It may be hard to believe but the Mobo Awards will be celebrating its 20th anniversary tonight (4 November) in Leeds. For such a notable milestone, one would have expected heavy promotion with an enthused buzz surrounding the celebrations. So why, when taking into consideration the scheduled performances and nominations list, does it feel so incredibly underwhelming?
Kanya King MBE, who founded the awards in 1996, is still proudly helming the Mobos operation. King's determination in continuing to organise the annual ceremony is admirable but as every year goes by, it feels as though she is flogging a dead horse. Admittedly, the Mobos was a joy to watch in its heyday. Performances from the likes of Lauryn Hill, P Diddy and the Bad Boy family, Sade, Jay Z, LL Cool J, So Solid Crew and John Legend are just some of the most memorable from the past two decades.
Plus, in years gone by, the winners seemed rather fitting with the true meaning of the Mobos, which is to celebrate music of black origin. Certainly, that does not exclusively mean a black person has to win per se – Eminem, Plan B and David Rodigan were all rightful winners of their awards. The key is the winner has to be credible, an element that has become increasingly absent from the Mobos.
In 2011, the awards faced backlash when Jessie J won four accolades including the prestigious best album for her debut LP Who You Are. When the powerhouse singer first burst on to the scene with r'n'b-tinged single Do It Like A Dude, Jessie J was celebrated for having that edge against other typical pop stars. However, when her next few singles took a departure from the urban sound, she was no longer considered an urban artist and when she cleaned up at the Mobos that year, it simply failed to make a lot of sense.
Jessie J is not the only white artist to have faced criticism for either receiving nominations or winning. Adele being named the best r'n'b/soul artist in 2011 following the phenomenal success of her second album, 21, raised some eyebrows and there was sheer uproar in 2012 when Ed Sheeran received three nominations. Furthermore, Sam Smith winning four awards in 2014 prompted some to declare the Mobos a "whitewash".
Skepta accepts best video award at Mobos 2014:
When the nominated artists question whether they deserve to have received recognition, it speaks volumes for the level of respect the awards have within the industry. In 2011, music producer Labrinth told the Daily Star of his nomination: "Even I'm not making black music. It's commercial music, but at least it is more related to hip hop so it makes more sense. I don't think [the Mobos] should be called the Music Of Black Origin any more. It should be Music Of Urban Origin, or just Music Awards."
For 2015, the nominations are just as strikingly random as they have been in previous years. The best male category is incredibly grime-centric with the likes of JME, Skepta and Stormzy receiving nods, while Mark Ronson has been casually thrown in. However, the best female nominations are on the opposite end of the spectrum, ranging from Lianne La Havas to Jess Glynne, the latter of whom has collaborated with the likes of Tinie Tempah but hardly records music of black origin. Quite frankly, it is all very mismatched.
In actuality, perhaps the bigger question needs to be addressed – what really constitutes as music of black origin in today's market? Which type of artist should be considered urban? Is it Ed Sheeran, who sings music inspired by soul, or is it the veteran grime artist, like Skepta, who vehemently sticks to his roots? Truthfully if posed the question, the artists themselves would probably be just as confused as their consumers.
Certainly, there is only so much the Mobos can be held responsible for but it is accountable for the quality of the awards ceremony itself. I attended the Mobos in October 2014 when it was held at Wembley Arena and to be completely honest, I found the whole evening to be rather shambolic.
Considering this was a live broadcast on ITV, the audience seemed mostly uninterested in the on-stage performances, instead choosing to dart around the tables hollering at friends they had not seen for a while. It was more akin to a networking event than a live TV show. Whether or not this translated on-screen I am not sure but it made for a strange atmosphere inside the arena.
Sam Smith accepts best album at Mobos 2014:
It was the first year the Mobos had been held in London since 2009 when it made the highly controversial move out of the capital to Glasgow, Scotland. Through general conversations with friends and industry acquaintances, the general consensus suggests this big move is what sparked the downfall of the Mobos. After all, it is easier – and possibly more appealing – for international singers to fly into London than it is elsewhere while also isolating the loyal fans who had attended each year.
The location is not the only stumbling block to have affected the Mobos over the years. In 2014, it moved from the BBC, its home of more than 10 years, to ITV which also hosts the Brit Awards.
The problem with the Mobos is quite simple – it now lacks any real identity, which makes it hard to appeal to a target audience. Nowadays, the awards is transforming into the Brits and we do not need another one, especially from the same TV channel. Mobos, I wish you a very happy 20th birthday but this year, I will not be joining in with the celebrations.