Brits 2017: A continued snub of the black British experience
Who knew the dead wielded such efficacy beyond the grave?
Bowie’s winning Album of the Year and Male Solo Artist epitomises the Brits dogged determination to overlook black British talent. Apparently rich creativity is scarce here in Britain, and officials must scour through burial grounds to find it. In response to the #BritsSoWhite controversy of last year and Stormzy concluding the panel were “taking the piss”, it seems they’re not done. This year’s Brits saw the appraisal of highly manufactured chart-pop toppers like Rag’n’Bone Man. While Skepta, Kano and Stormzy were barely chucked a bone.
Brits, a platform intended to congratulate individuals who’ve helped shape the terrain of – yes, frequently commercial – pop music, fails to register a genre so inextricably responsible for such a seismic shift. Grime is raucous, electric and relevant. It’s also notoriously anti-establishment and predominantly black. These factors combined make it ostensibly unviable to an anachronistic voting panel who have systemically whitewashed it out. The racial undertones are not imagined here, they are apparent.
In fact, the results make the nominations for the scene taste more like an insincere attempt to pacify the 2016 pandemonium, than a real gesture registering their success. Grime’s capacity to make an imprint upon society is a phenomenon which doesn’t need retelling. From #MERKY plastered across billboards throughout the capital, to highly anticipated Levi and Adidas collaborations. It’s clear this urban rooted genre is propelling popular culture forward without the calculate strategy of major labels. It’s impact even trickles down to your everyday suburban kid’s imitation of the road-man aesthetic; Nike swoosh caps and North Face puffers. Brits’ inability to comprehend grime’s everyday influence, let alone its commercial clout, is frankly bewildering.
This year was tortuous still, as they were given a seat at the table without a slice of the pie. Last year, the Twitter frenzy ensued in reaction to the overt whitewashing which subsequently birthed the #BritsSoWhite hashtag. It was so public a shaming that Brit organizers pledged to address the 70/30 male-female ratio, and the meagre 15 percent BME voters on their panel. Brits chairman Ged Doherty assured us “Next year’s Brits will be an event everyone can be proud of”.
The lasting feelings harboured after last night closer resemble amusement and annoyance at this being their attempt at diversification. Though grime artists are yet to touch a gong, Skepta and Stormzy were at least permitted to perform – the former muted on every chorus to avoid viewers hearing the word “Pussy” (despite Dermot O’Leary saying “bat-shit” in the performance intro), the latter debuting his guest verse on the official remix of Ed Sheeran’s single.
Last night saw the fierce resurrection of the #BritsSoWhite hashtag as users slayed the event once again. @DavidRobson84 asked “Anyone else find #Brits nominations a bit of a tokenistic reaction to the #BritsSoWhite campaign?” @Kaveeta states “Proud of @Skepta and @Stormzy1 for performing at such an overwhelmingly white Brit awards”. The awards are summed up perfectly by @ChantayyJay in the tweet ‘Why do dead people always win over alive great black people?’
Meanwhile @WeebyMcWeebface states ‘I can’t take anyone who tweets #BritsSoWhite seriously. If they’re inferior artists they won’t win’. This question of inferiority makes for an interesting comment considering the vast majority of grime representatives, particularly its pioneers, are self-made grassroots artists. They’ve single handedly carved out a niche independent of the support and often in conflict to, the more traditional pillars of the music industry machine.
What hurts most amidst the Brits snubbing of grime artists, is the deeper nerve it touches upon. From its murky underground birthing in the early 2000s to its current cultural flourishing, grime has provided a melodic narrative to the inner-city working class black youth. Though its evolved, as a sound it is still as explosive as when Eskiboy first dropped Eskibeat. Grime has been consistently reflective of a raw and unapologetic black experience that is too often sidelined by mainstream media. The Brits refusal to wholly acknowledge the presence of grime – even in the face of its status as a national and international phenomenon – feels like a direct rebuttal of that experience. For an organisation with an intended ethos to celebrate all of Britain’s music, the Brits still has a lot to learn.
Even still, grime will continue to thrive with or without their validation.