Image Credit: Uwe Conrad 

The MOBO awards return after a three-year hiatus, hopeful that people will watch after years of music award show ambivalence.

This year has not been kind to music award shows, with controversy, snubbed artists and the uncomfortable truth that, even though we’ve been trapped inside, barely anyone is watching. Maybe it’s too much to expect viewers to tune into an entire event when you can read a listicle the next day and swipe through stories to catch up on the winners, losers and scandals.

After three years away The MOBO awards are being broadcast tonight but into a world that may be too bored with the music award show format to care. Luckily, they have a plan.

Why do we watch award shows in the first place?

Whether or not our favourite artists are award-winners doesn’t affect the music they make. Perhaps it’s time to do away with the broadcast show format and turn to streaming and social media to feature the artists and announcements.

And that’s exactly what the MOBOs are aiming for, broadcasting live on YouTube, and then later in the evening on the BBC. The stream will feature performers including Kojey Radical and Ms Banks.

Kanya King, MOBO Founder and CEO, said: “We had always planned to bring the awards back as it is, and has been, so important to a lot of people – and not just the talent. And especially after this historic year, we were not going to ignore the times that we are in and decided to end 2020 on a bold and optimistic note.”

In a year where BLM protests and conversations around race have gone global, and award shows too have come under the spotlight, the MOBOs are a timely champion of diversity. Standing for Music of Black Origin, they reward British and international talent in Hip Hop, Grime, RnB/Soul, Reggae, Jazz, Gospel, and African music.

Nominees this year include Lianne La Havas and Mahalia for Best Female Act and Burna Boy and H.E.R for Best International Act.

On expanding the reach of the awards, YouTube Music Europe director Dan Chalmers said: “The MOBO Awards are such an incredible example of British content and creativity that should be celebrated. To help promote the event this year, we are providing a medley of promotional support, ranging from on-platform promos, billboard advertising, social media boosts and more.”

“Also, on YouTube Music people will be able to enjoy a MOBO playlist of nominees and winners. We are eager and excited to drive as much traffic and views to the awards as possible.”

The MOBOs will be keen to avoid the falling ratings and bad publicity similar shows have seen in the past few years. Last month, The Weeknd was furious at being shut out of the Grammy nominations despite having the most-streamed song (‘Blinding Lights’), tweeting that the award show is ‘corrupt’:

Adding fuel to the fire was Ellie Goulding, who wrote a piece on Medium asking “what constitutes the worthiness of an award?”

Feeling snubbed herself, Goulding said: “I have amassed what I see to be a notable body of work in this industry, in the form of many millions of album sales… But it still, apparently, does not qualify me, or my peers with the same reception, for formal recognition from my industry.”

But does the publicity generated from being left out in the cold translate to streams and follows for the artist? The Weeknd doesn’t seem to be suffering commercially from his snub, booked to headline the 2021 Superbowl Halftime show in February.

And arguably, historically most award shows have never been about who wins what award. The MTV Awards especially have always featured iconic moments – Britney and her python, Kanye West insisting ‘I’mma let you finish’ – that have been remembered long after the nominations and winners had been forgotten.

Will anyone watch the MOBOs?

So, will the buzz around the return of the MOBO Awards translate into views? Hopefully a fresh format will work wonders. We’ll have to see if the MOBOs buck the trend – and also what great performances and viral clips result from the return of the award show.

The 90-minute MOBO awards ceremony will be broadcast live at 7pm on YouTube, then at 10.45pm on BBC One. A highlights special will be available on BBC iPlayer and supporting content in BBC Sounds.