The BRIT Awards 2016

Acknowledging The Elephant In The Room At The Brits

2016 has already been a tumultuous year, with political and economic storms gathering on the horizon, as anger about inequality, immigration and racism continue to polarise communities globally.

With this view, it’s hardly a fear-free future in sight for many young people and any collective jargon about “our way of life” pushed into the news cycle by political propagandists, is calling into question the contradictions about ‘our shared values’. This moment in history is undoubtedly offering us an opportunity to address our value system and unapologetically and fearlessly question why there continues to be a lack of value for our diversity.

It is despite this moment in time, that any given opportunity for celebration offers us all a collective respite from the news cycle, and music just like film, gives us the fuel to feed our collective anxieties, hopes and dreams. Music has the power to raises our spirits, and while meritocracy continues to define our system of accolades and awards ceremonies giving our industry a self-congratulatory pat on the back, for many it’s also a reflection and a sign of our times. Today with British youth and their culture under threat economically, the need to recognise the odds stacked against this generation is as urgent as ever.

As the Brit Awards in 2016 kicked off surrounded by controversy around the issue of diversity in music, film and television industries across both sides of the channel it has also undoubtedly given us a sombre picture about our society. It’s clear that work needs to be done in the British music industry to meet the challenges ahead, an op-ed from the chairman of the BPI and Brit Awards, Ged Doherty was published yesterday in the Guardian addressing some of these issues as the ‘elephant in the room’.

It was an elephant some might characterise as a lack of diversity among the nominees, but which, for me, was more about the lack of recognition of the emerging music that is a huge part of British youth culture.”

Last year and yet again this year, the elephant in the room was the presence of or rather the lack thereof, of a certain sector of our British music industry. While Grime may feel like a recent emergence to some, it is far from new – over 10 years of grind put into this British genre, it’s culture and its artists has kept this sound and culture alive – despite all efforts to suppress and marginalise its voices. It may have taken an international artist like Kanye to put it on the world stage at the Brits in 2015, but Grime is by no means new to British youth.

It’s a culture thats cultivated a generation of not only musicians but alongside it a generation of emerging managers, pr and marketing upstarts; creative talent from video directors to photographers, to writers; and several British media platforms that have hosted, pushed and promoted the music, culture and its scene because others simply wouldn’t. There is a league of diverse creative talent that have tooled up and figured out how to cut through and somehow make it work for themselves without a regular paycheck and they’ve finally gained the groundswell and widespread recognition amongst the collective consciousness of British youth to take it to the tipping point.

It is through recognition of the collective talent of this young and burgeoning spirit of British youth, that the creative industry will undoubtedly move towards a more representative and commercially viable pipeline for not some but many.

In the op-ed Doherty openly acknowledges “we have been slow to look to ourselves and recognise that the processes behind The Awards have somehow become disconnected from this heritage of diversity.”  Any new processes behind the awards and the music industry will need to invest in the recognition of the talent of not only the musicians but the people nurturing these musicians because behind every unsigned artist, there are producers and songwriters without publishing, unrepresented photographers, video directors without production companies. And so it’s also by acknowledging the bigger picture that the bigger industry players can use their hand to recognise an opportunity thats been missed so far and look to draw in and support many more independent players.

Equal opportunity requires a recognition of the inequality of the creative industry that remains oblivious of the creative talents that are still left in the sidelines. Accounting for “facets of diversity such age, ethnicity, gender and regionality” are an absolute requisite for a voting academy if it is to truly represent a diverse Britain, but it also offers an opportunity to discover and invest in the future upstarts who have visionary ideas behind the frontline artists. Mentoring those individuals through the processes and politics of the wider creative industry is a prerequisite for embracing and employing diverse emerging executives.

While it is promising to see that the Academy will endeavour to have “equal male/female representation and at least 15 per cent BAME participation, in line with national trends”, the next steps for the industry on the whole need to endeavour to do the same in relation to the executives sitting at the tables when those awards take place. As Doherty points out the diversity of talent needs to be “reflected across its positions of leadership also.” While the frustrations we feel about the industry are warranted, any genuine steps towards alleviating the pains of surviving in the industry, need a recognition of the effort it takes for young people to build something from nothing. This needs to be a partnership in progress – but unlike traditional partnerships this is not one based on an equal footing and while the imbalances of power may leave some rightfully suspicious of any real change we remain hopeful of possible progress.

The Chairman of the BPI & BRIT Awards, Ged Doherty’s op-ed on The BRIT Awards & diversity appeared in the Guardian and can be read in full below;

The BRIT Awards 2016 was a night for British music to be proud of.  A spectacular show with best-selling British and international artists giving incredible performances.  As a BRITs veteran of more than 30 years, it was one of the best I’ve seen.   But there was an elephant in the room last Wednesday at The O2, and, as Chairman of the BPI, the music association which organises the Awards, I can tell you that it was sat firmly on my lap. It was an elephant some might characterise as a lack of diversity among the nominees, but which, for me, was more about the lack of recognition of the emerging music that is a huge part of British youth culture. It’s this imbalance that lies at the heart of the criticism directed at The BRITs nominations process.

There are valid reasons why the nominations took the form they did; in particular that they tend to honour artists who have achieved the highest levels of popularity and that there are no individual awards for specific genres.  But this does not mean that we do not need to change.

Britain always prides itself on being one step ahead musically. The most innovative and exciting sounds have come from our shores, from the very birth of Pop to the emergence more recently of Grime.  Britain has led the way and that’s because we’ve always celebrated and loved what’s different. This was not adequately reflected at this year’s BRITs, however, and we have been slow to look to ourselves and recognise that the processes behind The Awards have somehow become disconnected from this heritage of diversity.

The Awards should, first and foremost, reward the very best and most popular British music, but the playing field for that judgement must also be even.  Everyone, regardless of background, should have an equal opportunity to impress.

The transparent BRITs Voting Academy is made up of 1,100 people from across the music industry, but, in truth, it needs to be updated.  The basis on which people were invited to join was their music expertise.  But while this remains a prerequisite, we recognise this is no longer enough, and that facets of diversity such age, ethnicity, gender and regionality must also be taken into account if the outcome of the nominations process is to be more closely aligned to social trends. We are therefore surveying its make-up, which, I suspect, is largely white and with a bias towards older men. This does not mean that there is an underlying prejudice at play, but the unintended consequence is that emerging genres of music may not be properly recognised.

There is a second issue.  Currently, to be nominated, you must have achieved Top-40 success – but we must now go further.  There are performers, including Grime artists, who may not have achieved major chart success but who have attracted large followings including through social media.  This level of engagement is at present not part of BRITs eligibility and this, perhaps more than any other factor, has caused the nominations to be seen as unrepresentative by some.

The work to put this right has already started. I recently met with artist Stormzy to discuss his concerns, explaining why his December top-10 hit ‘Shut Up’ missed out on eligibility by one week, and that it is now eligible for 2017. I explained that The BRITs organisers are, with the guidance of a new advisory committee that includes members of the BAME music community, exploring initiatives that will enable the event to more effectively celebrate diverse, breaking and established talent. I was delighted that Stormzy engaged with us on this, and I’ll be approaching other artists and producers with a similar invitation.

We are making a further commitment by taking steps to ensure that, ahead of 2017, the Academy will, wherever possible, have equal male/female representation and at least 15 per cent BAME participation, in line with national trends, as well as being more diverse with regard to age and regionality, so that it can be more truly representative of modern British music.

I believe our industry is fully behind these changes, and I’d like to encourage anyone who has a contribution to make to this debate to share their views with us.

We’re not the only industry facing this issue. Hollywood is now looking hard at itself after Sunday’s Oscars, and every part of society, not just the entertainment business, needs to step up and make sure it embraces its full range of talent. This is true not just for awards shows, but for all the businesses that support the creative sector.

Music has a better record than most when it comes to the diversity of its talent, but it’s essential this is more fully reflected across its positions of leadership also.  I’m determined the BPI, with the support of the music community, will be an innovative leader of change, and that next year’s BRITs will be an event everyone can be proud of.” – Ged Doherty, Chairman BPI & BRIT Awards Ltd. (2 March 2016)