Sam Smith excluded from gendered categories at 2021 Brit awards

Solo male and solo female categories mean no room for chart-topping non-binary singer, who calls for awards to reflect society

Sam Smith, the pop singer whose gender identity is non-binary, has been excluded from the gendered categories at the 2021 Brit awards.

The awards system has maintained its usual artist categories, with prizes for British solo male and British solo female. That means there is no room for Smith, who uses they and them as their pronouns since coming out as non-binary in September 2019. They said at the time: “After a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out.”

Their album Love Goes is eligible for the British album of the year award. It reached No 2 in the UK chart on release in October 2020, and remained in the Top 40 until last week.

In a statement on Instagram, Smith said: “The Brits have been an important part of my career … Music for me has always been about unification not division. I look forward to a time where awards shows can be reflective of the society we live in. Let’s celebrate everybody, regardless of gender, race, age, ability, sexuality and class.”

A Brit awards spokesperson later responded, saying: “Sam is an extraordinary British artist and we agree with what they have said today. The Brits are committed to evolving the show and the gendered categories are very much under review. But any changes made to be more inclusive need to be just that - if a change unintentionally leads to less inclusion then it risks being counterproductive to diversity and equality. We need to consult more widely before changes are made to make sure we get it right.”

Earlier, in a message to Academy voters, organisers said: “Looking to the future we still have a lot of work to do in the coming years to evolve the Brits.”

Smith is one of the most successful British pop artists of the last decade. Their 2014 debut album, In the Lonely Hour, went to No 1 in the UK and spent 69 consecutive weeks in the Top 10; its 2017 follow-up The Thrill of It All also reached No 1. Smith has had seven UK No 1 singles including those guesting with other artists, and won an Oscar in 2016 for the James Bond theme Writing’s on the Wall.

They have previously won three Brit awards, from 12 nominations: the critics’ choice (now rising star) award in 2014, and British breakthrough act and the global success award in 2015. Prior to coming out as non-binary, they were nominated twice for British male solo artist, in 2015 and 2019.

The awards have made changes to the eligibility criteria this year, allowing non-British citizens to be nominated in British categories providing they have been a permanent resident for more than five years.

The change means that pop singer Rina Sawayama, who holds Japanese citizenship but has lived in the UK for more than 25 years, is eligible, and has been nominated for the rising star award alongside rapper Pa Salieu and pop singer Griff. She was deemed ineligible for the 2020 Mercury prize on citizenship grounds, a decision she described as “very upsetting”. The Mercury prize has also now updated its eligibility criteria to match that of the Brits.

This year’s Brit awards ceremony will be held on 11 May, having been postponed from its usual month of February by the coronavirus pandemic.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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