Brit Awards to honour George Michael

Fans of the late George Michael wear masks at a tribute night event, in London, Jan 6, 2017.
Fans of the late George Michael wear masks at a tribute night event, in London, Jan 6, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - The Brit Awards were to pay tribute to the late George Michael on Wednesday (Feb 22), in a ceremony that is also giving greater recognition to minority artists after a backlash last year.

Rock legend David Bowie could also be in line for posthumous accolades at the British music industry's annual awards, as he is up for best male artist and best album.

The directors shook up the Brits' judging panel after the 2016 event following criticism about a lack of diversity, and there are many more black nominees this year.

"People feel there might actually be a breakthrough. The question is whether this is going to be long-term or short-term," said Keith Harris, who chairs a diversity taskforce at UK Music, an industry group.

"As long as it's not just a reaction to the publicity given last year - as long as it's genuine," Harris said.

This year's Brits have given greater recognition to grime and hip-hop, with Skepta - who won the Mercury Prize for best British album with Konnichiwa - Kano and Stormzy among the nominees.

"Grime is like a musical representation of London street culture. It's fast tempo, it's high energy, it's an attitude," said Stormzy, who is on the best British breakthrough act shortlist.

He was among those who criticised the Brits after the dearth of diversity at last year's ceremony.

"But this year it's all incredible man, it's all good things," he told BBC television.

Brit Awards chairman Jason Iley wrote in The Times on Wednesday that "from pop to indie, grime to rock, the nominations represent a fantastic varied roll call of talent and a showcase for what's happening in music right now".

The ceremony at London's O2 Arena will be tinged with sadness as stars pay tribute to Wham! singer Michael, who died on Christmas Day last year aged 53.

And Bowie, who died in January last year, is nominated for best British male solo artist alongside Craig David, Kano, Skepta and Michael Kiwanuka.

He is also shortlisted in the British album of the year category for Blackstar, released on his 69th birthday - two days before he died.

The other nominees are Skepta for Konnichiwa; the 1975's I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It; Kano's Made In The Manor; and Kiwanuka's Love And Hate.

The British music industry contributed £4.1 billion (S$7.2 billion) to the British economy in 2015, and British artists accounted for one of every six albums purchased worldwide.

Robbie Williams is to receive the Brits icon award, to be presented by his former Take That bandmates.

He is among the show's performers, along with Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, the 1975, Little Mix, Skepta and Emeli Sande.

Ellie Goulding, Sande, Lianne La Havas, Nao and Anohni - a transgender artist who was previously nominated for best male artist in 2006 as part of Antony and the Johnsons - are competing for best British female solo artist.

Radiohead are up for best British group, alongside Little Mix, the 1975, Bastille and Biffy Clyro.

Acts including Kings of Leon, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Bruno Mars, Leonard Cohen, Beyonce and Rihanna are nominated in the international categories, while singer-songwriter Rag 'n' Bone Man has already been named winner of the critics' choice award.

The British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who died in March, designed the new statuettes that will be received by this year's winners.