This year's male-dominated Brit awards have an issue with women

Only one British female artist has been nominated out of 25 available slots in mixed-gender categories. It’s indicative of a wider industry problem

You could say this year’s Brit nominations are as predictable as ever. It didn’t take astonishing powers of clairvoyance to predict that Lewis Capaldi would sweep the board – he was a nailed-on certainty from the moment Someone You Loved and its accompanying album Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent became not just the biggest sellers of 2019 in Britain, but also broke America, something that has proved remarkably tricky for UK artists to do in recent years – nor that Stormzy would do well, given his triumphant year.

But they’re also predictable in the sense of getting things slightly wrong, something the Brits has proved itself thoroughly adept at throughout its 43-year lifespan. It spent the 80s dutifully doling out gongs to a certain kind of artist – Phil Collins, Dire Straits, Sting – as if the decade’s most important musical developments, hip-hop and acid house, hadn’t actually happened. Top of the Pops, hardly a show at the bleeding edge of the musical leftfield, invariably looked more switched-on.

More recently, it spent several years apparently going out of its way to ignore grime, self-evidently the most important and exciting thing around, until artists and viewers started wondering aloud if the awards had an issue with representing black British music. That seemed to have an effect. The last few years’ choices have been more ethnically diverse. This year, it’s women.

At the 2019 Brit awards, the 1975 used their acceptance speech for the best British group award to protest against sexism in the music industry, quoting a feature by the Guardian’s Laura Snapes about misogyny. Twelve months later, a grand total of one British female artist has been nominated out of 25 available slots in mixed-gender categories.

Curiously, there’s the sense that the Brits knows there’s a problem here. The longlist nominations came accompanied by a statement that sounded suspiciously like a caveat: “The eligibility list has been compiled by the Official Charts Company and includes artists who have released product and enjoyed top 40 chart success. Record companies have had the opportunity to inform Brit Awards Ltd (BAL) of any eligible artists they wish to be added or inform BAL of any incorrect entries.” In other words: don’t blame us, it’s the record companies who are at fault.

They’ve got a point. A quick scan of the biggest-selling singles and albums of 2019 reveals a distinct paucity of British female artists. The leading female Brit award nominee, Mabel, is also the only UK female in the top 10 for her single Don’t Call Me Up. The absence of Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now – a global hit – from the best single nominations seems odd. If critical acclaim counted, you could make a case for Charli XCX’s Charli, Little Simz’s Grey Area or FKA twigsMagdalene being included in the best album category, but in terms of commercial success – which is ultimately what the Brit awards are about – they’ve sold nothing like the kind of quantities Capaldi or Stormzy have.

It’s clear there’s a wider issue here, one that involves the British music industry’s ability or otherwise to sign and develop female artists, to turn them into lasting success stories. It’s clearly not beyond the music industry to do this. After all, it was a British female artist who made the biggest-selling album of the 21st century thus far, 21 by Adele. It just doesn’t seem to happen very often, especially compared with the US, where there are so many big-hitting female artists that the Brit nominations can’t contain them all: Taylor Swift isn’t there, edged out by Lizzo, Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello.

It’s a subject that you wouldn’t bet against one of the more switched-on winners at the awards ceremony in February addressing in their acceptance speech. Even if they don’t, the Brit nominations seem set to provoke a conversation about it. With the greatest of respect to the nominees, that might be the best thing about them.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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