As featured in Complex UK
Last night’s Brit Awards was supposed to be a momentous night for the grime scene. After the controversy of #BritsSoWhite last year (where only one black British artist was up for nomination) and with grime acts up for the top prizes this year, this was meant to be the night the mainstream finally stood up and recognised the genre at large. The likes of Skepta, Kano and Stormzy were nominated for multiple awards and expectations were as high as they have ever been.
Well, The Brits had other plans. Despite show-stealing performances from Skepta (whose rendition of “Shutdown” was marred by constant muting) and Stormzy, who joined Ed Sheeran on stage, neither were able to scoop an award, beaten by Rag’N’Bone Man and the late David Bowie in the British Breakthrough Act, Best Male Artist and Best Album categories, respectively. Social media went crazy—how could The Brits disregard the scene for the second consecutive year?—but this failure speaks to a much bigger problem.
While it is understandable to be disappointed, there is no reason to be shocked by The Brits’ actions. After all, it was only under mounting pressure that the British Phonographic Industry switched up its process of selecting nominees to incorporate not only black artists, but grime artists, in the wake of the much-publicised #BritsSoWhite controversy. After last night, this decision can only be seen for what it was; an incredibly hollow one, not representative of a real desire to be more inclusive, but a half-hearted pandering to public and industry outrage. And, while the nomination of grime artists can be seen as a positive, it will have been doubly disappointing for all involved that they showed up at the awards only to be denied once more.
The writing is now firmly on the wall: The Brits have shown, yet again, that they don’t really care about the grime scene and its accomplishments, and that it cannot be trusted to be more representative of what is really going on in the country musically. Equally, now is the time for grime to move on from The Brits.
The scene has never needed this validation, and that’s what makes it so great—that Skepta, Stormzy, Kano, Wiley et al are at the centre of British pop culture, shutting down performances on the stages of award shows that don’t really acknowledge them, and making history, in spite of the mainstream’s portrayal of them. The mainstream has never understood the scene and last night was further proof.
Looking inwards, urban artists already have two ready-made awards ceremonies that are for us: The MOBOs and The Rated Awards. The MOBOs is a recognised institution, and The Rated Awards is still in its infancy and will only get bigger. While they may not be perfect, they are designed to celebrate urban music and its multiple facets, and it’s time to place our full support into these organiSations. The Brits could never really capture the pure vibrancy and diversity of the urban scene like our award shows can, and this needs to be greater emphasised following last night.
If we can build these shows to the same level of prestige as The Brits, that will be a win far greater than what The Brits could ever offer. This is one way to force the UK mainstream into really noticing us, because history tells us that when we show we can do it ourselves, the establishment takes notice, and it would make every achievement even more special. It may take a few years for these awards to reach that level but you need only look to America, where the Grammys continuously fail to recognise hip-hop, and with the black community placing more emphasis on the BET Awards, it is gaining more recognition every year.
More and more of the scene’s biggest names (both in music and within the industry) should attend The MOBOs and Rated Awards and big them up, to elevate them to a position that can eventually transcend both the urban scene and the mainstream. Another method would be for urban artists to boycott The Brits, and make their presence felt by not being there at all.
Arguably, the scene gave The Brits some cool factor last night that it otherwise doesn’t have—Skepta’s skanking during “Shutdown”, for example—and not showing up strips the ceremony of its edge, making it just as hollow as its selection process. With that, hopefully more eyes can turn toward the awards that showcase the most thrilling and dominating section of UK music today.
The fact that the most established and the exciting newcomers of the urban scene are all in one roof at these awards should be played up more also, as these are the only shows that can achieve such a union and capture urban music in the finest light. The black community in the UK is a resilient one, able to withstand the greatest of adversities on our own terms.
Grime will live on with or without The Brits, and with The MOBOs and Rated Awards, there are two vehicles through which we can express and rejoice in our greatness in music, in our own way. Last night’s events should serve only to turn heads towards these structures, and show that it’s not the end of the world if The Brits ain’t for us, because there’s always something that is.