The Headies Cannot Live Up To Its American Dream

The experiment hasn't got off to a great start; but that's what experiments are for.

America. One country, many opinions. When the Headies announced earlier this year that the legacy awards will be held in the US, a number of people had doubts. The move was seen as audacious but quite jarring, given the fact that it would be taking the award show away from music lovers and followers of the Afropop scene—since 2006 when the Ayo Animashaun-led movement started under the alias of the Hip-Hop World Awards. 

For those who’ve been able to tune into the awards show in the past sixteen years, there’s been no shortage of administrative issues plaguing its otherwise credible running. Nominated personalities have only constituted a minor part of discussions surrounding Headies some weeks before it’s held. On the other side, portending a larger, urgent consideration was the quality of production. Would the sound and lighting be world standard? Would the hosts be entertaining and fluid? Would the scripting be properly done, and conversant with the event space and proposed timing? 


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In regards to the 15th Headies at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, a lot of these questions plaguing the show still went unanswered. Some hours before the event was to start on Monday night, a number of people shared their displeasure with the small-scale promotion and a dust of uncertainty immediately clouded the event as though its old demons were lurking. 

Mr. Animashaun, in the weeks and months before the event, was very keen to explain the reasons for taking Nigerian music’s biggest night overseas. Most recently, a Billboard feature gave his quoted reason in a descriptive headline that ended with, “We need to take centre stage”. In conversation with The NATIVE months earlier, the cultural entrepreneur cited cost and ease of getting production equipment as the reason behind their US move, saying they would likely hold the event internationally again, even though that wasn’t fully planned out. “Headies is largely dependent on sponsorship,” he said, “There’s a reason why the other awards have not been consistent because it has to mean more than business for you to continue. You have to love the industry and you need to be passionate about it to build something that lasts”. 

Consistency and expansion were surely key goals for Mr. Animashaun, but following its 15th iteration, it seems he’s only managed the former. The Headies was still organised this year, even though the American touch fell flat on its face. Watching the event, there was almost a sacrificial exchange between the colourful Nigerian energy that’s defined its most iconic moments and the neat global image being coveted. Perhaps due to a lack of MCs, the red carpet suffered a slow procession into the main hall as the arriving guests were all interviewed by the same MC Rhelax, who also works in-house at Hip TV for its streets vox pop segment.

Across the board, Nigerianess was sacrificed, and even more brutally, with the choice of Anthony Anderson as co-host alongside Osas Ighodaro. While the Nollywood actor was graceful and resplendent on the night, her male counterpart was out-of-touch. Here, he offers no familiar richness or quality commentary—in one standout moment, he complains about the absence of A-listers at the event. It was his tone, understandably pained but nonchalant and condescending, especially considering how much it must have taken to get him on stage. Referring to Black Sherif as “Kwaku the traveler” and his invocation of “African artists” was perhaps heavy with stereotypical representations. And this comes as no surprise considering the disconnect between Africans and African Americans, often stoking great feuds on social media. 

A Nigerian presenter would have known better. For all the recorded instances of Headies presentations, never has it been this bad. How do you celebrate Afrobeats and give stages to people who don’t know the smallest detail about its artists? Even a legend like Sound Sultan didn’t get a tribute as he should, while Americans grasped the familiar for their own safety. And, somewhere in all of this, that dream of occupying the centre reveals a larger problem. A larger problem of conquering home fronts and aiming for global appeal—but when you don’t utilise your own strengths, it becomes a clear case of lacking originality. The spaces you’re attempting to enter would respect you less, with even lesser goodwill among your home audience who are otherwise your biggest fans. 

There were, at least, riveting performances, from the likes of Pheelz, Fireboy DML, BNXN, and Ruger, who delivered a brief-but-poignant take on some of his biggest songs, including “Bounce” and “Girlfriend”. The blending of live instrumentation into the DJ’s sets was telling of an increasing awareness towards stage performances. Later that morning the artist formerly known as Buju would snag the coveted Next Rated, completing what has been a phenomenal run since exiting Spaceship Records in 2021. With Bad Since 97 released not long ago, he can now be considered two years-deep into his creative rebirth. 

In the hours after the 15th Headies, there has continued to be reactions. Some striking opinions have been from industry players, one of which is Masterkraft. Although the beatsmith has carved a distinct lane for himself through traditional-influenced pop, the famous Sunny Nweke has scarcely received an Headies nomination. “I have been a blessing to this Naija music industry for years and will forever be a legend to anybody who chooses to be excellent, exceptional and special in the music space of this continent,” he shared on his Twitter handle, going on to mention some of the artists he’s worked with: Phyno, Flavour, Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy and Olamide. 

Another great point was the choice of performers. Individually, the choices were all good artists but collectively that’s not the variety an awards show should be presenting. From Adekunle Gold to Fireboy DML, more than eighty percent of the performers are operating within a similar circuit of the industry, and their songs were already globally recognised and digested for an even longer time by the Nigerian audience. It’s hard to infuse novelty in such situations, but why should it even be so, when Nigeria has so many diverse musicians? 

Psycho YP’s name is frequently mentioned, and even more so now given that the Abuja rapper currently ongoing a statewide tour with Rema. Although he’s previously been nominated, there’s a sense of the awards platform not having welcomed him into their space. Just like they haven’t welcomed many rappers, nor the indie-leaning musicians who are colouring the edges of Afropop. The Cavemen were missing from this year’s nominations, and beyond making a case for their excellent performance skills, the win of “Doings” by Flavour in the ‘alternative’ category places the need for a more robust interpretation of genres, and perhaps even creating new ones. 

All this calls for collaboration. To me, the efforts spent on the American Dream would have easily created an updated experience within Lagos while retaining cultural essence. As much as Afrobeats has become a global phenomena, there’s much potential in solidifying the roots of a home front. If anything, the humorous presence of the Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the event shows that the politicians are aware of the grounds our music is breaking. With proper collaboration with state and private stakeholders and contracting the genius creatives operating out of the country, an excellent Headies event—from production down to the nominations and winners—wouldn’t be a dream anymore. It would be a reachable reality.