Look at an awards show, and what do you see?
An inherently imperfect distillation of creativity, enterprise, community and success?
A lumbering institution that struggles to nimbly support, champion and reflect an ever-expanding world of shared art?
A chance for friends and compatriots to gather, to celebrate one another, to grow and find solace and dignity in the value of their artistic pursuits?
Perhaps it’s a bit of all of that, but maybe it’s simpler, too.
What lies at the heart of an awards show is opportunity. But that opportunity is not without cost. As surely as it promises the celebration of victors, an awards show by its nature brings an element of exclusivity, of exclusion. Peers are made into competitors, creating an occasion for slight where there should only be pride.
Given awards shows’ power, they are understandably under regular scrutiny. For a considerable period of time, the Boston Music Awards had a reputation for lagging behind trends and being rather insular. The awards faced charges of the kind of favoritism that too often plagues the Boston region. Over the past couple of years, the BMAs have started making strides to counter that reputation with investments year-round in the local music scene. (For example, this year, the BMAs collaborated with music publications to sponsor Off The Record, a summer performance series at Hojoko.)
Whether these investments are enough to foster and grow the kind of musical ecosystem artists hope for remains up for debate, but their impact and the impact they have on the event itself are readily apparent.
The 2019 Boston Music Awards felt, sounded, and looked different than it ever had before. Not merely for the proliferation of hip-hop or R&B acts that were awarded with trophies or stage time, but because each year it has been held at the House of Blues, the awards have become more and more of an audience-driven concert, a party that not only talks about the music scene but advances it in real time. On Wednesday night, that meant an evening that blended history, variety, enthusiasm and musical expertise.
As with 2018, rapper Cousin Stizz was the most feted musician of the night, once again winning Artist of the Year and Hip-Hop Artist of the Year. In absentia, he took home Video of the Year for “Trying To Find My Next Thrill,” the titular track on his sophomore album for RCA Records. Stizz recently sold out the House of Blues while touring his album, as he has in the past, and his success on a national level became a proof point that the area’s hip-hop community demands greater inclusion. His continued successes in the fan vote-driven awards begs questions as to how to keep the awards organic and important, but in a year where his bop “Perfect” can be heard booming from car stereos across town the accolades felt deserved, and the thanks he offered the crowd via prerecorded video came across as earnest, a meaningful reminder of the community that has supported him the longest.
Album of the Year went to “Immunity,” from the down-key darling of ennui Clairo, who also won Pop Artist of the Year for the second time in a row. Oompa was named Live Artist of the Year, notably for the lively, purposeful, and cinematic shows she has done in support of her album, “Cleo.” Jefe Replay, whose performance treated the audience with his signature brand of charisma and showmanship, was recognized as the Unsigned Artist of the Year.
The night saw a touching tribute to Ric Ocasek, the Cars frontman who passed away this fall, with historian and archivist David Bieber delivering words before a stirring performance supported by Eddie Japan. “The Book of Dart” author Dart Adams gave perspective and provided a lesson on the history between the Boston Music Awards and superstar Bobby Brown. DJ Real P was awarded DJ of the Year, but never looked happier than when filming his mentee Najee Janey during the latter’s bombastic set.
House of Harm took home 617 Artist of the Year. (The BMAs launched the 617Sessions two years ago to give local acts the opportunity to record at a studio and be featured on a branded compilation sampler of Boston talent.) House of Harm’s passionate performance inspired favorable comparisons to Depeche Mode, and strong onstage impression were also made by New Artist of the Year Lord Felix and R&B Artist of the Year $ean Wire.
STL GLD’s charged and timely “The New Normal Pt. 1” won Song of the Year, but members of the band seemed even more enthusiastic when friend and associate Lightfoot was awarded Dance/Electronic Artist of the Year.
Ultimately, the Boston Music Awards are a showcase to elevate, include and inspire. If tradition holds, this year's runners-up might take home next year's prizes. The real payoff, however, will come from the amplification of the community as a whole.
Here are the winners:
Artist of the Year
Album of the Year
Song of the Year
STL GLD, "The New Normal Pt. I"
Live Artist of the Year
New Artist of the Year
Unsigned Artist of the Year
Video of the Year
Cousin Stizz, "Trying To Find My Next Thrill"
Vocalist of the Year
Alt/Indie Artist of the Year
Americana Artist of the Year
Blues Artist of the Year
Country Artist of the Year
Ward Hayden & The Outliers
Dance/Electronic Artist of the Year
DJ of the Year
DJ Real P
Folk Artist of the Year
The Ballroom Thieves
Hip Hop Artist of the Year
International Artist of the Year
Soul Rebel Project
Jazz Artist of the Year
Yoko Miwa Trio
Metal Artist of the Year
Pop Artist of the Year
Punk/Hardcore Artist of the Year
R&B Artist of the Year
Rock Artist of the Year
Singer Songwriter of the Year
Session Musician of the Year
Live Music Venue of the Year
House of Blues Boston
Intimate Live Music Venue of the Year
Dorchester Art Project
Recording Studio of the Year
The Bridge Sound and Stage
Studio Producer of the Year
Live Production Engineer of the Year
Live Music Residency of the Year
Soul Sessions at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen with NWASoul
Music Night of the Year
Soulelujah at The Sinclair
Music Promoter of the Year
Music Publication of the Year
Music Journalist of the Year
Music Photographer of the Year
Music Podcast of the Year
It’s Lit Boston
Radio Show of the Year
Allston Pudding Radio / WTBU 89.3FM
617 Sessions Artist of the Year
House of Harm
This article was originally published on December 12, 2019.