On Thursday, 12th January, the BRITs announced their nominations for their 2023 award categories with the ceremony set to take place on 11th February. It’s already been subject to widespread backlash as no female artists have been nominated for Artist Of The Year (after ceremoniously scrapping its gendered categories in 2021), and many have criticized The BRIT Awards for their lack of acknowledgement of British R&B artists.
Since 2021, both R&B and pop acts have had to compete for the same award with
Cat Burns, Sam Smith, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles and Charlie XCX nominated for this year’s Pop/R&B category. Yet, as UK R&B singer Mahalia tweeted in response to the recent nominations, “desperately searching for the R&B act.” She later added: “I’m sorry but UK R&B right now is THRIVING.”
It’s not the first time Mahalia has criticized The BRIT Awards for not giving due recognition to British R&B talent. She
tweeted in 2021: “putting pop and R&B in the same category is really nuts to me. and proves that the powers that be once again just do not get it. I love the Brits. I have since I was a kid. But as an R&B singer/songwriter, this feels completely unprogressively to the whole UK R&B scene…” Whilst many agreed with her online, the BRITs clearly did not.
The failure to acknowledge UK R&B artists is surprising given the continued rise of UK R&B artists who are flourishing in their own right. So, to break down the case as to why UK R&B is currently booming with talent, let’s take a look at the artists who are
really putting in the work.
Mahalia has undeniably been at the forefront of UK R&B for a while now. Releasing her first EP in 2012, the Leicester native has gone on to perform at Glastonbury Festival and tour internationally. She has collaborated with several artists, including fellow R&B singer Ella Mai on their 2019 song “What You Did.” More recently though, Mahalia released a few singles in 2022 including “Bag Of You” and won the R&B/Soul award at the 2022 MOBOs. The 24-year-old songstress has a whopping 3,485,540 monthly listeners and a loyal fanbase that continue to support her growth and success. The singer has also released her own platform, Mahalia Presents, dedicated to supporting underground artists, showing that she is keen to pass on the baton to upcoming female musicians. Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage.
With musical inspirations spanning Motown, reggae and jazz, West London singer-songwriter
Cleo Sol is known for her dreamy jazz-infused R&B, including the immensely popular track “Why Don’t You”. Notably, she recently lent her airy vocals to Little Simz’s critically acclaimed track “Selfish”. Although she’s known to keep a low profile, Cleo Sol has been captivating R&B fans since the early 2000s. Back in 2021, Cleo Sol won her first ever MOBO award for ‘Best R&B & Soul Act’ and most recently won Best Independent Album at the AIM Independent Music Awards in 2022. Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images.
JVCK JAMES is another UK R&B artist on the rise. The 24-year-old has been featured on Apple Music: Up Next, a roster that is shared with the likes of Tems, Victoria Monét, Giveon and more. The East-Londoner released his debut EP in 2017 whilst still in college, but 2022 was his best year saw more attention towards him as he grew a fanbase in the US and the UK. His EP, is his latest project which was released in 2022. ON THE ROCKS Photo: Mindy Small/FilmMagic.
It’s clear that women are dominating the UK R&B scene at the moment.
Tiana Major9, for example, has also come to the forefront of UK R&B artists. Hailing from East London, Tiana has gone on to tour with Jazmine Sullivan and collaborate with Stormzy. Signed to Motown Records, her song “Collide” was featured in the 2019 film Queen & Slim which played a big role in drawing more attention towards her. Continuing to grind at what she does best, in 2022 the 27-year-old released her “Fool Me Once” EP. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.
As well as these OG’s of neo-R&B artists in the UK, the past year has seen more new talent welcomed in the genre.
FLO takes a firm stand as one of these artists. The girl group have been compared to Destiny’s Child and you only have to listen to a hint of their harmonies to figure out why. Reviving the girl band drought, FLO’s song “Cardboard Box” (Happi Remix) was a viral TikTok sound in 2022 and the original song appears on their 2022 EP The Lead. Signed to Island Records, the London group also performed live at the 2022 MOBO Awards, impressing attendees and online viewers alike. Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage.
By now, you’ll probably get the idea that there’s so much UK R&B talent. But just in case you need more proof,
Jaz Karis is another example of this. From her 2019 COLORS performance, she has continued to release songs that ring true to R&B. Her 2022 EP Dear Jaz is a testament to this and with 1,315,534, monthly listeners on Spotify it’s clear that a lot of people want to hear her soothing vocals too. Jaz is definitely one of the independent artists to keep an eye out for in the genre. Photo: Joe Maher/Getty Images.
Hailing from Enfield, North London with Nigerian roots,
Bellah’s music is Spotify verified and appears on the streaming platform’s official playlists. She has also performed live at music festivals, including Strawberries & Creem in 2022. You may have even spotted her song “Evil Eye” playing in the new series of Netflix’s It’s clear that 2022 was a busy year for Bellah as she also released her third and latest project Ginny & Georgia. Adultsville which includes her single “ Prototype” and has also appeared as a guest on several shows including MTV’s Don’t Hate The Playaz. I’m excited to see what more 2023 has in store for her. Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images.
Although the current sound of R&B may differ from its 90s/2000s predecessor, artists today are undeniably inspired by that original sound. One key feature of this was collaborations with rappers (Ja Rule and Ashanti are arguably one of the greatest examples of that). And in 2022, we had R&B singer
Debbie collaborate with Stormzy on his latest album This Is What I Mean. As well as displaying beautifully unique vocals on several tracks on the album, Debbie also wrote songs, including “Firebabe” and “Give It To The Water.” The South Londoner also released a few singles of her own in 2022, including “Cousin’s Car.” And if that wasn’t impressive enough, Debbie has also performed live, opening up for both John Legend and Lucky Daye. Photo: Jim Dyson/Getty Images.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?
Cat Burns On Black Queer Representation In Music
Beyoncé Is Leading The Black House Resurgence
3 Black British Muslim Women On Making It In Music