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Stormzy Saved the BRIT Awards Last Night

The awards will never be exactly what we want, but wins for Lorde, Dua Lipa, and Kendrick Lamar made 2018 the most in-touch BRITs in a while.
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
Image via PR

Stormzy saved it. That's the topline, that's what everyone's talking about this morning. And so they should be. Think about the gravity of the moment. The winner of two of the 2018 BRITs' major awards, Best British Male Artist and Best British Album, took the stage to close a ceremony during which various figures had attempted vague political statements but little of real weight, and freestyled the following:


Yo Theresa May, where's the money for Grenfell?
What, you think we just forgot about Grenfell?
You're criminals, and you've got the cheek to call us savages?
You should do some jail time. You should pay some damages.
We should burn your house down and see if you could manage.

He continued by calling out the Daily Mail, celebrating black visibility in British culture, and praising the black women who raised him before zipping joyfully into a performance of "Big For Your Boots" which subsisted without frills, and solely on his own glorious energy. It was a masterclass in using the platform you have been given to actually say something, and created a genuinely important cultural moment for an awards franchise whose last big talking point was Madonna stacking it down the stairs in some centaur horns and a cape. The BRITs last night were lucky to have Stormzy, and his award wins seemed to indicate that voters have finally caught on to his, and grime's, status within the zeitgeist.

And a moment for those wins: in two huge categories, Stormzy beat out Ed Sheeran (or, as Elton John called him, delightfully, during the night's inevitable "Adele Dazeem" moment, "Ed Chiránne"). That's an achievement of magnitude considering that the spectre of Sheeran's third record ÷ has loomed so large the past year. It indicates that the BRITs voting body is both atoning for grime's overlooked status at the ceremony in previous years, and is potentially turned off by Sheeran's tiresome, calculatingly business-minded approach to music, as evidenced by his acceptance speech for the Global Success Award ("This award isn't actually something that I have done 'cause the global success has come from all the record labels that I work with round the world, all the different people in Warner all over the world"), delivered as if stood in front of a PowerPoint in a boardroom.


Elsewhere, too, there seemed to be a refreshing change towards award winners reflecting actual cultural tastes: Kendrick Lamar, whose performance unfortunately suffered from constant muting on the telecast, won Best International Male Artist, while Lorde won Best International Female. Dua Lipa, the night's most nominated act, took two awards: Best British Female, and Best British Breakthrough Act. In the running for the latter, she beat out Dave and J Hus, both of whom would almost certainly have been more befitting of the "Breakthrough" descriptor, as Dua's a fully fledged popstar by all accounts now. However, it is important to note that in winning that award, she was the only woman who emerged victorious in a non-gender separated category during the telecast, though Jorja Smith – the 2018 BRITs Critics Choice winner – did perform, alongside Rag 'n' Bone Man, because a) sadly he's still a thing, and b) all the women playing, except Dua Lipa, did so alongside men.

The BRITs, of course, is reflective of the music establishment in this country. The fact that it widened its periphery to actually see rap acts like Stormzy and Kendrick this year is positive, but like the Grammys, it hasn't quite managed to tackle its issue with women. The Best British Group category, in which The xx, London Grammar, and Wolf Alice were all included this year, is an example of where it fell down. As the Guardian's Laura Snapes pointed out last night during a liveblog:

Since this award was minted in 1977 (disappearing until 1982), there have been 15 sets of best British group nominees that haven’t contained a single woman. No British group category has ever contained more than two acts featuring female members – until this year, when The xx, Wolf Alice and London Grammar were all up for the award. This is exciting, I thought. Progress, I thought. Obviously a cartoon band led by Damon Albarn wins it.

Albarn, for his part, shared the stage with two women, and indeed, Jehnny Beth and Little Simz were probably two of the most interesting musicians to speak on the mic all night. But as we've been saying all along, visibility alone for women in music isn't sufficient: people onstage last night wore white roses on their lapels, but the causes that move was in support of – the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements – were not discussed, other than in some brief references by Adwoa Aboah, Ellie Goulding, and Dermot O'Leary. It's not enough, and it's an area where the BRITs, like basically every other major music awards ceremony, can really continue to do better next year.

These BRITs were, in many ways, typical BRITs: weird presenting duos doing awkward pieces to camera (I will never in my life be over Harry Kane and Camila Cabello's hi-five), Rita Ora doing a medley, Damon Albarn wanging on about Brexit, Jack Whitehall doing "Man's Not Hot," Olly Murs, you know, being there. We get it. We know. The BRITs. But amidst all that, a few moments elevated it, allowing it to become the best BRITs ceremony there's been in years. Liam Gallagher's simple, unfussy performance of Oasis' "Live Forever" in tribute to the victims of the Manchester terror attack (in place of Ariana Grande who had been scheduled to appear, but cancelled last minute due to medical advice against flying from the US to the UK), and of course, Stormzy's phenomenal, night-defining display were both examples of the important, substantial platform the BRITs can be if used correctly. It's not all the way there yet, but let's hope it continues to improve in the image of its 2018 iteration.

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