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Five on it: the BRIT Awards embracing non-gendered categories is about time

The BRIT Awards have announced the introduction of gender neutral categories, something which was long overdue. Plus, new music from Poppy Ajudha, FKA twigs, Denise Chaila, Ibeyi and daine.

26 Nov 2021

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have noticed that a certain time of year has started to tick over yet again. No, we’re not referring to Christmas – it’s music awards season. This week alone we’ve seen Halsey being endowed with the ‘Innovation’ accolade for the NME Awards, Olivia Rodrigo being nominated for all “Big Four” categories at the 2022 Grammy’s, and Glass Animals nominated for… Best New Artist (yes, really) following the slow burn success of their single ‘Heat Waves’, and a career that has spanned a literal decade.

More importantly, we have seen the BRIT Awards announce the introduction of gender neutral categories. Beginning in 2022, the ceremony will do away with ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ awards categories and replace them with two non-gendered categories: Artist of the Year and International Artist of the Year. The change itself has been rumoured since 2019. It is a big move for the ceremony, who are the latest to reconsider and make steps to embrace artists of all genders,including non-binary artists within their gongs; the MTV Awards, for example, went gender neutral back in 2017.

“Whilst the implementation of non-gendered categories may mean a smaller ratio for nominees to win the award, the true value is in all artists being eligible for success, regardless of how they identify themselves”

With a gap of five years between the MTV Awards and the BRITs utilising gender neutral categories, it begs the question why it has taken so long? Following the release of their third album Love Goes in 2020, British singer-songwriter Sam Smith found themselves ineligible for nomination, having announced themselves as non-binary back in 2019. What made the snub more poignant was the fact that Smith had won the BRITs Critics Choice Award – an industry-assigned accolade – back in 2014. 

After finding out they were unable to be nominated, Smith stated on Instagram at the time that “The Brits have been an important part of my career… Music for me has always been about unification not division. I look forward to a time where awards shows can be reflective of the society we live in. Let’s celebrate everybody, regardless of gender, race, age, ability, sexuality and class.” Less than a year on – and following Rina Sawayama’s successful campaign for migrant artists to be eligible for BRIT Award nomination – it seems the awarding body are in the mood for taking note.

The reception to the change has been overwhelmingly positive, but it’s not to say it has been universally accepted. Earlier in the week Queen’s guitarist Brian May referred to the shake-up of the ceremony as “frightening”, that the decision has “been made without enough thought”, and that “Some of these things are an improvement, some of them are not”; he added that he believes there to be an “atmosphere of fear everywhere because people are afraid to say how they really think.”

It begs the question of what aspect of inclusion for those who have been systemically and historically marginalised is, in fact, so “frightening” – or perhaps the word is “threatening”? Whilst the implementation of non-gendered categories may mean a smaller ratio for nominees to win the award, the true value is in all artists being eligible for success, regardless of how they identify themselves.

Poppy Ajudha – ‘London’s Burning’ 

Released in tandem with the anticipated announcement of her debut album The Power In Us, ‘London’s Burning’ sees Poppy Ajudha challenge the lasting influence of colonialism in her lyrics. Her jazz-influenced vocal is as commanding as it is striking; brisk beats and slick production creating an atmosphere both mournful and mystical. Poppy reflects: “Even when we have taken almost everything from most of the globe, ruining countries and communities throughout history to build our own, we are still so quick to close our doors to those in need.”

FKA twigs – ‘Measure of a Man’ ft. Central Cee

It’s always a pleasure and a surprise when FKA Twigs drops new music, and her latest offering ‘Measure of a Man’ is no different. The soundtrack to The King’s Man (from the Kingsman film series), the track is weightier than one would presume. Teaming up with the excellent Central Cee, ‘Measure of a Man’ is at once eerie and alluring, its hypnotic melodies, brass and moody tone perfectly offsetting Twigs’ ever-crystalline vocal. Maybe a Bond theme isn’t a far stretch for the future.

Denise Chaila – ‘Return of the King’

Making waves in her home of Ireland, hip-hop artist Denise Chaila has finally dropped her much anticipated new collection, the tongue-in-cheek EP entitled It’s a Mixtape. Preempted by stellar singles ‘061’ and ‘Energy’, new addition ‘Return of the King’ is a grime-influenced hype track that sees Denise at her braggadocious best. Layers of spiky production, chunky bass and skittish beats only underscore her engaging presence, as she barbs with self-assured confidence.

Ibeyi – ‘Made of Gold’ feat. Pa Salieu

Similarly hypnotic is the newest offering by Ibeyi. Enlisting Pa Salieu, ‘Made of Gold’ is a coercive outing that follows in the wake of their nominal inspiration and connects Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz to their spiritual and ancestral roots. Sturdy bass pulses around rattling percussion and dextrous harmonies. “What we were recording was calling on the brujas and our ancestors for their ancient knowledge,” shares Lisa-Kaindé. ‘Made of Gold’ is about connecting to our ancestors’ knowledge, to the truths of the past and the power of the ancient.”

daine – ‘IDC’

An emo-pop sensation in the making, daine has had quite the 2021. We tipped her for big things in our Ones to Watch at the start of the year, and in the time since she has had her biggest single yet courtesy of ‘boys wanna txt’ and collaborated with Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes. Taken from her upcoming mixtape, new single ‘IDC’ is as angsty and introspective as we’ve come to expect with its big bass notes and apathetic intonation as daine fantasises on proving her detractors wrong.