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Jorja Smith’s BRITs Critics’ Choice Award Ups the Ante for British R&B

Here's hoping 2018 will be an even bigger year for the genre.
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
Jorja Smith with her Anish Kapoor-designed BRIT Award. Photo via PR

On Monday morning, Jorja Smith was announced as winner of the BRITs Critics' Choice Award for 2018, from what feels like the strongest shortlist in the award's history. She's only the second person of colour to ever scoop the prize (after Emeli Sandé in 2012), and one of the most credible artists to have done so too – remember the year Tom Odell beat out compositional mastermind Laura Mvula? Remember that?? So, it's good news. And though a win for Stefflon Don or Mabel might have been a slightly more daring move for the panel, Jorja is a solid winner, and follows in the award's tradition of honouring gifted vocalists.


If you look back at the past winners of the award, it's tended to recognise people like Adele, Sam Smith, and Ellie Goulding, who have gone on to draw massive sales numbers. This bodes well for Jorja, who has already gained worldwide acclaim due in part to her appearances on an album called More Life by someone called Drake (maybe you've heard of him?). But it's also a big deal for R&B and soul music in the UK – hopefully Smith's win will open the floodgates for more young, exciting artists in the genre to break through next year. By all accounts, if you were only paying attention to mainstream accolades, 2017 felt like a quiet year for the genre (Craig David won the MOBO award for the category, ffs). Yes, Sam Smith and Jessie Ware put out albums, but I'm not sure deep R&B fans would even necessarily count those as major releases for the genre.

Actually, from the likes of Nilüfer Yanya and Ella Mai to Jelani Blackman, Ruby Francis and BBC Sound of 2017 poll winner Ray BLK, this has been a great year for British soul, R&B and the music that falls somewhere in between. So hopefully Jorja's win will shake the industry by the shoulders into peeping all the of the talent that's been popping up across the country while the mainstream has been too busy slowly catching up with this wave of grime. This news is also encouraging because though she's firmly rooted in R&B, Jorja Smith is an artist with a wide perspective – she's arguably most exciting when she's flirting with other genres, as she did with UKG on "On My Mind". Let's hope her Critics' Choice award means expanded horizons, and more room for creativity (and actual credibility) in the UK mainstream.

The BRITs will take place on 21 February 2018.

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