10 February 2015
Music awards are none of your business
Something suspicious is in the process for launch on February 25th, with which prewar primitives who remember the Smash Hits Awards will be familiar. It is one of those moments not unlike the hourly BBC News, where the elite decide what it is that the people want, and then slyly attempt to weave it into populist culture. It is the same whip used by the mass media when they tell you that something is happening because of public demand, the aggressive intention being that the people are shockingly naive enough to eventually echo whatever it is that the elite decides upon. Now, we are trammeled once again by what is termed the British Phonographic Industry Awards, insultingly termed The Brit Awards in much the same way that The Yank Awards might describe an American music extravaganza. The object of the Brit Awards is to create the impression of national consensus as they award pop artists of untested stature or value with bogus awards that, it is slyly implied, have been dictated by you, the objective listener. The Brit Awards do not ask the public who they would like to see receive awards - for that would be to risk too much, yet the fierce insistence is that artists are rewarded for their prominence in the previous twelve months because, after all, "it's what everybody wants." Thus, for 2015, we have MacDonna, who had a quiet 2014 (but who is quite usefully about to release her new album!), yet here she is again promoting her frightening career on the Brit Awards even though her music has not ever said anything at all about British life. Just as the Brits launch party highlighted a song that reached no higher than number 62 on the UK chart, it really is your own fault if you believe that this Awards show has any connection to anything other than the junk propaganda of the strongest labels gathering to share out awards for their own artists whom they plan to heavily promote in 2015. At its most honest, the Brit Awards are unfairly given to singers who, it is hoped, might be encouraged enough by the award to actually write a good song. Just as the Mercury Prize lands like a voodoo doll in the hands of the unlucky recipient (who is usually to be found selling mattresses ten months later), a Brit Award generally goes to a lot of shriveled young souls who have not earned it, yet none are likely to ask "are you sure I deserve it?" - possibly because they know the reply.
The International Male Solo nominees consist of singers who might very well have experienced a hit throughout Europe, but this doesn't mean that an international career has yet materialized. Even if the list of nominees are self-evidently of no artistic value, it is accepted that each nominee will earn a future career entirely because of their Brit nomination, which, alas, is occasionally true. The gateway to a successful 18 months is not a question of any special gift that the nominee might genuinely possess, but relies fully on the political business of being nominated. Imagine giving an actor a BAFTA award in order to encourage them to make a good film. This is precisely how the Brit Awards operate.
Fittingly, the Awards will be hosted by light entertainers Ant & Dec, neither of whom have anything to do with music, but their presence indicates the modern hold and control that telly-culture now dominates over the world of modern music, as it reminds us how success in modern music is fully shaped by the light entertainment establishment. This is self-evident in the insipid nature of the current pop chart - deserted by genuine music-lovers who understand that chart success represents strength of marketing campaign, and not either genuine popularity or musical worth. The fine paste explosion of X-factory smash-and-grab plasticity as it exploits dreamers who dream of dreaming, leaves us with a trash culture unable to produce one genuine star, and with a flux of tantrum-need species all of whom make the same point in exactly the same way, whilst posing an urgent threat to public health. British television is now so immersed in entertainment-as-culture's-core that, as writer Michael Bracewell notes:
"even if they made a program about Belsen they would probably get Dawn French to present it and an ASBO-ridden family from Beeston to move in and be filmed 'trying to cope.'"
Similarly, it seems unlikely that an end-of-the-world announcement would be believed nationally unless confirmed on BBC1 by Cheryl Cole whilst conditioning her hair. In short, Britain has been encouraged to become a nation of idiots (which, of course, is what it is not). But why has British culture become so debased? Why is it that only ideas-free and factory-farmed 'personalities' are encouraged? Is it simply because we are all easier to govern as long as we are free of any content? Well, yes. The sudden, manic rise in loud and overquick camera shots (for a populace presumed to have zero attention span); television sponsorship; persistent sports news for events attended by no one; the obvious lusty dictatorship of the "royal" family (the one and only British institution that we pray for the government to 'sell off' - preferably to China)... it all adds up to an underpattern of controlled obedience, and the notion of the BPI awards being handed out by genuine musicologists becomes as ludicrous a concept as witnessing someone on the Brit Awards coming perilously close to actually making a worthwhile point. Meanwhile, if we mourn the unlikely possibility of positive change in pop music, or if we dare suggest that change is even allowable, we are treated like mental patients.
In the guise of serving the public, the Brit Awards have hi-jacked modern music in order to kill off the heritage that produced so many interesting people, to such a degree that we could not imagine anyone who has ever truly affected the course of British music to be on stage at the 02 collecting a deserved award. The maximum trimmings divert your attention from the fact that Taylor Swift has nothing to do with Coventry or Wrexham. To pull off rank fraud in tellyland is not a difficult undertaking, especially if you have the entire population of Peru dancing around you as you mime your song. With solemn cathedral hush, we are asked to watch and to believe, and not to question our empty satisfaction, and certainly, with this year's line-up, the likelihood is that the audience at the London 02 will pay to get OUT. The larger truth may be that any singer or band of any dignity would not join the fantasy pudgery of the Brit Awards.
It is often said that only the sentimental-slanted will groan at the way talent is now so artificially shaped, but why shouldn't we? In much the same way that the BBC News present editorials instead of actual genuine news reports (we are absolutely assured by the BBC that Prince Andrew is innocent, even though the BBC has no possible way of knowing), the Brit Awards have come to define what is neither talent nor star, having paid no attention to what is true. Therefore, not having accepted a Brit Award indicates classical value for any artist who takes their music seriously, and if we must fold our hands and be grateful as Ant & Dec applaud the Teletubbies for their 'outstanding contribution to British music', we can at least be thankful that we are not nominated, because this means that you have probably advanced the good of music in your refusal to stand alongside what Michael Bracewell magnificently refers to as "market creations in an age after pop."
8 February 2015.