What was meant to be a star night for Slowthai at the 2020 NME Awards turned extremely sour, extremely quickly. The rapper won two awards, but also got involved in an uncomfortable prolonged exchange with comedian Katherine Ryan – who was co-hosting the awards with Julie Adenuga – and then a later altercation with hecklers in the crowd.
Two videos have made their way around social media, and present a slightly edited version of events. VICE was there in the audience, so we'll clarify what we saw.
An earlier part of Ryan's act was a joke that she's attracted to the younger Slowthai; she'd walked down into the crowd and encouraged him to go up on stage with her, all in good fun. When it came to the time for Slowthai to receive the award for Best Collaboration – for "Deal Wiv It", with Mura Masa – the banter took an ugly turn.
Ryan pretended to be jealous of the attention Slowthai was giving her co-host, and asked for a "heart" – a heart-shape made with his hands. In response, Slowthai said, "You're jealous! She got jealous, everybody." He then leaned into Ryan, asking her to smell his cologne, and she put her arm around him. Ryan changed tact and started asking Slowthai about his feelings for her co-host.
The interaction went on for a few minutes. Slowthai turned his attention back to Ryan, pretending they were having a sexualised "moment", making comments like, "Baby girl, I don't want to have to do this to you right now, but everybody – she needs to understand the levels right now." He also hugged her for what felt like far too long – an interaction recognisable to any woman's who's been chatted up in a bar when you're absolutely not interested.
"You are adorable," said Ryan, having defused the situation continually by giving back as much as she got. "Thank you for participating in the awards show."
"Thank you for the attention," she added, as he left the stage. "You are younger than my babysitter."
Slowthai eventually headed back to his table, before getting caught in an interaction en route and turning back around towards the stage. The crowd was tangibly uncomfortable at this point. "Oh please," said Ryan, walking towards him. "I'm a balls girl – get your balls out." "Is that how you want it, yeah?" he said. "That's how I want it," she answered, adding, "I would love you to trim my bush." With his head close to Ryan's, Slowthai then turned to the crowd and said, "She wants me to tend to her flowers."
She proceeded to put him down yet again, painting him as a horny teen and calling him "needle dick". As the interaction finally ended, she walked back to a bemused Adenuga and said, sarcastically, "I'm so wet, I'm going to slip off of these stairs."
The awards continued. Later, Slowthai came up to collect his second prize of the evening: the Hero Award. He seemed in high spirits still, but more subdued. Ryan continued their initial joke, before Slowthai said, "Nah, I'm not falling for that again," and some of the crowd laughed. Katherine then walked backstage as Slowthai began to give his acceptance speech.
At this point, a member of the crowd in front of Slowthai shouted what sounded to the room like, "Misogynist." Ruffled, Slowthai stood forward and said into the mic, "I'm misogynistic? I'm misogynistic? Fuck off. I stand for equality. I stand for equality. If you can't take a joke, sit down. If you can't take a joke, sit down." He then shhh-ed the audience member, who appeared to call on Slowthai to apologise to Ryan.
As the crowd began to boo, the rapper began to get more ruffled. "Why you gotta say something ridiculous?" he said. "You need to relax."
Frustrated, Slowthai said, "NME, thank you," then pointed down to the heckler and added, "Thank you for ruining my speech," before dropping his microphone into the crowd.
This was the point of no return. A man in the crowd picked up the mic, shouted, "Slowthai's a wasteman," and threw the mic and a drink back at the rapper. Slowthai then threw his own drink into the crowd. Ryan came out from backstage, clearly concerned by the night's events, and approached Slowthai, saying, "Babe, babe," as if intending to diffuse the situation. But by this point he'd already jumped off the podium to shout at the crowd. Security came and held him back, and then escorted him out.
The whole mood of the awards was then set as one of concern and stress for all parties involved. Many guests were on their phones from then on, watching the commentary unfold on Twitter, mostly based on the videos being shared.
Immediately after the second incident, people on social media called for Slowthai to be cancelled, with some saying his career is "over". Many pointed out the irony of this all happening while picking up a "hero" award. Taylor Swift, who was there to receive the "Best Solo Act In the World" award, provided a moment of light relief by commenting, "This is like the craziest awards show I have ever been to."
What was lost via the videos being posted to social media was that the whole thing had unfolded over two different occasions Slowthai was onstage. The main video being shared, which was a ripped series of Instagram stories, showed a select few moments from the entire first interaction between Ryan and Slowthai. In this video, Ryan's jokes and responses to Slowthai aren't presented, leaving Slowthai's lewd comments hanging.
After the awards, Ryan tweeted that Slowthai had not made her feel uncomfortable, adding, "I knew he had lost from the moment he opened his mouth like any heckler coming up against a COMIC – not a woman – a COMIC. I was operating 2/10. What a sweet boy. I defused it."
At 12:30PM today, Slowthai tweeted an apology: ".@nme please forward my award to @kathbum for she is the hero of the year. what started as a joke between us escalated to a point of shameful actions on my part. i want to unreservedly apologise, there is no excuse and i am sorry. i am not a hero. katherine, you are a master at your craft and next time I’ll take my seat and leave the comedy to you. to any woman or man who saw a reflection of situations they’ve been in in those videos, i am sorry. i promise to do better. let's talk here."
In response, Katherine tweeted the below: