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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 15:55 GMT
Brit Awards paper over credibility gap
By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online Entertainment staff

Will Young: Nominated but not performing
Will Young: Nominated but not performing
The secret of the Brit Awards' success has been put down the ability to keep all types of music fans happy - from pop-lovers to indie and rock enthusiasts and now, with a new category, followers of the burgeoning urban music scene.

Over the past decade, the awards have tried to position themselves as a serious event rewarding artistic creativity while still making sure that teenage pop fans - whose purchases really fuel the UK music industry - are catered for.

This year, the split is more apparent than ever as reality TV acts dominate the best single category while organisers strive to recognise real creativity with the new urban award.

Organisers tread a fine line between the two - if the "serious" music fans lose faith in the event, it will lose its credibility.

If the pop kids desert it, it will lose its clout as a hugely influential promotional tool within the music industry.

This year's shortlist saw TV-created acts Gareth Gates and Will Young earn three nominations each - with two Gates tracks in the best single category alongside songs by Young and Popstars group Liberty X.

Whether we like it or not, Will Young and Gareth Gates have become pop stars and sold a huge amount of records
Bernard Doherty
The Brits
But less commercial artists do not get a look-in because the nominations are simply the five biggest-selling singles of the year.

They may be the most popular singles, but are these actually the best singles the UK has produced?

"You could say these singles aren't the 'best' British singles," says Bernard Doherty, chief publicist for the awards and a member of the Brits committee.

Brits organisers need the huge pop acts to ensure the awards do not become an enclave of the elite - but Gates and Young will not be performing at this year's ceremony.

If the show was hijacked by reality pop as it was when Hear'Say made their debut appearance there in 2001, that would not do much for its credibility.

"Whether we like it or not, Will Young and Gareth Gates have become pop stars and sold a huge amount of records, but we haven't embraced new breeds that have just come out of the woodwork and put them on the stage," Mr Doherty said.

I think it's a really nice marketing phrase right now
Beverley Knight on urban music
But away from the pop mainstream, British hip-hop, garage and soul artists like Ms Dynamite, Big Brovaz, The Streets and Roots Manuva have a new category to themselves for the first time - best British urban act.

"Urban music is a genre that has emerged and is probably the leading nursery of young British talent," Mr Doherty said. "It was felt that it was an area that wasn't recognised."

The new category has come under fire for lumping too much together under one banner while other genres like rock do not have categories of their own.

One of the nominees, soul singer Beverley Knight, has said she was not even sure what "urban" actually meant.

"I think it's a really nice marketing phrase right now," she said.

Ms Dynamite
Ms Dynamite: Leading the rise of urban stars
That issue vexed the Brits organisers too, so they went to the BBC's new black music digital radio station 1Xtra for advice.

Its whose programmes editor, Willber Willberforce, gave them the definitive word on who should be included and who should not.

"They did think carefully about it and it was their team of people at that station that said 'these should be in the urban'," Mr Doherty said.

The urban category replaces the prize for best video, which was scrapped because organisers felt videos were not as exciting as they once were.

"The video creative process is perhaps waning - they are still a very important tool in our industry, but I don't think we all rush to see the new Avril Lavigne video like we used to to see the new Peter Gabriel video," Mr Doherty said.

It is all part of the balancing act - between creativity and commerciality, between cutting edge and safe popularity - which the Brits have struggled with throughout their history.

The result, Mr Doherty says, is supposed to be "a fair reflection, down the middle somewhere".



The BBC's David Sillito
"The Brits is all about rewarding stars for selling records"

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