The Brit Awards were to pay tribute to the late George Michael on Wednesday, in a ceremony also giving greater recognition to ethnic minority artists, following a backlash last year.
Late rock legend David Bowie could also be in line for two posthumous accolades at the British music industry’s annual awards, as he is up for best male artist and best album.
The Brits shook up the judging panel after the 2016 event, following criticism about a lack of diversity, and there are many more black nominees this year.
“People feel there might actually be a breakthrough. The question is whether this is going to be long-term or short-term,” said Keith Harris, who chairs UK Music’s diversity taskforce.
“As long as it’s not just a reaction to the publicity given last year — as long as it’s genuine.”
This year’s Brits have given greater recognition to the grime movement, with Skepta — who won the Mercury Prize for best British album with “Konnichiwa” — Kano and Stormzy among the nominees.
– Bowie nominated twice –
But the awards will be tinged with sadness.
Michael, who died on December 25 last year aged 53, is to be remembered at the 37th edition of the Brits, being held at the O2 Arena in London.
And Bowie, who died on January 10 last year, is nominated for best British male solo artist alongside Craig David, Kano, Skepta and Michael Kiwanuka.
He is also shortlisted in the British album of the year category for “Blackstar”, released on his 69th birthday — two days before he died.
The other nominees are Skepta for “Konnichiwa”; The 1975’s “I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It”; Kano’s “Made In The Manor” and Kiwanuka for “Love and Hate”.
The British music industry contributed Â£4.1 billion ($5.1 billion, 4.9 billion euros) to the UK economy in 2015 and around one in every six albums purchased worldwide was by a British artist.
“Just as the US has Hollywood and the Oscars, so the UK… has always led the way with music, from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones through to Adele and Ed Sheeran,” said Brit Awards chairman Jason Iley.
“From pop to indie, grime to rock, the nominations represent a fantastic varied roll call of talent and a showcase for whatâ€™s happening in music right now,” he wrote in The Times newspaper on Wednesday.
– Icon award for Williams –
Singer Robbie Williams is to receive the Brits icon award, to be presented by his former Take That band mates.
He is among the show’s performers, along with Sheeran, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, The 1975, Little Mix, Skepta and Emeli Sande.
Ellie Goulding, Sande, Lianne La Havas, Nao and Anohni, a transgender artist who was previously nominated for best male artist, are nominated in the 2017 best British female solo artist category.
Radiohead are up for the best British group award, where they face Little Mix, The 1975, Bastille and Biffy Clyro.
The best international group nominees are Drake and Future, Kings of Leon, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, A Tribe Called Quest and Twenty One Pilots.
The five shortlisted for best international male solo artist are Bon Iver, Bruno Mars, Drake, Leonard Cohen and The Weeknd.
The international female solo artist award sees a sibling rivalry between Beyonce and Solange, who are also competing with Christine And The Queens, Rihanna and Sia.
Singer-songwriter Rag’n’Bone Man has already been named the 2017 critics’ choice award winner.
A new statuette to be received by this year’s winners was designed by the late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.