Brit Awards: Strange I find myself agreeing with Nadine Dorries that music awards should not go gender-neutral – Aidan Smith

Life was a whole lot simpler when it was one fabulous furry freak brother versus another fabulous furry freak brother for the title of “Best Drummer” in the New Musical Express annual readers’ poll.

Dua Lipa may be the last-ever winner of British Female Solo Artist now the Brit Awards are gender-neutral
Dua Lipa may be the last-ever winner of British Female Solo Artist now the Brit Awards are gender-neutral

Way back when, there wasn’t a woman in sight. Actually, there must have been a few scattered around, enough for inclusion in the categories “Best Rock Chick” and “Best Token Girl”, but try as we might, my long-haired junior chauvinist friends and I, could we even think of one?

How times have changed. Obviously these categories are jokes, but music seemed very much a man’s world in the 1970s, and it certainly was if my record collection was typical.

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Now I only seem to buy albums by women (Lana Del Ray, St Vincent, Jenny Lewis, Haim, Laura Marling, Lorde). Women lord, and Lorde, it over the men. Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish and Lizzo are the most fascinating, most provocative, most zeitgeisty characters around.

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I haven’t even mentioned Madonna, who can still make headlines simply by scrabbling about on the living-room carpet, looking under the sofa for the TV remote or the wrapper from her macaroon bar (did you see those photos the other day?). And I haven’t even mentioned Adele.

Not that it’s a competition, women vs men. Except it kind of is now. At the next Brit Awards, women won’t just compete against each other but with men. The event has gone gender-neutral.

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A good thing? I can’t decide. And – proof that you’re never too old for a new experience – I’m swaying towards agreeing with Nadine Dorries. The UK Culture Secretary says it’s “sad” the separate awards for men and women have been scrapped. This is her view as a woman in support of other female artists, who historically across the spectrum of award ceremonies, have tended to lose out to men.

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Hang on, though, where was Dorries at the time of the last Brits when women hoovered up the prizes? Dua Lipa claimed three including the now-discontinued one for British Female Solo Artist.

Maybe, given Dorries and I are the same age, she was once similarly obsessed by the choice between Led Zeppelin’s “Bonzo” Bonham and Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward for Best Drummer, though somehow I doubt it. But her gripe about male domination has definitely applied to the Brits in the past, and as recently as 2020 when there was only one British woman nominated across 25 categories.

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So here’s the question: will gender-neutral statuettes for the winners boost recognition for women and encourage empowerment? Come February if a woman is named top of the pops overall, beating the likes of Ed Sheeran – and surely Adele will – then the answer might be yes. But if this was an era where the men were preeminent, and it was to continue for a while, then the answer would surely be no.

Here’s another question: will the statuettes have to be sent back to the moulding plant to have their bobbly bits smoothed away, so that they’re neither one thing nor the other, not Sonny or Cher, not Ike or Tina Turner, not Peters or Lee? You don’t think I’m taking the issue seriously? Come on, it’s the Brits we’re talking about…

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Right from the start, it’s been impossible to take the Brits seriously. Pop is a world-class UK industry, just as film is a world-class American industry. The Brits, although a much younger event, wants to be like the Academy Awards but struggles to match the credibility or class of the Oscars which, by the way, still garlands women in their own categories.

In a word-association game mention of the Brits prompts “arse” for the moment when Jarvis Cocker bared his at Michael Jackson in a weird protest. Or “dead sheep” (the KLF’s weird protest). Or “Chumbawamba” (who threw water at John Prescott). Or “Brandon Block” (the DJ, fooled by friends into thinking he’d won a prize, who ended up in a fight with Ronnie Wood).

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Or “mid-Atlantic accent” (Joss Stone forgetting her Devon roots). Or “fat dancer” (Liam Gallagher to Robbie Williams). Or “knobhead” (Peter Kaye to Gallagher). Or “vagina” (the giant stage set for Geri Halliwell’s entrance). Or indeed “Mick ’n’ Sam” (Fleetwood and Fox’s epicly awful turn as co-hosts, which stopped live transmissions for the next 17 years).

Because the ceremony has been dogged – and sheeped – by boorish behaviour from the winners who’ve sulked and scowled their way through the acceptance speeches while the TV cameras panned round tables of anonymous, well-refreshed industry suits, it’s difficult to avoid being cynical about the Brits’ motives here and to ask if the switch to gender-neutral is not simply attention-seeking.

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Piers Morgan, scourge of virtue-signallers, calls it “woke garbage”. “Frightening,” is the reaction of Queen guitarist Brian May, and I can’t be the only one who isn’t disappointed he hasn’t offered a fuller response along the lines of: “Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening.”

Back in those 1970s, the chin-scratching male muso blamed Yoko Ono for the break-up of the Beatles, a myth she insists can now be dispelled thanks to Peter Jackson’s Get Back rockumentary. Meanwhile the muso’s little brother was ogling Stacia who danced naked during Hawkwind gigs.

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Previously perceived as either irritation or decoration, women in pop have come a long way from when berks like me were too ignorant to think of a nomination for the NME poll. Now, everyone is aware of the likely and worthy contenders for prizes such as British Female Solo Artist and I really don’t see them as lesser honours.

So let’s keep best man and best woman and then why not have them compete for champ-of-champs? Not quite Stacia vs Bonzo, but still an intriguing contest.

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