Will the decision to remove gendered categories help to promote inclusivity or does it further hinder the chances of equal opportunity?
Following the BRIT Awards decision to replace female and male categories with gender neutral awards, Artist of the Year and International Artist of the Year, we ask whether this will encourage true inclusivity within the music industry.
BRIT’s aim is to ensure the event should be as inclusive as possible and to celebrate artists’ music rather than how they identify themselves.
Tom March, BRIT Chair and Co-President of Polydor Records said: “It feels completely the right time to celebrate the achievements of artists for the music that they create, and the work that they do, irrespective of gender.”
MJ Olaore, Chief Operating Office BPI, said: “One of the things we all love most about The BRIT Awards is that they always stay in tune with the times, remaining relevant to both the artists and our audience.”
The change has not been without its critics. For instance, Piers Morgan tweeted: “What a load of woke garbage. Won’t be long before it’s illegal to call yourself a man or woman.”
However, for many this has symbolised a step forward in ensuring equality, enabling a more representative industry to evolve.
“A move in the right direction”
Gender Intelligence, a charity which works to improve the lives of trans and non-binary people in the UK, said they welcome the news that the BRITs have removed gendered categories
A spokesperson for the charity, said: “Not only do gendered categories move the focus away from music and on to the identity – or perceived identity – of the performers, they also leave no room for artists who do not fit within a gender binary.
“Removing binary gendered categories and welcoming a range of gender identities and expressions in music can only be a good thing, both for artists now, and the next generations of musicians that they inspire.”
Singer-songwriter, Scott Quinn, said: “For me, personally, I think it is fantastic. It is another step in the right direction. Those that aren’t very represented will feel that there are more opportunities granted.”
Pic: Scott Quinn. C – @scottpquinn
Mr Quinn stated that ensuring inclusivity is about levelling out the playing field and stressed that how you identify shouldn’t impact how well you do in the industry.
Similarly, Tom Warner, a drummer from Sheffield, believes we still live in a “musical society” in which gender is treated as musical ability.
Mr Warner hopes that the BRIT’s non-gendered categories will lead to musician being recognised regardless of how they identify.
He said: “It’s these larger scale industry representatives that that filter feed the toxicity to everything else lower down, and I feel that removing gender categories is like removing one of the drip feeders.”
The introduction of non-gendered categories at the BRITs, is perhaps the type of action that many have been waiting for from the music sphere, a place where a lot of us go to see ourselves being represented.
Although, this undoubtedly provides more space for non-binary nominees, there has been some concern that this may affect the number of female nominated at the annual awards.
“Having categories which aren’t gendered is a good thing, but it is only a good thing is the industry is equal”
Undoubtedly the music industry is still male dominated, with USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report finding only 21.7% of artists are female and that there is a 3.6 to 1 male to female ratio.
But does this mean that BRIT Awards gender-neutral prizes will continue the underrepresentation of women in music?
Chardine Taylor-Stone, the vice-chair of the Musician’s Union Equalities Committee and drummer in the band Big Joanie, said that while the introduction of genderless awards is a positive move, the flip side is that it could lead to men being nominated disproportionately more than others.
She believes the main issue lies within the industry itself and it is the structural issues that need to be addressed first.
Ms Taylor-Stone said: “What can happen sometimes, is that you can have these surface token gestures which don’t address the structural issues and attitudes within the industry. So you end up with something that should be the end point, which is categories where anyone could be nominated being the final thing.”
Similarly, Adele De’Ath, a vocalist and songwriter, said: “I don’t think it is reasonable to overlook the fact that most musicians are white men – from what I have seen at least. I think there is a bigger problem to address at grassroots level to ensure barriers are removed to all everyone the opportunity to pursue music, and then to encourage participation.”
The music industry, despite being a place for expression, still others those that do not fit into a gender binary. Ms Taylor-Stone explained there are still may trans and non-binary musicians that struggle to get record deals or even get notices by companies as they do not know how to promote them in the categories available.
While she believes that the BRIT’s decision is a step forward in ensuring the industry is more inclusive for non-binary musicians, Ms Taylor-Stone stated that “it needs to be done properly”.
One solution she suggests, is that a cap on the number of cis men nominated in each category could be enforced, in order to level out the playing and giving everyone, irrespective of how they identify, an equal chance.
Alternatively, Ryan Adamson, who is a member of the alternative rock band, Bad Fettle, from Sheffield, said whilst he understand that many may not wish to be categorised into ‘male’ or ‘female’ categories, removing categories is not the solution.
For Mr Adamson having separate categories offer females a chance to achieve recognition.
He said: “I believe adding another category is the way to go, not removing one. I now fear that the Ed Sheeran’s of this world will gain more limelight by winning the single award and preventing other talented artists from gaining much deserved recognition.”
Although it is evident that some are in two minds about the BRIT’s new genderless award categories, it is clear that this move is definitely a positive one.
Despite concerns that without the insurance that the categories will include an equal representation of people, the new award categories may lead to further disproportionate amount of cis male winner, there is the hope that this is a step in changing perceptions.
Ms Taylor-Stone said: “If a move like this makes audiences, who haven’t even considered the gender binary in any way, to think about that, then that’s a good thing”.
Although a change such as this from a public organisation such as the BRITs, is likely to face its opponents, it certainly send out the message that the music industry is evolving into a more inclusive space.
As Mr Quinn said of the new change: “It isn’t going to be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. I’d rather have people are imperfectly trying to get things right, then not trying at all.”