An assessment of the not so Gender Neutral Brit Award nominations

The Brit Awards Artist of The Year 2023 nominees: Central Cee, George Ezra, Fred Again, Harry Styles and Stormzy Brit Awards Artist of The Year nominees 2023

By Alex Manley (he/him)

On the 11th of February, Britain’s biggest musicians will come together for the 43rd Brit Awards ceremony, where they will learn who has been branded the best in the scene by a panel of 1200 ‘music industry experts’.

Harry Styles and Wet Leg lead this year’s nominations with four apiece, and are set to lock horns on the fight for British Album of The Year, with both Harry’s House and the eponymous Wet Leg LPs receiving nods. But the 2023 nominations have not gone down without controversy.

In a bid to be “as inclusive as possible”, The Brits opted to scrap its male and female categories back in 2021, shifting the ceremony towards a more gender neutral format.   Though the change was hailed as a progressive move at the time, the 1200-strong Brits Voting Academy has been slated across the board, after it transpired that all five of the nominees to make it to the shortlist for Artist of The Year were male.

The all-male selection comprises of Central Cee, Fred Again, George Ezra, Harry Styles and Stormzy. On the face of it, these are talented musicians: Harry Styles for one was inescapable, with ‘As It Was’ topping charts across the world; Stormzy continued to evade the pressure of his heavy crown, with another chart-topping album in This Is What I Mean; Central Cee enjoyed great commercial success at home and across the pond with the likes of Doja and Let Go and Fred Again, the only nominated act not to have a chart-topping album, took over the dance world with a record-breaking Boiler Room set that currently sits on a remarkable 13 million views. But surely such talent is not exclusive to Britain’s heterosexual male artists?

No, of course, it isn’t, and female talent should have seen far greater recognition amongst the British Artist of The Year nominations.

If chart success acts as a measurement of an artist’s impact on the music scene, then why was Harry Styles the only artist on the nominations list with a number one single in 2022? Perhaps the answers lie in the rules of being eligible for nominations. To be a contender for Artist of The Year, an artist must have achieved at least one top 40 album, or two top 20 singles released between the 10th of December and the 9th of December 2022. This rule cuts out an artist who had one of the year’s biggest hits: Eliza Rose, the singer and songwriter behind the viral dance anthem B.O.T.A (Baddest of Them All); whose achievement of number one made her the first female DJ to top the charts since Sonique in 2000. Granted, Eliza Rose does have nominations in ‘Best Dance Act’ and ‘Best Song’, so at least her success hasn’t gone unnoticed.

To name just a couple of additional overlooked artists – one could argue that Ella Henderson is the perfect example of a female artist who deserved some more recognition. Despite scoring a top 10 album, as well as appearances on two top 10 singles and an invitation to perform live at the actual Brit awards ceremony – Henderson received zero nominations.

Another critically acclaimed, yet overlooked performer is Charli XCX. Her album, Crash, topped the charts and became her most successful project to date, receiving widespread praise for its 80s-inspired sound. Whilst Charli has been nominated in the Best Pop/R&B Act category, her snubbing in the Artist and Album of the Year categories feels like an obvious own goal by the powers that be at the Brits.

Moving away from Artist of The Year, the nominations also missed a great opportunity to recognise the indie rock group Florence + The Machine’s enduring success. They topped the album charts in May with their critically acclaimed, silver-certified fifth album Dance Fever,  yet received no nominations in any category. It is difficult for any band to continually succeed past creative differences, or the cursed second album, let alone their fifth. To put it bluntly, Florence and her machine of singing and songwriting talent deserved to be recognised with a Group of The Year nomination.

Perhaps the safest solution to the diversity issue facing The Brits would be an expansion of the nominations list to reflect the diverse, expansive nature of music in the 2020s. Another option could be the easing of eligibility rules; especially as streaming and TikTok virality can see artists release one song that continues to be in the limelight long after its release if it happens to achieve online virality, as the likes of Eliza Rose can attest to. Just one hit can make a particular artist symbolic of a year; 2012 might make people immediately think of PSY or Gotye. Likewise, people may now associate 2022 with the year of Eliza Rose and her dance anthem.

Despite the controversy clouding the nominations, The Brits have at least opted for a far more diverse line-up of entertainment for the evening. The likes of FLO, an up-and-coming girl group who topped the BBC’s Sound of 2023 poll, Wet Leg (who will be getting off the chaise longue they’ve been in all day long), and Sam Smith and Kim Petras, who will no doubt be doing something ‘unholy’ at The Brits, will all provide a setlist far more representative of 2022’s year in music. Though performances and the showcasing of up-and-coming and diverse artists is a positive step, one can’t help but point out that only actual nominations, (and victories), will provide concrete progress in the fight for a more gender-balanced pop landscape.

The BBC report that only one in five artists signed to a record label are female. So maybe a lack of female nominations doesn’t just reflect the Brit Awards’ failures in curating gender-diverse nomination lists, but a failure of themusic industry to recognise and recruit enough talented women to its music labels. Demand and appreciation for music by women does exist; as proven by the successes of the likes of Charli XCX, GAYLE and Eliza Rose, too name but a few. Ultimately in the words of a female artist behind one of 2022’s biggest summer hits, “it’s about damn time” the music industry began fairly recognising women.