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Brit Awards overhaul voting system to promote diversity

Skepta

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Grime artist Skepta is likely to be a front-runner for the Brit nominations, after winning the Mercury Prize for his album Konnichiwa

The Brit Awards have announced an overhaul of their voting system in an attempt to promote diversity.

This year’s awards were criticised after BAME artists were excluded from all but the international categories.

Laura Mvula threatened to boycott the ceremony, while Stormzy branded the Brits “embarrassing” in his song One Take Freestyle.

Now organisers have invited 718 potential new pundits to “refresh” the voting system following a major review.

Voters from BAME backgrounds will make up 17% of the panel, up from 15% last year.

The gender balance has also been reviewed, after a review discovered that 70% of the voting academy was male.

Next year’s winners will be chosen by a panel that is 52% male and 48% female.

Hundreds of former voters will find they have been culled from the list, which includes about 1,200 artists, journalists and music industry insiders every year.

‘Wake-up call’

Ged Doherty, chairman of the Brits, said the changes meant the awards were now “better equipped to reflect the diverse nature of Britain and British music”.

He told Radio 1’s Newsbeat that Stormzy’s comments were “a wake up call for me”. He later met with the MC to discuss the awards process, which led directly to the overhaul.

“A lot of people think the Brits is a stitch-up between the major record companies who sit in a dark room and decide who are going to get the awards [but] it’s over 1,000 people from all over the industry.

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Laura Mvula threatened to boycott this year’s Brits because she felt young black people were being sent the message that they were “not acknowledged in the music industry”

“Each year we change about 300 members to keep it fresh but this year we’ve decided to change over 700 people as a result of… everything that happened.”

However, Doherty said he had resisted the idea of introducing genre-specific categories to boost representation of hip-hop, grime or dance.

The Brits’ push to reflect the diversity will be aided by the fact that some of 2016’s best albums have been released by artists from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Kano, Michael Kiwanuka and Mvula are all likely to receive nominations, after being shortlisted for the Mercury Prize earlier this year. Skepta’s self-released grime album Konnichiwa eventually won that prize, beating bookmakers’ favourite David Bowie.

However, Stormzy will not be eligible for an award, as he has not had a top 40 single in the past 12 months; and his debut album is yet to be released.

‘Positive move forward’

“Nobody wants to be doing something that could be seen as tokenistic in any way, shape or form,” he told the BBC.

The move was praised by King, founder of the Mobo awards, who said: “I am delighted, congratulate and thank the BPI for responding to feedback and improving diversity on their Brit awards voting panel. This is a really positive move forward.

“I founded Mobo 21 years ago in order to raise awareness of the imbalance within the music industry, so applaud any move to create broader platforms and level the playing field so that more talent can shine through.”

Mvula said she was “happy” that progress has been made, but added: “This should have been happening a long time ago”.

“My longing is just for us to represent the UK as it truly is, and it is one of the most diverse musical palettes on the planet,” she told Radio 1.

“I want to be excited about going to the Brits. I want to feel like, ‘you know what, this is a room where I’m acknowledged, and I’m as relevant as the next person”.

The 2016 ceremony will be held on 24 February at the O2 arena and broadcast on ITV2. The late architect Zaha Hadid has designed the trophies.

Singer Michael Buble is due to host – but it is unclear whether he will be able to fulfil the role after his son was diagnosed with cancer last week.

The author of this story is a member of the Brits’ voting academy.

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