Pommelien Thijs and Metejoor are the last artists who can display the award statues for ‘Solo man’ and Solo woman’ respectively on their fireplace. At the upcoming edition of the Music Industry Awards (MIAs) – the most important Flemish music awards – separate prizes per gender will no longer be awarded. Organizers VRT and VI.BE call it “a future-oriented choice”.
“Every year we assess whether we should maintain or adjust our existing categories,” says Gerrit Kerremans, music coordinator at VRT. “We have done this before by changing the ‘urban’ category to ‘hip-hop’. The sector was in demand for this. This year we thought it was time to bring all solo artists together in one category. It is outdated to divide artists by gender: music is central.”
With this decision, the MIAs do not occupy a pioneering role. Gender-neutral prizes have been awarded abroad for some time. The Grammy Awards already removed the division between male and female prizes in 2012. The Gotham Awards, which are American prizes for independently made films, also abolished their gender division in 2021, just like film festivals in the Netherlands and Germany.
The British BRIT Awards also came with a gender-neutral edition in 2022. Non-binary Sam Smith paved the way a year earlier and sounded the alarm. Smith felt left out and said he “looks forward to a time where award shows reflect the times we live in.”
“We want to avoid such a situation at all costs,” says Kerremans. “But we have not had any complaints from artists.”
Yet critics fear that scrapping separate awards for men and women could lead to a male predominance at awards ceremonies. For that reason, VRT and VI.BE held off in 2021.
The unwanted side effect occurred at the British awards show last year. After Adele won the prize for ‘Artist of the Year’ at the first gender-neutral edition, no woman was nominated a year later. Something similar also happened in Flanders last year. After the Ensors, the most important awards ceremony for Flemish films and television fiction, dropped the division between male and female prizes, not a single actress took home a statuette.
Yet the MIAs fear no such thing. “The best proof is that at the previous edition the prizes were equally divided between men and women,” says Kerremans. “In addition, women can be nominated in many other categories. There is plenty of room in the seventeen categories we have.”
The first lists of nominees – which are determined by media juries – would also demonstrate a balance between men and women, it sounds. “The juries are also asked to put together their internal committee with a view to gender balance and diversity,” says Kerremans. “We would regret it if there was a male or female predominance during our show, but we will never manipulate the show.”
Should organizers now brace themselves for a flood of angry, conservative reactions? “We’ll see about that,” says Kerremans. “There have been no negative reactions yet. The people I have heard so far are extremely positive. It’s about inclusivity: no one can have anything against that.”