We need better Brit Awards
Critically acclaimed artists miss out in this popularity contest, says Elisa Bray
Wednesday 28 January 2009
The biggest date in the British music calendar occurs next month with the Brit Awards. And I predict a boring and predictable evening. Coldplay and Duffy will each need an extra pair of hands to carry off their awards (they're each up for four) and all those artists that graced the critics' lists of the past year will remain empty-handed on the night – if they were even nominated in the first place.
In the future, if we look back on this year's list of nominees as a reference for the British musical talent of 2009 we'll have a pretty bleak view. But a predictable list of nominees isn't anything new. If the Mercury Prize favours those outside the mainstream and shuns those artists who have already broken through into mass popularity status, the Brits do the opposite. Coldplay have been up for the Mercury three times and Radiohead have been nominated four times; the prize will generally go to the avant-garde debuts. The 2007 Brits' surprise nominee was Cat Power for International Artist. The more mainstream Nelly Furtado won the award.
Despite the 1,000 members of the committee being industry insiders including critics, it's a popularity contest. It isn't a representation of what is critically acclaimed or beloved by music fans, it's what sells. That it recognises the bestsellers of the year explains the number of nods to Duffy, 2008's bestseller with debut album Rockferry, and Coldplay whose Viva La Vida was the year's fifth biggest seller. If Coldplay win all their awards they will almost be on a par with Robbie Williams, record holder for his 11 Brits. While Scouting For Girls were a commercial success, to pit a "fun" band alongside Iron Maiden, The Verve, Elbow and Coldplay as best live act is laughable.
Some might say it's a bad year for new British music. But you only have to look to the band who topped so many end of year polls – Glasvegas – to disprove that point. This is a band that defies pop's cynical attempts at commercial success. They surely deserve a nomination for best Breakthrough Act. Their single "Daddy's Gone" is more worthy of a Brit than Scouting For Girls' "Heartbeat". From the existing nominations I'll settle for Estelle's "American Boy". Glasvegas were criminally overlooked. But if we look to those acts who made last year's critical round-ups, so were Portishead and their album Third.
Elbow have crossed over to the mainstream. To crown them best group, or best album for their Mercury-winning Seldom Seen Kid would redeem an otherwise dull-looking event. Likewise the International side which the Brits seem to be getting right. Both Fleet Foxes and MGMT are worthy winners. Though I wouldn't mind the Killers either.
At a time in which music is dominated by young female stars, choosing the British Male Solo Artist is a hard task. Ian Brown is a star but he hasn't produced anything since 2007. The Streets seem the best option.
Is this why the Brits introduced the Critics Choice last year? Florence and the Machine is the most exciting artist likely to be getting an award at this year's event.
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