Simon Cowell is often cast (not least by himself) as the ultimate music industry gatekeeper. He stands sentry over popular music, determining who is allowed in and who is kept out. And yet the truth is that he’s more conspired against than conspiring. Some have argued that the digital age represents the twilight of the gatekeepers – the internet apparently provides open access for all. Nevertheless, there are people out there who are willing to stand sentry against Cowell. From one corner, we have the public, launching their Facebook campaigns in order to stop X Factor winners from having the Christmas number one. From another corner, we have the old guard of the music industry, throwing Cowell sops in order to prove who is really in command.
Evidence of this comes via the Brit Awards. Looked at one way, they flatter Cowell. The organizers have invented award categories so that his acts don’t go home empty handed. In 2013 and 2014 they included a Global Success award. This was given to One Direction on each occasion, and rightly so. In 2012 they sold more albums globally than any other act. In 2013 their album Midnight Memories was the best-selling album in the world.
But this record was snubbed in the British Album of the Year category in 2014. In my previous blog entry I pointed out how the winners of this trophy are commonly the purveyors of the biggest selling UK album of the previous year. This was true of Ed Sheeran in 2015, Emeli Sandé in 2013 and Adele in 2012. The exception to this rule are One Direction, who weren’t even nominated for this category in 2014, despite Midnight Memories’ global success. It seems that it is only when Cowell is doing well that aesthetics come into play. His acts were similarly snubbed at this year’s Brit Awards. The consolation thrown to him this time was the one award open to a public vote: British Video. One Direction claimed it for ‘You and I’.
The BPI uses the Brit Awards tactically. On the one hand, they are a means of showing Simon Cowell how little they care about his music; they reduce his acts to their money-making attributes. On the other hand, in demarcating Cowell as a mercenary who is after global domination, they try to kid us that the regular categories are about art. In reality they are no less money-driven than One Direction’s custom-made awards.