The New Zealand Music Awards need a massive revamp, and they need one now. The awards ceremony at Vector Arena last night was better than the debacle of 2015, but that could not hide the main issue to come out of the evening, the fact that the award categorizations are out of date and out of touch.
During the evening, after receiving her award for best urban/hip hop album, soul singer Aaradhna declared that she could not accept the award as it would not be remaining true to the title of the album the award was for, “Brown Girl”. This winning album was named after the song “Brown Girl” which explores Aaradhna’s personal experience of racism in the music industry. And that is where the issue starts with this controversial category urban/hip-hop. Aaradhna stated the category was the brown category, something that is a very valid point because of the simple fact that “urban” or what it really means R&B/soul, and hip-hop do not, and should not go together because they are completely different styles musically.
On giving her award to fellow nominee, hip-hop crew SWIDT, Aaradhna rightfully said she could not accept this award as a singer when she was up against two rap artists in a category called urban/hip-hop. This is where the music awards have gone horribly wrong with the classification of this category. Why else would hip-hop and “urban” (R&B/soul) be lumped together in a category other than a way of separating white and brown artists? As I previously stated, musically speaking there is nothing linking these two styles that suggest they need to be together. Pop, rock, alternative and electronic all have categories, so why not R&B/soul and hip-hop?
The genre-label urban, and I use the term genre very loosely here, was first coined by radio DJ’s in the 70’s, and has since gone on to be used as a marketing term to box in predominantly “black” styles of music by virtue of the fact that the only thing linking styles such as hip-hop, soul and R&B is that a high number of artists are in fact black. The same can be said for that hideous genre label world music, which is used to classify and sell largely non-western styles of music. In both instances, this is a case of race and ethnicity being used to classify music ahead of form, style, or sound. As someone who is interested in music history and how to differentiate between music styles this is deeply insulting and plain wrong. With this, it has irked me that music marketers and awards people continue to get away with using these terms freely. Considering this, hopefully, Aaradhna’s stand last night will then lead to a rethink on the urban/hip-hop category and we can finally see two separate categories emerge where the music is the differentiating feature, just like all the other categories at these awards.
In conclusion, I would also like to make a pitch to whoever comes up with the categories for these awards that they urgently need a new category for digital-only releases. By not having one these awards are ignoring a significant chunk of releases in New Zealand, especially among the alternative music community who no doubt under the current structure get bypassed for nomination. If not, then why else did the digital-only release by Average Rap Band “El Sol”, in my opinion, the best New Zealand album of the year get ignored for nomination. More and more artists are bypassing major labels and opting for the independent route by self-releasing their music online. Are then these releases excluded for nomination by virtue of the fact they did not see a wider physical release and were distributed outside the main structural workings of the music industry. If so, this is beyond the realms of stupidity and signifies how out of touch the music awards are. For these awards to remain credible, a digital category has to be introduced next year, otherwise, I fear that more albums like “El Sol” will continue to be overlooked. If not, maybe it is the time for an independent music awards run by the artists themselves, while the commercial-loving people who run the New Zealand Music Awards can continue to have their party without having to worry about Aaradhna or Tom Scott shitting on their glitzy parade.