Brit Awards 2016: Organisers promise to improve diversity after nominations shun leading grime artists

Stormzy, Big Narstie and Laura Mvula are among the black artists criticising the lack of recognition for non-white acts

Brit Awards bosses have promised to make the annual music ceremony more diverse after controversy erupted over the lack of black artists up for gongs this year.

The hashtag #BritsSoWhite, an echo of #OscarsSoWhite, emerged on Twitter in January when no black recording artists were nominated in any of the major UK categories.

Organisers remained quiet on the issue but were prompted to respond when grime artist Big Narstie brought up the diversity debate during a Channel 4 News segment on Tuesday night. 

“The only diversity in the Brits is with the Americans. I’ve been saying this for a while, for our country to do good, we need to embrace our country,” he said.

“Years ago when I was making music, I was sending it off to radio stations and getting told it was ‘too urban’. But what else am I supposed to make? I come from Brixton. None of my friends go to places like Selfridges. I’m a regular at the pound shop! So what am I supposed to impress you with?”

Brits bosses replied with the following statement, first issued to The Mirror: “There are no individual awards for specific genres however, and since only a small number of BRITs are awarded every year, the artists who are honoured tend to be those who have achieved the very highest levels of chart success.

“Given the rapidly changing landscape of music consumption, it may now be time to take a fresh look at the metrics around the BRIT Awards to ensure they reflect the full range of engagement with recorded music.”

Organisers added that they plan to introduce new initiatives to include genres like grime that are “growing in popularity”.

Their message continued: “The BRITs organisers are, with the guidance of a new advisory committee comprising respected members of the BAME music community, exploring a number of initiatives that will enable the event to more effectively acknowledge diverse, breaking and established talent in future, including exciting genres, such as grime, which aren’t always considered mainstream but are growing in popularity.”

Brits members will be surveyed to “assess their diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, gender and regionality” and “act where required”. Organisers are keen to point out that while “expertise remains the prequisite”, they hope to make the Academy as “broadly representative and diverse as possible in line with future social trends”.

British rapper Stormzy criticised the Brits after he was shunned from this year’s nominations despite achieving chart success in the past twelve months. The 22-year-old won Best Grime Act at the 2014 and 2015 Mobos and was named on the BBC’s Sound of 2015 list, only to be ignored.

“It was such a great year for grime and underground music. I thought maybe this year it might get celebrated,” he told NME. “You know when you’ve got that little bit of hope and that little bit of faith and then they didn’t. It’s just a matter of breaking the doors down and carrying on.”

Stormzy took aim at the Brits in his song “One Take Freestyle”, rapping: “None of my Gs nominated for Brits/ Are you taking the p***?/ Embarrassing/ Last year they told the mandem that to be nominated you’ve gotta go on UK charts/ So what do we do? We chart/ Don’t come here with your lies/ Don’t start.”

Brits organisers have said that they met up with Stormzy to discuss his concerns and clarified that his top ten single “Shut Up” had missed the eligibility deadline by a week. However, other grime artists have also charted in 2015, including Krept and Konan, Septa and Lethal Bizzle. None of them are nominated for awards.

Singer Laura Mvula shared Stormzy’s frustration, confirming that she will not be attending the ceremony because she is not sure what her attendance “would achieve”. 

“Growing up my black identity is something that is hugely important to me and something that as I’m now going into my thirties I’m thinking lots and lots more about,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“I guess the problem for me is knowing that there are young black kids growing up feeling that they’re not acknowledged in society, in media and in mainstream music. Maybe next year when I have my album out it makes sense for me to be there.”

Adele, James Bay and Years & Years lead the 2016 nominations with four each. Viewers can watch the ceremony, hosted by Ant and Dec, on ITV tonight from 8pm.