MOBOs: Business As Usual


It's almost too easy to pick on the MOBOs. Each year is as contentious as the next, and the media justifies its coverage by acknowledging as much. Whether it's stirring the race debate, or criteria so foggy it allows for carrot-topped guitar strummer Ed Sheeran to be shortlisted, someone's always got something to say about the validity of the awards ceremony. But every year it somehow loses yet more credibility.

Perhaps the greatest trick they ever pulled was passing it off as a democratic poll, the people deciding who walks away with what plaudits. It gives the impression of an open vote. An open vote between a handful of hand-picked popsters.

It would be easy to accuse its organisers of apathy – throw some “urban” acts into a spreadsheet, order by their record sales, pick the top five and let the public do the rest. The truth is that the MOBOs are a business like any other.

Whatever you think of Sneakbo, who's as guilty as anyone of diluting his sound to get a leg-up and admittedly is already on the MOBO's radar, he should've been shortlisted for Best Newcomer. He's amassed millions of Youtube views off his own back in the last year and built a dedicated following. But here's the problem:

"Lemme show u the wave
Gun man fam I don't play games
Bad man now I'm out on a rage
I roll out then lock off the rave
Man I ride no phone
U can't get me
No ping ping
Nobody don't text me"

It's guaranteed the MOBOs' new sponsor might have something to say about such reckless talk from a newbie, and not just for renouncing his mobile phone. It's the same reason Jay and Kanye can be nominated for best international act despite having not released an album in the last year. The fact someone like Kendrick Lamar – whose new album has been hailed a classic in some quarters and who has almost single-handedly made hip hop exciting again - was nowhere to be seen. The fact the Dre protege doesn't get papped in the Sun's Showbiz column is no coincidence.

As a consequence, the MOBOs serve no real progressive purpose for black music, urban music, or any other music for that matter. Its mission statement of “recognis[ing] artists of any ethnicity or nationality performing black music” has been reduced to fanfare for young pop musicians whose work may or may not have a tenuous link to black heritage. It's a money-making exercise simple and plain. And it's dressed up as a celebration of inclusion (“Hey look, black music has its very own awards!”), just as it excludes the countless artists it's meant to support. And more importantly, it validates the music industry's boilerplate blueprint for success.

Of course, categories such as best African, best reggae, best jazz and best gospel act show the MOBOs' heart was once in the right place. But these categories aren't directly sponsored, nor do they draw an audience, which is the problem. So long as Labrinth and JLS sell records (and therefore attract sponsorship and draw crowds) they will walk away with trophies in hand.

And the MOBO's organisers have the perfect cover - they can pass any accusations off as the futility in trying to please everybody all of the time. But it seems suspiciously resolute on pleasing Middle England every time.