ARIA ditches gendered categories for 2021 Awards, introduces ‘Best Artist’
Music industry body ARIA is attempting to open its annual awards up to a more diverse range of performers by ditching the ‘Best Female Artist’ and ‘Best Male Artist’ categories.
CEO of ARIA, Annabelle Herd, told The Music Network that the division along binary lines excluded too many talented non-binary artists, and also prevented women from being recognised as men’s equals in the industry.
Instead, this year’s awards – which will be conducted online – will recognise the industry’s Best Artist.
To compensate for the change, there will be 10 nominees in the category, instead of the usual five per gender.
Herd told TMN she didn’t want the ARIA Awards to be exclusionary in any way.
“If you have categories that are limited to people who identify as male or female, then you are excluding a whole bunch of amazing artists that are non-binary. And it was clear that the time of excluding non-binary artists had absolutely passed,” Herd said.
TMN did raise concerns that the music industry’s issues with older women, as well as wider structural and ingrained issues, could result in women and those who aren’t cis men being overlooked in the integrated category.
How will ARIA combat unconscious bias if the judging panel doesn’t even know they’re executing it?
Herd conceded these things will take time, but said each step towards a better outcome is important.
“Look, I understand [and] that concern has been raised, although not [by] many. Overwhelmingly, this announcement has been met with a really, really positive response. We’re not going to get the gender balance right straight away, and there are issues around recognition of female and non-binary artists that are going to take some work to change, but having a separate category for women is not the way to get equality,” she told TMN in response to the concerns.
In an official statement, ARIA said the change was designed to reflect and embrace equality , and celebrate the true diversity of Australia’s music industry in 2021.
Herd’s official statement said the industry body was proud of the milestone.
“The music industry is demanding a more equal, inclusive, safe and supportive space for everyone and ARIA is working hard to achieve that across the ARIA Awards and everything we do. While the removal of gender-based categories is a significant change we are proud of, I recognise it is just one step in the continuous journey of reassessment, progression and ultimately evolution that we are committed to undertake. We’re determined to make the future of the ARIA Awards and the future of Australian music as bright as it can be,” the statement said.
ARIA’s newly elected chair, Natalie Waller, said removing the gendered categories felt like an organic step for the future of ARIA.
“A key principle of ARIA and the Australian music community is that peers are given equal opportunity and treated to the unity they deserve. Therefore, we are incredibly proud to enter the next chapter of ARIA’s ever-evolving journey by removing the gender-based award categories, reconstructing the way in which the event has been traditionally held,” Waller said.
Streaming details about the 2021 ARIA Awards will follow in the coming weeks.