Dear Ayo Animashaun,

On October 19, 2019, the 13th edition of Nigeria's premier music awards show, The Headies held at Eko Hotels and Suites, Lekki, Lagos.

During an award show that has since been trailed by controversy, Burna Boy, Teni and Falz emerged the biggest winners with four, four and three awards respectively. However, most of Teni's wins and Rema's win for Next Rated Artist have generated intense conversation. You and the academy for The Headies have also been intensely criticized.

This is not the first or second time either. But first off, The Headies and its convener, Hip-Hop World as well as you sir deserve some respect. 13 years is no joke and the consistency - albeit shaky at times - should be applauded. It is especially hard to throw an award show for this long in the dwindling state of Nigerian excellence.

It is also hard to satisfy everybody in an award show. Artists are entitled and they get angry they lose out on awards they expect to win. When they don't win, they throw tantrums, f-bombs and middle fingers. Some of these tantrums are warranted, but a lot of times, they are unnecessary just as they reek of mind-boggling entitlement.

But sometimes, the artists have a reason to be angry. Unexpected twists add to the thrill of award shows and trigger conversation. They also make award shows more esteemed. But sometimes, they are unnecessary.

While 'deserving' an award is sometimes subjective, awards should go to those who deserve them - especially when one is clearly deserving over the others - over the year in review. Thus, it became a case of respect.

Either for right or wrong reasons, a lot of Nigerian artists have shown little respect for The Headies. While we do know that artists who now obsess over 'afrobeats to the world' have no respect for Nigerian media, The Headies might have sown the seed of lack of respect against itself.

What is the problem with The Headies?

On the morning of October 20, 2019, the world's premier conversations platform, Twitter swirled with hot takes and whatnot. Everybody had an opinion and so did this writer. He felt The Headies suffer from a lack of respect from artists. He pegged it down to how artists don't respect Nigerian media and all things Nigerians - he had a point.

Since award shows cannot satisfy everybody, if you don't win, try again next year. It seems most Nigerian artists are so entitled that after one or two losses, they hilariously lose respect for an award show even if deserved winners copped these awards. He also had a point on this.

The absenteeism of Nigerian A-List and B-List stars at the Headies was as palpable as a blonde hair in Surulere. While some had prior engagements like appearances at Wizkid's Starboy Fest in London and other performances across the world, others just skipped the show. From now till tomorrow, we might make excuses for artists, but they have disgraceful issues of their own - crippling ego for one.

How can an artist who has been awarded severally by a show - sometimes undeservedly - be part of negative press for the show? That's just disgraceful.

This argument made sense, but then he thought deeper and had conversations with friends and colleagues. It turns out it was only one side of a two-sided conversation.

It turns out that the problem is more complex and systemic than just a lack of respect. In part, The Headies brought this upon itself and tarnished its own credibility.

Headies: A Lack of Credibility

Artists can be egotistical, but an award show gets credibility when it never bends or twists for anybody or anything. There will always be a superstar who gets in his feelings over losing an award and never returns. However, if an award has credibility, the bulk of other artists will carry the show and the events will be fine.

Jay Z skipped the Grammy Awards from 1998 till 2002, but the show was fine. Frank Ocean ridiculously denied himself an Album of the Year in 2017 because of LGBTQ+ activism, but the shows have been fine till date. People who win celebrate and nobody has missed him.

The Grammy Awards have this credibility because it has values which we can say The Headies have lacked over the past 10 years. The Grammy Awards have definitely not been perfect. They have been accused of racism and non-inclusivity of women - which I think is ridiculous - but their plaques are still coveted.

One of the cornerstones of The Grammys is that except you are an overwhelming favourite, you are unlikely to win an award if you don't attend the main event. The Grammys also don't need superstar appearances to throw great shows - at least, they don't care. So instead of running after acts, even artists who criticize them covet their awards.

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Their soirees are good regardless of superstar appearances. Thus, regardless of what you do, the show goes on. The Headies lack these core values. Over the years, unconfirmed rumours have made the rounds that The Headies have allegedly begged certain artists to make an appearance with the draw of winning an award - even when they don't deserve it.

When this happens, artists will not respect the brand. They will not care as they should and they will continue to feel big. The conversation has changed from them needing your validation to you needing theirs. For example, Wizkid had no business winning an award in 2018. He had no business getting an artist of the year nod in 2019. Tiwa Savage never deserved it either.

It is fine to have twists, but sometimes, clear winners should win. Awards are based on achievement over a defined period of time. If the artist is angry, it's fine. You don't need to appease him or her. Until 2019, the Headies severely lacked inclusion. Nominations were limited to popular acts. Brymo and Asa were ignored for too long.

The problem of lack of credibility has been hampering the show for a long time, it only just peaked in 2019. If that's not enough, there have also been rumours of winners only getting decided backstage just moments before presentation.

This was reinforced by what happened as Kemi Smallz and DJ Sose were about to present an award during the show two nights ago. The Headies have a problem that needs fixing. It saddens people like me who have idolized you for a long time. Call it sentiment, but we hate that another award show might be stealing the thunder of a show we grew up on.

All the Headies ever had to do was have values and stick with them regardless of changing tides of scenario. The Headies change to suit different scenarios and demands and that's not good enough.

I understand that you are doing a hard job. I also understand that calling for your head is quite childish, but since you took on this job with a 13-year run, you should make yourself proud more than just throwing a show.

D'Banj performing on stage at the 2005 Hip-Hop World Awards (Now Headies). (Hip-Hop World)
D'Banj performing on stage at the 2005 Hip-Hop World Awards (Now Headies). (Hip-Hop World)

If you want to change things, change them and make them public. You can only be credible if you don't change or care about anybody.

Nigerian Journalist and Strategy Executive at Mavin Records, Segun Akande feels this is now more imperative as you are becoming a king maker and with Soundcity MVP's status as a formidable rival.

Instead of wielding influence, create legacy.

Production and organization

Some of the problems plaguing the Headies are a result of what I call gbas gbos style. It seems they want to freestyle everything and just have a show. Their plaques have no names engraved, the award presenters are too casual, hosts are also tasked with doing too much. They also don't use teleprompters to script events.

Even worse, the stage set-up is not as good as their arch rivals'. Like that is not enough, The Headies keep giving people like Regina Daniel's mother platform to present an award.

Even if they are sponsors in some way, you can do better than belittle what you've built for 14 years like that. The glory of awards is for people to value their participation. If just anybody can pay and get that platform, then the problems will continue.

This is the thought of PR consultant and A&R Ogaga Sakpaide, who highlights how the Headies need to throw good shows with scripting, great presenters, aptly selected performers, well-planned performances and an incredible stage.

He also feels like The Headies should start engraving the name of artists in their awards. He feels that if the names can't be engraved before, the names should be engraved immediately after like The Oscars do.

He also feels like the stages and the lighting should be made more attractive and hosts should be more at it. He feels The Headies should also script the chats of award presenters and even hosts.

Timing

One of the key problems for Headies 2019 is timing - it came in late October. The final three months of every year is always busy for artists. That's when they make a lot of money from shows, tours and appearances. Awards should not be held during this period.

Any awards that doesn't hold before June 1 is playing itself. I say June 1 because afrobeats has now become a global phenomenon. Summer in European and American terrains starts in May. Afrobeats acts are now booked to perform at these events. Except Headies is matching their paychecks, they won't leave the chance to perform before a streaming audience for The Headies.

It's also quite sad that a date was fixed for The Headies on the same day as Starboy Fest in London. One could say that The Headies never anticipated that level of exodus to London, but they shouldn't have risked it especially after what happened on December 31, 2015. The Headies should take the form of album releases and dates should exist independently.

The year in review should also be brought back to one year - not 18 months. That means you and the group should start planning now.

What's next for The Headies?

It's not too late. Sound City MVP might be catching up, but its clout is still behind The Headies'. However, where Sound City MVP will be in in five years depends on what The Headies does over the next two editions.

After what happened on October 19, the next edition might be scanty, but Ayo Animashaun must take that risk so his legacy won't become distant memory. He should also use that potentially dry event to rebuild, recharge and instill values. It's not a time to try to pander to the new generation to have their face. It's not the time for vengeance either.

It's the time to be fair and award people as they deserve whether they attend or not. If you also won't award people who don't attend, make that public knowledge. However, that policy - either public or private - might be risky.

Who knows, the 2021 Headies might actually restore some glory or at least, set you and your legacy, The Headies on the road back to big time.

I hope this is taken as the honest truth of someone who cares.

Looking forward to The 2020 Headies.