By Mark Savage-BBC Music Correspondent
https://www.bbc.com-Image source, Getty Images
Dua Lipa won best female and best album at this year’s Brits
Dua Lipa and J Hus will go down in history as the last stars to win best female and male at the Brit Awards.
That’s because, from next year, the two categories will be combined into a single prize for best British artist, organisers have said.
Artists like Sam Smith and Will Young had previously called for the change, saying the current system excludes non-binary artists.
Smith, who is non-binary, missed out on a nomination at this year’s awards.
Their album, Love Goes, reached number two in the UK chart, but they felt unable to enter the gender-based categories.
Writing on Instagram at the time, the star called for awards shows to be more “reflective of the society we live in”.
“The Brits have been an important part of my career,” Smith said in a now-deleted post. “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.”
Sam Smith has won three Brit Awards, including best breakthrough act in 2015
The Brits have awarded prizes along gender lines since they began in 1977. Organisers promised to review the way the prizes in 2019, but kept the male and female categories intact until now.
“If you were starting the awards from scratch today, you’d probably do it on these terms,” said Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesperson for music industry body the BPI, which runs the awards.
“Why shouldn’t the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran be able to go head to head and be judged as artists… assuming they’re nominated?”
The shift will also be reflected in the international category, where the best international male and female awards – won by The Weeknd and Billie Eilish this year – will be replaced by a single best international artist prize.
Dua Lipa’s manager, Ben Mawson, said he approved of the change.
“It’s good to see the Brits continuing to make progress to a more inclusive awards show that puts talent first,” he told the BBC. “It’s a step that we welcome.”
Will female artists suffer?
When the change was first suggested in 2019, there were concerns that it could marginalise female acts. But the experiences of other music awards suggest that should not happen.
The MTV Video Music Awards replaced its best male and best female prizes with an overall best artist award in 2017 – since when the winners have been Ed Sheeran, Camila Cabello, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.
The Grammys also merged the male and female categories for best pop vocal, country vocal and R&B vocal performances in 2012. In the 10 years since then, the prizes have been split exactly 50/50 between men and women.
At the Brits, the gender-neutral prize for best album has been won by female solo artists 10 times, and by male solo artists on nine occasions.
Bands have won best album 22 times, but only two of those have contained a female member – Fairground Attraction and Stereo MC’s.
Dua Lipa would probably have won a combined award if it had been in place this year, and Adele is likely to sweep the board next year.
The singer’s new album 30, which is on course to have the biggest opening sales week of 2021, will make her a prime contender for both album of the year and the best artist prize.
Mr Castaldo said that if the new system does priorities male nominees, it would “shine a spotlight” on problems the industry needs to address.
“As an industry, we have to acknowledge those issues and we have to act on them. Keeping the status quo won’t change things in the long term. So to achieve real equality for women and artists of all backgrounds, [this] is a very positive thing.”
That’s not the only change…
Reducing the number of artist awards has also allowed the Brits to reintroduce genre-based prizes for the first time since 2006.
Covering pop, rock, dance and rap, the awards will be voted for by fans – a departure for The Brits, which typically distributes prizes based on votes from music industry insiders.
When the prizes were last distributed 15 years ago, the winners included Kaiser Chiefs (best rock), Lemar (best urban act) and James Blunt (best pop).
The best dance prize has been absent for even longer – with the last recipient being Basement Jaxx in 2004.
The revamps come shortly before voting opens for the Brits, on 10 December.
The next ceremony will take place on 8 February 2022 at London’s O2 arena, hosted for the first time by comedian Mo Gilligan, who will take over from Jack Whitehall.