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Stormzy saves the BRIT Awards

By | Published on Thursday 22 February 2018

BRIT Awards 2018

Hey, everyone. It was the BRITs last night. Were you there? Well, if so, take your paracetamol now and I’ll tell you what happened.

It was a night of visual metaphor. White roses to represent the battle against sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment industry. Artificial rain to represent the ongoing fallout from the Grenfell Tower disaster. Brighton’s burned out West Pier to represent the career of a BRITs Critics’ Choice winner.

There was a smashed up sports car to represent the feeling of watching Kendrick Lamar perform mostly in silence thanks to ITV censorship. And Dua Lipa performed with about 40 female dancers, which I think was an effort to counteract the size of the beard the guy who performed with Justin Timberlake had.

It all began with comedian Jack Whitehall appearing on stage in a big coat, as a nod to Big Shaq’s ‘Man’s Not Hot’, which wasn’t up for any awards despite being a massive phenomenon over the last year. Whitehall then inverted the gag for the rest of the show by wearing a suit jacket that was too small for him.

It was an evening of bold performances. And by bold, I mean boring. Ed Sheeran in particular made a lot of leftfield decisions. No guitar, no pedals, just him and a microphone, like a one man Westlife, performing one of the lesser known songs from his latest album – closing track ‘Supermarket Flowers’.

Sheeran was there to pick up the Well Done For Being Successful prize, for which he was eulogised by both Elton John and Ronnie Wood. Until last week, of course, Sheeran was signed to John’s Rocket Man management company. Not in attendance, Elton sent in a video message, where he was clearly reading from cue cards and mispronounced Sheeran’s name, like he wasn’t actually sure who the guy was.

To actually hand over the trophy, Whitehall then brought on “a man who’s caned it for so long that he has to check the in memoriam package every year to makes sure he’s still alive”. Which is quite an edgy gag for the BRITs – as an ITV1 show – but would have been funnier if the ceremony actually did one of those dead people roll calls.

I’m still not sure why Wood was there. I think Sheeran supported the Rolling Stones once. Or something. He bookended his tribute to Sheeran by saying how nice it was to be back at the BRITs again. Last time they let him present an award he got into a fight on stage with Brandon Block. Sadly, no one had thought to invite Block back for a rematch.

Next up was one of the performances many would have been looking forward to the most all evening. One that brought a level of credibility to the proceedings that a duet between Liam Payne and Rita Ora just couldn’t reach.

Best International Male winner Kendrick Lamar’s performance got off to a slow start, with the backing track seemingly restarting several times, as the rapper lay motionless on top of a glass box containing a Lamborghini.

Once he’d made it through an extract of ‘Feel’, the screen behind him announced that the next portion of the performance was “another satire by Kendrick Lamar”. Performing ‘New Freezer’, the track’s producer Rich The Kid smashed up the sportscar below him with a baseball bat.

What exactly was being satirised is open to interpretation, but for people watching at home it at least gave them something to look at while ITV muted long sections of the performance thanks to Lamar’s choice language, in something of a repeat of West’s famous BRITs appearance in 2015.

Given that the BRITs is designed as an ITV1 show it’s hard to understand why they’d book someone who then needs to be censored. Prior to Lamar, only a brief section of Rag N Bone Man’s Best British Single acceptance speech had been cut.

Stormzy at least thought to self-censor when tearing into Theresa May and the Daily Mail in his headline performance. Having taken home two prizes – including Best British Album, at which point it looked like he might be suffocated by his entourage before he could make it to the stage – he performed ‘Blinded By Your Grace Part 2’ and ‘Big For Your Boots’.

Between the two tracks, under artificial rain pouring down on him, he rapped, “Yo Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell? What, you thought 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, you should burn your house down and see if you can manage this”.

It was a pointed and affecting political moment in a show where others had fallen slightly flat. Damon Albarn’s drunken Brexit rant notwithstanding.

Following criticism of the Grammys earlier this month for its all round lack of gender diversity, BRIT Awards organisers were, of course, keen to avoid similar criticism. Prior to the event, it was announced that the awards were officially supporting the Time’s Up campaign, the entertainment industry-led initiative that is demanding proactive measures to stop sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace.

As a result, white roses in real and badge form were seen regularly through the night – including a massive one in the lapel of Whitehall’s too small jacket. Actual references to the campaign were not as frequent or prominent as you might have expected, though. Also, the gender balance of the performers and award winners at the event still skewed massively male.

Before presenting Lorde (whose lack of a Grammys performance was one part of the earlier controversy) with the prize for Best International Female, Ellie Goulding and model Adwoa Aboah did appear on stage to specifically, if briefly, discuss the white roses. Goulding referenced foolish comments made by Grammy’s boss Neil Portnow, saying that women have been “stepping up for years” in music, while Aboah thanked people for wearing flowers “in saladority”. Which was nice.

Earlier in the show, Dua Lipa made her acceptance speech for the first award of the night, Best British Female, and subsequent performance of ‘New Rules’, all about women and female empowerment, which mainly highlighted the lacklustre ways in which the event officially approached these things.

Accepting the first of her two prizes, she said: “I want to thank every single female who has been on this stage before me that has given girls like me – not just girls in the music industry, but girls in society – a place to be inspired by and look up to and have allowed us to dream this big”.

Elsewhere, last year’s hosts Dermot O’Leary and Emma Willis had a seemingly genuinely irritated exchange about there being no female co-host this year, while quite late in proceedings Whitehall delivered a scripted dig at himself for being a white male host.

Another key set piece of the night was an admirable section dedicated to the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing last year, which ultimately fell slightly flat.

Ariana Grande was supposed to be making a return to the UK for the show, which would have been a big moment. Unfortunately, she was unwell and unable to travel at the last minute. So, after a speech from Gary Barlow, Liam Gallagher stepped in for a really not very good rendition Oasis track ‘Live Forever’.

Although, frankly, when the benchmark for a tribute is Grande’s own ‘One Love Manchester’ show, nothing is really going to come close to matching it.

So that was the BRITs. Although I think one final honourable mention should go to Rag N Bone Man’s ‘Ren & Stimpy’ jacket, which blew both of Whitehall’s choices out of the water.

Here are all the winners presented on the night:

British Female Solo Artist: Dua Lipa
British Male Solo Artist: Stormzy
British Breakthrough Act: Dua Lipa
British Group: Gorillaz

International Male Solo Artist: Kendrick Lamar
International Female Solo Artist: Lorde
International Group: Foo Fighters

British Single: Rag N Bone Man – Human
British Artist Video Award: Little Mix – Touch
British Album Of The Year: Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

Global Success Award: Ed Sheeran

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