On Friday, the BBC radio station 1Xtra, which bills itself as "the UK's leading black music station," released its list of the "Top 20 Most Important UK Artists In The Scene." At the top was Ed Sheeran, an acoustic guitar-toting folk-rocker who looks like Ron Weasley.
Fellow white guys Sam Smith (#4) and Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure (#2) filled out the top four, with Tinie Tempah at the third spot.
Some, understandably, were well cheesed off by the news. Among them was sixteenth-place grime artist Wiley, who argued lucidly against the rankings on Twitter:
1Extra music manager Austin Deboh defended the list, arguing that discussing it in terms of race is "misguided":
"Every single day of the week, every single hour of the day we support black artists and other races that make black music sounds.
"I think that anyone who wants to bring race into the discussion is probably a little bit misguided."
If we set aside for a moment the generations of whitewashing that have been carried out on black pop music and accept Deboh's race-agnostic argument at face value, Disclosure and Sam Smith's inclusions are reasonable: both have made big, international waves with traditionally black sounds like house, garage, and R&B. But what is Sheeran even doing here? If actual race doesn't matter, shouldn't the music at least sound black? Sure, a few of the singer-songwriter's tunes have tinny hip-hop drumbeats, but most of his output skews closer to breezy lite-FM than anything like the music 1Xtra built its name on.
Black music is alive and well in the UK — just look at the continued world domination of dubstep and its descendants for evidence of that — but looking at this list, you'd never know it.
[Image via AP]