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Does USA Rule the Brit Awards?

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock

18.2.2013

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With the Brit Awards right around the corner, it’s the time of year when we celebrate the accomplishments of British music and musicians. No matter how you feel about the Brits, they are an important date in the music industry.

I recently read an article on the Telegraph website entitled ‘Brit Awards 2013: Return of the Rolling Stones’, which suggested that the Rolling Stones’ nomination for the Best Live Act award is an indication as to the current state of pop music in Britain.

The author of the article appears to feel that there aren’t many accomplishments in British music over the last year worth celebrating and suggests that the quality of the international nominees shows that Britain is losing its power within the industry.

Whilst I can’t say I wholly disagree with this, I felt that the article somewhat missed the point as to the reason behind it. Instead, whether intentionally or not, he implies that all music coming from current British artists is uninspired and unworthy of praise. Is this opinion justified, or is this author being too critical of the music industry today?

The Rolling Stones & Best Live Act Award

Having formed in 1962, the Rolling Stones are certainly not a new act. In the article, the author states that the Stones were nominated for the very first Brit Awards in 1977, and suggests that even then they were considered past their prime. I feel that the key to this year’s nomination, however, is in the award for which they are nominated.

The Best Live Act award hasn’t played a huge role in the Brits previously. Having been introduced for only one ceremony in 2000, then re-introduced in 2005 and subsequently dropped in 2010, this year’s award marks its inclusion for only the 7th time. The nomination of the Rolling Stones in this category (five decades after forming), however, seems to speak volumes to the author of the article as to the state of modern pop music.

Is it any wonder, though, after 50 years of playing together, that the Rolling Stones would be an act with a solid live show? As they say, practice makes perfect, and 50 years of practice would make for some serious talent and a flawless live show. Another nominee in this category, Muse, has been previously nominated for four of the seven times this award has been included and won 2 of these.

In 2009, the last time this award was included, another seasoned act, Iron Maiden, came away victorious. If the Stones were nominated for Best Group, it would be a different story. But what I feel their nomination shows us is that, understandably, this award favours those acts who have been on the live circuit a long time, having been given a chance to cut their teeth and perfect the art of live performance, rather than being a statement about the state of current British music.

The Balance of Pop in Britain

In the Telegraph’s article, the author suggests that the quality of international nominees such as Lana Del Ray, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Ocean and Jack White demonstrates how far the balance of pop music has shifted from Britain. What the author fails to mention is that some of these acts aren’t exactly newcomers themselves.

Bruce Springsteen’s debut album was released in 1973, just nine years after the release of The Rolling Stones’ debut, and he has a total of 17 studio albums to date. Although Jack White has only recently released his debut solo record, he has achieved significant amounts of success through various other projects previously, most notably The White Stripes and The Raconteurs, and has released multiple platinum-selling albums during his career spanning 14 years. 

Whilst he still has a few years to go to reach Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones’ level of experience, he’s already been around for a while. Taking this into account, it seems that the author is choosing to be critical of the Rolling Stones’ nomination but ignoring their American counterparts.

If the Stones’ nomination makes any sort of statement about the state of British pop music, then the same is also true of the international market.

Music versus Industry

As the author of the article notes, the Brits are an award show based largely on sales figures and popular trends. As such, I feel it’s fair to say that the awards reflect the state of the commercial music industry in Britain, rather than the state of British music. It’s unfair to say that currently there aren’t any original and brilliant acts here. The problem is that these artists are struggling to find their voice in the commercial market. The awards, then, are more a reflection of the tastemakers – radio DJs, journalists, club DJs – and of the money spent on marketing an act by their record label to push an artist into the public eye.

The Best of British

If there’s one thing that all the iconic British acts from decades past have in common, it’s the fact that they all sound undeniably British. In this day and age, it seems to be a growing trend amongst artists in the commercial arena to echo the sounds and styles of their American counterparts. The same can be said of most of the media industries, with products from the United States dominating the markets.

The way to combat this is not by replicating, but instead by re-inventing – coming up with something original and irrefutably British that has not been heard before. Whilst One Direction can be seen forcing their way into the Billboard charts, it’s hard to picture them achieving long-term international success in the way that bands such as The Clash, Depeche Mode and Oasis have done before them.

I don’t believe that the Rolling Stones’ nomination bears any indication on the current state of the music industry in Britain but instead shows us that only experience can perfect a live act.

If the balance of power has shifted from British music, then it’s time to stop the Americanization of our artists and to bring back the British sound that the world has enjoyed so much in the past.



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