Brit Awards 2015: Commercial success is rewarded, no matter how bland and banal

There is plenty of diversity in British music. The problem is we’re not acknowledging it

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The Independent Online

The Brit Awards are this evening, and are set to be the most banal and predictable music award ceremony yet, complete with the prerequisite guitar-clutching balladeer centre stage. 

In many ways, this year’s event feels like it is set in 2013. Sam Smith – who has his first number one two years ago, and won four Grammy awards early this month – is contender for British Breakthrough Act. Cvurches, who were one of the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2013’ choices, is also up for the ‘Breakthrough’ award, in 2015 when they could easily have been contenders for Best Band.

Brit Awards 2015 winners in full

And the other categories are equally disheartening. British Male is a toss-up between Smith and Sheeran, the latter of whom once rapped about how he “never went to Brit School” but now might as well have; while British Female had people blinking at the inclusion of Lily Allen and wondering whether that was seriously the best we could come up with.

Perhaps even more depressingly, the British Album category is entirely dominated by men despite some truly brilliant offerings from female acts in 2014, making the treatment of women by the music industry look even more dire than it did last year (just take a look at 2015’s Reading and Leeds line-up if you need proof). 

Even the international artist categories – which are usually, embarrassingly, the most interesting and diverse groups of nominees at the Brits – seem bland and obvious.

Pharrell is credited with one of the most irritating singles (“Happy”) to have ever made it into the charts, while Lana Del Ray sounds bored even as she’s singing her own music, but both are up for their respective male and female categories.

Fans vote for British video, so the only question for that category is whether Ed Sheeran’s army can out-hashtag the One Direction-ers. My guess is not.

Perhaps most laughable is the inclusion of Coldplay for Best British band, when guessing how many bacon sandwiches Chris Martin had for breakfast after his “conscious uncoupling” from Gwyneth Paltrow is a more interesting pastime than listening to 2014’s Ghost Stories.

Going to around three gigs a week, I get to hear everything from pop to rock, electronica to indie and hip hop to folk and Americana. Minus holidays and times when there wasn’t really anything on, that works out at about 130 gigs in the last year.

During those 130 performances, I’ve seen a heck of a lot of talent. That and an unhealthy addiction to Spotify is more than enough to know that there is plenty of diversity in British music. The problem is we’re just not acknowledging it.

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Brit Awards 2015 nominations list in full

Being at the Brits nominations themselves almost brought me to tears, because the kids who attend Brit School would burst into ecstatic shrieks at Sam Smith and George Ezra, then look utterly nonplussed when the far more talented and interesting Jack White, The War On Drugs, St Vincent and First Aid Kit flashed up on the screen.

Whatever else they’re being taught, the main lesson appears to be that commercial success is rewarded, no matter how bland and banal you have to be to get there.

The acts that succeed tonight will continue to be overhyped and overplayed for the remainder of 2015: musicians who are “really nice” and say sweet things about their mums and choose tea over a tequila shot.

Just look at this year’s Critics’ Award: James Bay! What did James Bay do to persuade the critics to give him an award, aside from wear a stupid hat and look moody? Likewise with the presenters themselves – family favourites Ant and Dec – who shouldn’t even be allowed near a music ceremony after “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble”.

Meanwhile this year’s NME awards, which were supposed to be the fun, raucous, outrageous solution to the Brits, were about as controversial as afternoon tea. They hurled trophies at straight white men including Kasabian, who produced a terrible album, then kicked up a massive fuss when no one rushed to tell them how amazing they are, and whose idea of rock and roll behaviour is slagging off One Direction once a month. 

The Brits are a popularity contest and are unlikely to change over the next few years. But that doesn’t stop me from hoping Fat White Family will storm the 02 Arena during one of Ed Sheeran’s acceptance speeches and piss all over the stage.

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