Four Takeaways From The 2022 Headies Nominations

the awards ceremony will hold in September

Since its debut in 2006, the Headies has remained the premiere music award ceremony here in Nigeria. Formerly known as the Hip-Hop Awards back then, the award show continues to gain relevancy in the music scene for both established and emerging acts, as its longevity continues to preserve its prestige despite public reservations with its award systems and production quality.

This year, especially, nominations for the Headies awards have been eagerly anticipated since the show organisers announced new changes some months back. With a vision to broaden its international standing, the Ayo Animashaun-led platform made numerous changes to the way the show will operate this year, including its shocking move to the US. The announcement sparked widespread discussions into the new direction that Nigeria’s oldest and most revered music awards will take. 


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The first indication came days ago when the nominations were officially announced. Colourful posters displayed the nominees of the various categories on social media, where it was published. Expectedly, polarising discussions followed the announcement with comments from both Afropop lovers and industry insiders alike. Given the established reputation of the show, a number of complaints rose as well ranging from omissions to discourse about genre classifications, an often argued aspect of Afropop.

Here at The NATIVE, we pride ourselves on being providers of contextual information. As much as the music is exciting, a number of unseen factors weight into decisions such as these nominations. After taking a look at the full list of nominees, below are our takeaways, including the good, the not-so-good and the befuddling snubs.


An immediately obvious fact of the 2022 Headies nominations list is its lack of diversity. In the past, organisers have tended to follow the ebbs of a single movement, often those spearheaded in the entertainment capital of Lagos. The chosen musicians seemed to also operate in similar circles, and did little to reflect the myriad styles of artistry inherently found across Nigeria. 

However, those problems do not seem to be the case here. An impressive breadth of the nation’s sound is covered, right from the eclectic mix of mainstream acts down to the due attention given to less popular ones. Someone like Falana who scored a couple of nominations (including ‘Recording of the Year’) isn’t on the popular radar but her soulful songs have no doubt made an impression on underground fans. Speaking of, that particular category featured songs like Patoranking’s “Celebrate Me” and Johnny Drille’s “Loving Is Harder” which sound nothing alike, further demonstrating the nuanced perimeters that should ideally be used in judging different genres.

Even the relative absurdity of street-hop artist Portable was recognised. It is important to note that there is no one pattern to creating and releasing music. The Zazoo artist has been one of the most polarising figure in popular culture since his breakout, much like Naira Marley’s reign during the “Soapy” era. He’s the biggest signifier of the Headies’ broadening lens towards movements that reside just outside what is termed mainstream or even alternative. 


Every awards show has their own bias. This is a given. Some tend to highlight obscure acts even more vigorously, creating surprises which will slither into more detailed discussions while others unapologetically focus on the big-ticket Pop superstars, relegating everyone else to the background. 

Over the years, the Headies have leaned mostly towards the latter. There have been few surprises, and those have incontrovertibly slithered into bigger controversies. For every award year, observing the most nominated artists is a chance to perceive the academy’s direction. Not surprisingly, Wizkid got ten nominations after spearheading music discussions over the past two years with ‘Made In Lagos’. But more people were pleasantly surprised with Ayra Starr’s strong positioning across the list. Alongside Tems who was the soul of “Essence”, eight time-nominated Starr was the most nominated female artist and joint-second overall. 

Her debut album ‘19 & Dangerous’ was every bit a modern classic, possessing a distinctive mix of teenage flourishes, introspective incursions and juicy pop bangers. Still, a number of people would not have expected the reverence it was given at the awards this year. This is because female musicians have not always been considered in the same breadth with their male counterparts, shunned amongst the bigger categories in the Headies. Starr and Tems just might portend a crucial shift in perspective. Also, considering they share similar lyrical turfs, it would be no surprise that the coming years will see other musicians test out the template they’ve more or less established. 


The most notable exclusion from the nominations list is Burna Boy. Considering the singer released ‘Twice As Tall’ during the eligible period, there’s a chance he may not have submitted his music for the awards. If that is the case, the clearest precedent for his actions goes back to when he was shunned by the Headies in 2013, favouring Sean Tizzle over him for the coveted Next Rated. Since then, he has received just two Headies and his appearance at the awards ceremony is even more rare. He was however nominated for Best Male Artist and African Artist of the Year, both of which are hand-picked categories. It’s unlikely he’ll win any, and that’s no big deal really. 

Someone else addressed their omission directly: Cheque. The Penhauze and Empire rapper made the case that he should have been in the rap categories, alluding to “melodic rappers like Durk and Roddy [who] are idolized in the rap scene worldwide”.  Cheque is yet to be nominated for the Headies, even though he is one of the handful of experimental rappers colouring the scene with their uniqueness.

This is especially interesting considering the rap disses that have been flying back and forth since last week. It raises the question of whether Nigerians view Rap through a limited lens. Several exciting rappers are in the scene today, and those who have entered mainstream discussions should be aptly rewarded. It seems amiss that at a time when Nigerian cities are witnessing a Drill revolution and artists like Psycho YP, SGaWd and Deto Black are trading bars to rival the detractors, a generation-defining musician like Cheque is getting snubbed by the big awards. 


Every year, the Headies Alternative category is one of the highly contested of the night. This is so because the word alternative, by its very nature, is elusive. Alternative to what? At its basic fragment, genres are touchstones to the eras and musicians which shaped them. It’s an important part of musical history that the machinery around contemporary Afropop does not seem to have properly grasped.

If diversity was truly reflected at the Headies awards, more categories would be created to encompass several other influential genres which aren’t given their due such as gospel. In the Alternative categories, it’s not uncommon to find records unmistakably cut from genres such as Highlife, Afrobeat, Neo-soul and even Pop itself. 

Now, this begs the questions of what should qualify a genre for its own category? Influence, most importantly. How strongly does popular music adapt its peculiarities? How strong is its standing in the musical history of that country? Next, the strength of its fan demography and the wealth of music being released within the genre should also be considered. Are there geographical hotspots for the sound? Third factor would be the sonic material of the genre. It has to be rich enough to be recognised on its own.

If you check all these boxes, chances are that genres like Highlife, Fuji and Gospel should have their own established categories. Many people pointed out the absence of Gospel in the nominations list, which is an anomaly considering the widespread viability of the genre across the popular religions being practised in Nigeria. Ultimately the Headies committee cannot do it alone. This is where collaboration comes in. Consciously following the ebbs of history and highlighting its relationship with the contemporary would make the awards even richer. If Afropop must grow into its potential, there must be an attempt to solidify its roots.