The Ivor Novello awards, given for song writing, are to take place in London this week. They are strange awards in many ways – sometimes rewarding just for commercial success and other times recognising artists beyond the mainstream.
What makes this year’s nominations list stand out for the right reasons is the inclusion of Laura Mvula, who was recently dropped by her record label. Now you would think if they signed you for a five album deal then they at least believe in your talent and potential. But in this case they dropped her after her second album failed to reach their sales targets. And they did this by email.
What makes this decision insane to me is that Laura Mvula is one of Britain’s most talented female artists. She sings about things like female empowerment and religion and anxiety rather than just straightforward love stories (she has love songs, its just they’re not that simple ode to a cute boy or sexualised crap you hear on the radio). Laura doesn’t let super-producers come in and turn her music into radio-friendly EDM hell. Nor does she strip half naked and writhe around the stage to the sound of over-produced beats. But what other choice does a mainstream female artist have? Oh yes stand nicely on stage and just sing bland numbers that would send any real music fan to sleep.
Mvula’s album The Dreaming Room is an exceptional piece of artistry. It is modern yet informed by music pop history as well as her classical training. What is even more interesting is the vision. Being different is something to celebrate. Weakness can be strength. Phenomenal Woman is a song inspired by Maya Angelou. It’s the kind of song that should be compulsory listening to every woman. This is commercial music but it’s not pop – it’s way better than that.
When Laura failed to gain Brit awards nominations people on Twitter were telling her not to get upset. But why shouldn’t someone with this talent want recognition? Or commercial success? New artists don’t have the same chances now to cross over. They need the help and sales these awards shows bring. Without sales Mvula was dropped immediately, despite the fact her second album was more ambitious in its design and execution than its higher-selling predecessor. How are such musical injustices allowed to happen? Who is responsible? Who can we blame?
Maybe we should all look at our own record collections, look at what tickets we buy for gigs or what we recommend to our friends. How much of it is white? Or male? Or just plain boring? Are we responsible for this mess? How can we reach out to the average music listener and make them see the light? (Well I started a blog, not sure what good I can do but I am going to try). Being an independent artist is tough, it can be almost impossible to make a living in this business, to keep going, to pay rent. We need the talent to get a bit of money and support to realise their potential. We need real record labels who have loyalty. We need to give recognition to those women who are not part of a trendy scene, to those who stand apart, to those who want to tell their own stories and do it their own way.
So let’s hope that the Ivor Novello’s do the right thing and give Laura ALL the awards she’s nominated for. Let’s hope they support and encourage experimentation in this world of Kardashian pop clones. A win for Laura would be a win for all women in music, rewarding originality rather than pushing talent to the margins in favour of homogenised computerised pop music.
But if they don’t, if they make the same mistake as her record label, I just really hope Laura listens back to her own music for inspiration. Take your broken feet and run. Keep your head up carry on. Write us a song to lift our spirits. Whatever happens next, I’ll be listening.