four other new artist nominees are solo British males. (US stars Miley Cyrus and Normani make guest appearances in the song category.)
All five of the nominees for the top prize, best British album, are solo male artists: Stormzy, Michael Kiwanuka, Lewis Capaldi, Dave and Harry Styles. Of the 198 albums on the longlist for best British album – drawn up from chart successes and record label submissions – which are then voted on by the Brits Academy of music industry figures to create the shortlist, only 36 were by women or female-fronted acts.
The Brits’ recognition of musicians of colour is vastly improved following the “BritsSoWhite” criticisms of recent years. More than half of the best album and British male and female nominees are non-white, partly due to the good health of British rap and R&B music this year, but also due to the increased diversity of the Brits Academy in a 2016 shakeup that brought in 700 new members. Those changes also made the gender split of voters almost equal, but the skewed gender balance in this year’s nominations will raise questions about how female British talent is being nurtured.
Nominees for best British group – long a bastion for male artists – were also all men: Coldplay, Foals, Bring Me the Horizon, Bastille and the rap duo D-Block Europe. None of those artists received any other nominations, and it’s only the second time in Brits history that no group has been nominated for album of the year, the first time being in 2018.
South London rapper Dave, and Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi were the most nominated artists, with four each – best album, British male, new artist and song. Each of them had a very successful 2019. Dave won the Mercury prize for his album, Psychodrama, a candid, often bleak exploration of race, poverty, family and mental strife, which topped the UK charts. “What an honour, and what a way to end the most incredible year. I’m very grateful,” he said. His song nomination was for Location, featuring Burna Boy, the Nigerian artist who also picks up a nomination in the best international male category alongside Bruce Springsteen, Dermot Kennedy, Post Malone and Tyler, the Creator.
Capaldi topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with his power ballad Someone You Loved, nominated in the song category, which was the biggest-selling song of 2019 in the UK (accounting for streams and downloads). His album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, was also the UK’s biggest selling album.
Chasing them with three nominations each are Mabel, the daughter of Neneh Cherry who had two Top 10 hits in 2019, and Stormzy, who will be much fancied after a blockbuster year in which he headlined Glastonbury and topped the singles chart three times. The Croydon-raised rapper will be hoping to add a second album of the year award, having previously won in 2018. Harry Styles continues a strong post-One Direction career with two nominations – best album and best British male – with soul singer Michael Kiwanuka also receiving two in the same categories.
The best British female category is split between chart-friendly pop – Mabel, balladeer Freya Ridings and R&B star Mahalia – and the more experimental artists Charli XCX and FKA twigs. “It’s really surreal to be nominated for 3 awards this year,” Mabel said. “Third year in a row to be nominated so fingers crossed it’s the 3rd time lucky and I can take one home this year.”
Artists who may feel snubbed include Taylor Swift, left out of the international female artist running in favour of Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Camila Cabello, Lana Del Rey and Lizzo, and Ed Sheeran, who despite releasing a new album in 2019 earned only one nomination, for his No 1 song with Justin Bieber, I Don’t Care.
Liam Gallagher, Rita Ora, Mumford and Sons, the Chemical Brothers, Rod Stewart, the Who, Muse and Emeli Sandé are among the eligible major British artists who didn’t receive any nominations.
Awards for best video and best international group have been removed for 2020. Producer of the year will be announced ahead of the awards ceremony; the rising star award for hotly tipped new talent has already been awarded, to soul singer Celeste.
The Brit awards, now in their 40th year, take place at London’s O2 Arena on 18 February, and will be screened live on ITV. Comedian Jack Whitehall returns as host for the third year running.
The 2020 Brit award nominees in full
Group of the year
Bring Me the Horizon
Female solo artist
Male solo artist
Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber – I Don’t Care
Mabel – Don’t Call Me Up
Calvin Harris and Rag’N’Bone Man – Giant
Dave ft Burna Boy – Location
Mark Ronson ft Miley Cyrus – Nothing Breaks Like a Heart
AJ Tracey – Ladbroke Grove
Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved
Tom Walker – Just You and I
Sam Smith and Normani – Dancing With a Stranger
Stormzy – Vossi Bop
International female solo artist
Lana Del Rey
International male solo artist
Tyler, the Creator
Album of the year
Stormzy – Heavy Is the Head
Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
Lewis Capaldi – Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent
Dave – Psychodrama
Harry Styles – Fine Line