The 2023 Headies Awards were just another reminder of how women continue to be sidelined in the Nigerian music industry. While male categories were celebrated on stage, female categories were left unannounced and only posted on social media.
On Sunday, 03 September 2023, the 16th annual The Headies was held at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, USA. The award show is one of the biggest African-focused music awards and is intended to celebrate African talent. Although the award is expected to hold enormous prestige for African artists, its most recent edition ended up belittling the nominated female artists.
The award ceremony was hosted by Nigerian actress, Osas Ighodaro who announced a sudden end to the show leaving 14 awards to be presented. Included in the ‘forgotten’ awards were all female category awards: Best Female Artiste and Best Vocal Performance (Female). The winners for these categories, along with those of other categories including, Best Recording of The Year, Songwriter of The Year, and Best RnB Single, were announced on social media.
The decision to announce all female-specific awards exclusively on social media, while male categories were represented on stage, highlights a significant issue in a society with deeply ingrained misogyny and a music industry that often sidelines female talent. The lack of discontent among the Nigerian masses is equally worrisome.
NIGERIA’S MISOGYNISTIC SOCIETY
Nigeria is a society tainted with deeply rooted gender biases and misogyny. Nigerian women often face numerous challenges and barriers in various aspects of life. These are evident when they are thrust into environments like schools, offices, politics and even the entertainment industry. In the music sector, female artists often encounter discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal opportunities compared to their male counterparts. The decision to relegate female-specific awards to social media sends a disheartening message about the value placed on women’s accomplishments in the industry.
Pop star, Ayra Starr, who won the Best Female Artiste category voiced her displeasure with the afterthought treatment. She wrote on her ‘X’ account, ‘I will never be grateful for winning a category that wasn’t even deemed fit to be announced on stage! Best female artist na beans?’
She also stood up for other women in the industry including Tiwa Savage and Tems and concluded by saying, ‘Nigeria, you didn’t raise me to settle for less.’ But if history is any indicator, Nigeria’s music industry is set up to allow such treatment.
In 2021, Simi, another widely popular female Nigerian artist spoke to BBC about her #NobodyLikeWoman campaign. She addressed challenges she faced in the course of her work including the pressures to be provocative and stereotypes about her being unable to work after starting a family. She added that someone even questioned why she was charging ‘so much’ for concert tickets when she was pregnant.
The misogyny even wears itself proudly on the lips of those who perpetuate it. Singer and songwriter, Brymo, even confessed on his ‘X’ account that he offered Simi sex in exchange for a collaboration as he wanted to ‘experience the outcome of making music with a female act I was bedding,’ adding that he made the same offer to Efya, a Ghanaian singer.
While women are celebrated for being vixens to fulfil male-owned projects, they are rarely acknowledged when they create their own projects. Female artists are sidelined in terms of representation, airplay, and recognition despite their continuous success. Award shows like The Headies have the power to address and rectify these imbalances by providing a platform for celebrating female talent. However, the decision to push aside female categories only perpetuates these disparities.
There has been global debate about the relevance of gendered awards for years now. While their intention may be to highlight the achievements of female artists, they inadvertently reinforce gender divisions and inequalities. The Grammys was the first among award organizers to eliminate gendered awards in their pop, R&B, rock and country categories.
In an ideal world, gender-specific awards would be a way to recognize and uplift female artists. However, they are just another avenue to belittle women. Gender-specific awards inherently create a division between male and female artists, suggesting that men and women are not equal in musical skill and talent.
The unfortunate reality is that considering the global and Nigerian social culture, without female category awards, women would simply not be nominated, much less win. In 2020, the Oscar nominations were only 31 per cent women, and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women was the only female nomination for Best Picture. Even more confusing, many women-directed films received higher scores on Rotten Tomatoes than Quintin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, yet the latter received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The Headies nomination list was also male-dominated with women only representing one-sixth of the nominations per category on average, and sometimes not being nominated at all. There were even fewer female wins with only three women winning non-gendered awards. These are Simi, Tiwa Savage and Selena Gomez.
The decision to announce female-specific awards on social media while showcasing male categories on stage shines a light on the deeply rooted gender disparities in Nigeria’s music industry. The lack of outrage on the issue is even more alarming. By promoting female achievements with the same fervour as male accomplishments, award shows like The Headies can play a pivotal role in breaking down the barriers that have long hindered the progress of female artists in the industry. It is only by recognizing and rectifying such disparities that the Nigerian music industry can reach its full potential and someday eliminate the need for gender-specific awards⎈
The views, thoughts, and opinions published in The Republic belong solely to the author and are not necessarily the views of The Republic or its editors. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected].