After last year’s male-dominated Brit awards entrenched the clear gender disparity in British pop, this year’s nominations go some way to redressing the balance.
Dua Lipa, Arlo Parks, Celeste, Joel Corry and Young T & Bugsey lead this year’s awards with three nominations apiece. The British album category also features four out of five female nominees for the first time in Brits history, with the aforementioned women joined by Jessie Ware and J Hus – a marked improvement on 2020, when the category featured no women.
“Women have always made great music and wonderful albums, but this is the first time in the entire Brits history that we have dominated the best album category,” said Jessie Ware. “The time is now – albeit long overdue – to start respecting and appreciating the vital role women, and their music, play in the British music industry.”
Out of 176 eligible albums, 121 were made by men or all-male groups, 55 by women or groups featuring women, and one by a non-binary artist, Sam Smith.
Ten British female artists were recognised across 25 slots in mixed-gender Brit categories, up on last year, when only one – Mabel – featured.
More than half the nominees for British album, female solo artist, male solo artist, breakthrough artist and single are non-white, reflecting the enduring dominance and evolution of British rap and R&B, as well as the diversity of the Brit Academy. With approximately 1,500 members, including artists, managers, promoters, media figures and label staff, this year’s voting body achieved gender parity and 26% Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation.
Dua Lipa is an established Brits darling: she won best breakthrough act and British female solo artist in 2018, and British single in 2019 for One Kiss, with Calvin Harris. Celeste also won the critics’ choice award in 2020.
But 2021 marks the first year of Brits recognition for the remainder of this year’s most-nominated acts. Arlo Parks released her acclaimed debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, earlier this year, on UK independent label Transgressive. “To be nominated for three Brit awards at 20 years old as an independent artist is something that exceeds my wildest dreams,” said Parks. “I genuinely don’t have the words to describe how grateful I am. This year has been difficult to say the least but art has been holding us together in some way, and I’m excited to be part of this celebration of British music.”
Yet to release a full album, Young T & Bugsey are nominated for British group, breakthrough artist and British single. Joel Corry, who also only has singles to his name, is up for British male solo artist, breakthrough artist and British single.
The category for British single features the 10 most successful British singles of the last 10 months – and reveals some of the continuing gender disparity in British pop. Dua Lipa is the only female artist with sole billing, for her single Physical. Elsewhere in the category, two women share billing with male producers: Gracey with 220 Kid for a remix of her single Don’t Need Love, and Raye and Regard for Secrets.
In the international categories, Bruce Springsteen receives his 11th Brit nomination. He won international solo artist in 1986. His age, 71, makes him an outlier in the youth-focused ceremony, following the lead of the Grammys earlier this month.
While the international female category features entirely American artists, the international male category casts its net wider, including Nigerian star Burna Boy, Australia’s Tame Impala and Canada’s the Weeknd, alongside US rapper Childish Gambino.
The same is true of the international group category, where K-pop stars BTS rub shoulders with Irish punks Fontaines DC, and American acts Foo Fighters, Haim and Run the Jewels.
Artists who may feel snubbed by this year’s awards include Laura Marling, Ellie Goulding – who recently published an essay calling for greater “transparency” in cultural awards voting processes – and chart-topping rock bands including Bring Me the Horizon, Mogwai and Architects.
It was a strong year for rap, but there was no room for high-charting artists including Nines, Digga D, Ghetts and Megan Thee Stallion. Sam Smith is also notably absent: their non-binary identity meant they were excluded from gendered categories, although their 2020 album Love Goes was eligible. A Brits spokesperson recently said that gendered categories are “very much under review”.
The Brits’ legacy awards, which vary year-on-year but can include prizes for producers and outstanding contributions, are yet to be announced. Griff was recently named winner of the rising star award.
The Brit awards ceremony takes place on 11 May – delayed from its usual February date by the coronavirus pandemic. Jack Whitehall will host for the fourth year running. Dua Lipa and Griff are the first performers to be confirmed.
The 2021 Brit award nominees in full
Female solo artist
Lianne La Havas
Male solo artist
Young T & Bugsey
Young T & Bugsey
Single of the year
220 Kid with Gracey – Don’t Need Love
Aitch x AJ Tracey feat Tay Keith – Rain
Dua Lipa – Physical
Harry Styles – Watermelon Sugar
Headie One feat AJ Tracey and Stormzy – Ain’t It Different
Joel Corry x MNEK – Head and Heart
Nathan Dawe x KSI – Lighter
Regard and Raye – Secrets
S1mba feat DTG – Rover
Young T & Bugsey feat Headie One – Don’t Rush
Album of the year
Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
Celeste – Not Your Muse
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
J Hus – Big Conspiracy
Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
International female solo artist
International male solo artist
Run the Jewels
• This article was amended on 1 April 2021: Yungblud was incorrectly included in the best British group category, omitting Biffy Clyro.