The BET Awards have become one of the most-watched awards shows for fans and artists of color alike in music, movies, television, and sports. It is a show that allows entertainers of color to be recognized for work that otherwise would go unnoticed, under-appreciated, and (controversially) stolen by their white counterparts on other mainstream award shows. It is because of this foundation, to uplift and recognize artists of color, that BET Awards fans exploded in anger after Sam Smith won for Best New Artist.
One would think that in 2015, race and ethnicity would not be an issue at any awards show; however, for many black artists and fans (of all ethnicities), it is. Whereas there are those who support Smith and his win, others say they have nothing against the artist personally, but simply would have preferred the winner to be an artist of color; one who is not going to have the same widespread recognition that Smith has. For this reason, BET Awards fans were in a state of explosive anger after the award was given to Sam Smith.
The BET Awards have been running for 14 years; its first show aired in 2001. Among the many categories for which awards are given, Best New Artist is among the highest on the fan-favorite list. It is the chance for an up-and-coming artist, who has not monopolized the Grammys or been MTV Music Awards royalty, to garner a much-respected win as well as recognition. Smith, famous for songs such as La La La, Latch, and his biggest hit, Stay With Me, has become a rising star with his soulful sound and poignant lyrics; a fact that many say is the reason he was nominated and won.
Despite the singer’s win, he was not present at the show. BET Awards host and Black-ish star, Anthony Anderson, accepted the award on Smith’s behalf, delivering an acceptance speech sure to be remembered for years to come. The comedian came on stage wearing a Smith-inspired wig and said, “Sam Smith isn’t here tonight because he’s white and he didn’t think he would win at the BET Awards.” Anderson further jokingly stated, “…we showed him that we love him, too.”
Watchers of the awards show have split opinions when asked about how they felt concerning Smith winning Best New Artist at an awards show deemed for “Black Entertainment Television.” Actor and director Nic Few said on Facebook, “All of these NEW black artists that can’t catch an opportunity and this is what BET does? LMAO (so quick to give up our stuff).” Few was very vocal on his page about how it is a disgrace that an award show created to celebrate artists of color, specifically black artists, cannot seem to actually stick to their premise (specifically speaking, as Few pointed out on his Facebook page, for a category that can significantly enhance an under-recognized black artist’s career.)
Other viewers, however, say they understand (though may not agree) why Smith won in the first place. Actor, producer and online personality Courtney Stewart said, “I would say that Sam Smith sings what most would qualify as ‘soul’ music, which I guess qualifies him for a BET Award nomination (I am wholly unaware of what the nomination criteria is) and though I’m not a big fan of Sam, I actually do think he is a stronger artist than the others nominated, which in turn makes him the winner. So c’est la vie?”
One is prone to agree with another of Few’s witty remarks that said that Smith needed this award like he needed a toothache. The singer is far beyond talented, with a major appeal to sell records. However, why not give the award to a well-deserving artist of color, whose chances of winning in a white-dominated arena are slim to none? Many are in agreement that having a white artist be a part of a black awards show is not the issue. The issue is the bypassing of talent and needed exposure of an artist of color, particularly in such a prestigious category, and giving it to someone who has more than enough media time already. This is not the first time the BET Awards have sent fans into an explosion of anger; however, after Sam Smith’s win, it is sure to be the most memorable.
Opinion by Danyol Jaye
Edited by Jennifer Pfalz
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Feature Photo Courtesy of Henk-Jan van der Klis’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License