The Nominations for the BBC Music Awards Reveal How Male-Dominated the UK Music Industry Has Become

Will Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith whinge us all into an early cultural grave?

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08 December 2014, 1:39pm

Last week, the BBC Sound Of... poll was released, featuring its usual cocktail of buzz artists who have already proven themselves to be critically successful. Cue a nationwide shrug and general lack of enthusiasm. Today, the nominees for British Artist of the Year were released, featuring a list of artists whose combined presence points towards something so ridiculous I had to re-read the list several times to make sure my eyes weren’t broken.

The shortlist, according to Bob Shennan, Director of BBC Music, features “an amazing range of hugely talented artists. Each and every one has made a unique mark on the music industry.” Sounds great, Bob. Can’t wait to see that amazing range!

So the nominees (in alphabetical order) for British Artist of the Year are:

- David Bowie
- Ed Sheeran
- Elbow
- Jungle
- Royal Blood
- Sam Smith

Hmm.

Obviously this is a Radio 1 and Radio 2 event, so the cross-section of artists is immediately limited to those who fit into both those audience demographics. Nobody was expecting someone like Stormzy or Sleaford Mods to bowl in, guns up and political opinions out, representing the genuinely amazing things happening in British music outside of mainstream pop culture. But there is a different sort of elephant in the room. A fucking massive one, actually: Where are all the women?

FKA Twigs, London Grammar, Paloma Faith, Rita Ora, Ella Henderson and Anna Calvi have all done incredibly well by both commercial and critical standards this year. You couldn’t open a website without seeing Twigs hubcap-sized eyes popping off a banner somewhere or tune into festival coverage without being spoonfed London Grammar like they were some life-saving medicine. I would argue that any of those artists have a bigger claim to 2014 than Jungle - who sold less than 50,000 records this year - or David Bowie - who, don’t get me wrong, is easily deserving of any award with the word “British” in it, but has only released two new tracks and a hits compilation in the last 12 months. And if we’re going to include artists based on long-standing reputation alone, then surely Kate Bush should be worthy of a mention?

Over the last decade, the UK music industry has become increasingly “safe”, hence Sam Smith minesweeping every single awards ceremony this year. What increasingly concerns me, though, is how often female artists are erased when it comes to dishing out praise. Sure, you’ll find them performing on stage at the Brit awards, making Rudimental seem more exciting than they actually are, but when it comes to getting on stage to pick up an award, only three out of fifteen winners were female (and one of them went to Lorde for International Artist). In 2013, only two UK female artists won (Adele and Emeli Sandé) and in 2012 it was exactly the same (Adele and Emeli Sandé again). Similarly, both Paloma Faith (whose album was one of the top 5 best sellers of 2013) and Ella Henderson (who had a number 1 album this year) are both performing at the BBC Music Awards despite being snubbed from the nominations list they should arguably have featured on.

I think what makes the whole list less understandable is that Jungle are on there. If it was supposed to be representative of the more left-field aspects of British music, then sure, Jungle would have sat nicely alongside the likes of George The Poet, and Elbow would be nowhere in sight. But this list is undoubtedly about commercial, critical and international success, of which they have had very little in comparison to Paloma Faith or most of the aforementioned female artists. Basically, that slot could have been filled by anybody who has been culturally prominent but less commercially dominant. And, in terms of cultural impact, it seems ridiculous that Jungle would have been selected over someone like Anna Calvi or FKA Twigs - one of our biggest exports this year to the point where she collaborated with Google. Her career may stand against the current of everything the industry seems to value at the moment - she’s challenging conventional ideas of sound and sexuality while Ed Sheeran stands on stage singing about conventional romance using structures introduced to music a literal century ago - but the fact that she has blown up as an “other” figure makes her even more worthy of recognition. In a more commercial sense, London Grammar and Paloma Faith being been overlooked and artists like Foxes and Ella Eyre failing to chart at all are indicators of how anti-female the UK music industry has become. What “sells”, at the moment, seems to be BOYS.

Adding insult to injury, the awards also selected a single BBC Introducing act to perform, in order to represent the corporation’s commitment to new music. They could have used this as an opportunity to right the gender imbalance, instead they opted for Catfish and the Bottlemen - that really hilarious band who have “cum sarnies” and “6 tugs of the porridge gun” on their merch list. It’s pretty grim that, of all the bands they could have chosen to represent the climate of British music at the moment, they went for the one known primarily for their misogyny.

Interestingly, the nominees for International Artist of the Year - which include Dolly Parton, Lorde, Prince, Taylor Swift, Pharrell and Gregory Porter - are a little more representative. So what’s Britain’s problem? Was the female domination of the Billboard charts or the fact that “feminism” has been one of the most talked about topics this year just something that happened to other countries? Have we entered a new era of beige where Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith will whinge us all into an early cultural grave?

The sad thing is, 2014 has actually been a great year for British music, and it’s a shame that it never gets the proper representation it deserves. With women completely erased from the musical landscape, The BBC Music Awards will be the funeral of mainstream British culture; with an elegy read by Chris Evans as panels of critics and tastemakers slowly lower the body deeper into the ground to be pissed on by Catfish and the Bottlemen.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @emmaggarland