By recognising UK rap and women's creativity, the Brits are finally in tune

Following criticism for being too white and too male, it seems the Brits have listened with this year’s wider-ranging nominees

If you want an example of the power of protest, or at least complaining to the media, then it’s worth casting your eye over the 2021 Brit nominations, and not merely because the Weeknd, who recently announced he would no longer enter his music for consideration in the Grammys after being snubbed at this year’s awards, is up for best international male.

Last year – 12 months after the 1975 gave an acceptance speech at the Brits that castigated the music industry for its sexism – the Brit nominations featured a grand total of one British female artist out of 25 available slots in mixed-gender categories. Understandably, people were unimpressed. Everyone from Foals to Paloma Faith mentioned it in their acceptance speeches, host Jack Whitehall made jokes about it, and nominees D-Block Europe, no one’s idea of painfully right-on conscious rappers, bemoaned that the music industry remained “a man’s game”. Even the Brits attempted to make excuses: clearly sensing imminent trouble, the nominations came accompanied by a press release that shifted blame on to record companies, who “had the opportunity to inform Brit Awards Ltd (BAL) of any eligible artists they wish to be added”.

This year, things have noticeably improved. Four out of the five nominees for British album are female and, crucially, none of them feel tokenistic. If you were a gambler, you wouldn’t bet against the ceremony itself being dominated by a female artist, Dua Lipa, who seems likely to win all three categories she’s nominated in. Again, that seems more than fair: the Brits exist to reward commercial success, and Future Nostalgia was as big an album as any British artist released in 2020. It was an international success with a dancefloor fixation that clearly spoke to a housebound audience’s desire for escapism. Elsewhere, Arlo Parks stands every chance of winning the breakthrough act award: her debut Collapsed in Sunbeams is a fantastic album, critically acclaimed and a Top 3 hit.

Kevin Parker of Tame Impala.
Kevin Parker of Tame Impala. Photograph: Kevin Parker/Getty Images

The Brits never really deal in surprises. The closest thing there is to one in these nominations is the appearance of Bicep in the breakthrough category – a weird home for a duo who released their first single 12 years ago. The whole point is to hold a mirror up to the charts and reflect modern mainstream taste, which these nominations do by depicting a musical world driven by pop-dance and rap – of the best single nominations, only Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar doesn’t fit into those genres – with rock, alt or otherwise, largely sidelined. Biffy Clyro get a look in for best group; Fontaines DC, Tame Impala, Foo Fighters and Bruce Springsteen are in the international categories, and that’s about it for guitars.

If one genre looks dominant, it’s UK rap, represented by J Hus, Headie One, Aitch, KSI, AJ Tracey, Stormzy and Young T & Bugsey, the latter duo up for three awards. This would have been unthinkable not long ago. For years, UK rap’s commercial impact was negligible next to that of its American counterpart and the Brits seemed intent on ignoring its rise until the #BritsSoWhite controversy of 2016. To take a longer retrospective view of the Brits, it’s worth remembering the years when the awards appeared to insist on the pre-eminence of longstanding artists, when, regardless of any developments in music, they dutifully garlanded Sting, Phil Collins and Annie Lennox on an annual basis. This year, the solitary veteran representative is Bruce Springsteen.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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