Stormzy was a big winner at the 2018 BRITs

The BRITs 2018: actually surprisingly okay

Music

As someone tasked with reviewing the BRIT award I watched last Wednesday night with both trepidation and excitement: trepidation that something horrendous might be about to unfold, excitement about being able to write about it. Such is the cultural moment we live in that anyone with Twitter may fear awards ceremonies for the fierce backlashes they can elicit, but this at least makes them easy to write about.

So it’s with a sigh of relief and a heavy heart I report that the BRIT awards were, actually, surprisingly okay.

Many of the decisions voters made were fairly safe. Given Dua Lipa’s meteoric rise last year, giving the British Breakthrough Act award to anyone else would simply have been factually incorrect. The same goes for her victory in the British Female Solo Artist category: no other female artist has had nearly the impact on the British music industry that Dua Lipa had in 2017; it would have been strange to reward anyone else.

Perhaps of greater long-term importance was the success of Stormzy, taking home two awards for British Male Solo Artist and British Album, the latter often regarded as the most prestigious BRIT award. Given that just two years ago he was criticising the awards for their lack of diversity and neglect of the British grime scene, this felt like a significant moment, though only time will tell. What we can say for sure is Stormzy’s performance stole the show at its end: standing shirtless in the “rain” he delivered a freestyle rap incredible not just for its dexterity and invention, but for the way it pivoted between criticising Theresa May for her response to the Grenfell tragedy and hailing the success of other black artists over the last year. Between his powerhouse performance, the white roses worn by many artists in support of the Time’s Up campaign, and Damon Albarn’s rambling anti-Brexit acceptance speech for the British Group Award for Gorillaz, the BRITs managed to offer a fair summary of our political moment without getting bogged-down in polemics.

…celebrating Stormzy over Ed Sheeran was perhaps the least controversial decision the BRITs could have made.

Of course, Stormzy’s success had to come at someone else’s expense, namely Ed Sheeran. Following his snub by the Grammys it appears the music industry has turned on Sheeran, but it’s more likely that – with 5 awards under his belt since 2012, including the Global Success Award he picked up last Wednesday – voters felt it was time to expand the image of British music beyond that of the affable Suffolk lad with an acoustic guitar. Or maybe, as many critics have said, ‘Divide’ is just not as good as its commercial success implies. Suffice to say, in this reviewer’s opinion, celebrating Stormzy over Ed Sheeran was perhaps the least controversial decision the BRITs could have made.

Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar won for Best International Male Solo Artist and gave a surprise performance in which Rich the Kid appeared to attack a Lambourghini with a baseball bat, a metaphor for the hollowness of the trappings of fame that mostly said “hey, I’m so successful now I can afford to destroy a Lambourghini on stage”. It didn’t help that ITV muted parts of both his songs, ‘FEEL’ and ‘New Freezer’, for their drug and sex references, despite there being no bad language and his performance being well past the watershed. Just when the BRIT awards seemed to promote a progressive image of British music, ITV intervened to remind everyone we remain prudes at heart.

…it’s always worth reiterating that any music award that doesn’t differentiate between genres is silly.

Lorde (for the second time) and Foo Fighters (for the sixth) claimed the remaining International prizes. If recognising Stormzy over Ed Sheeran was supposed to show that the BRITs do not merely reward commercial success, why were all but two of the 15 international nominees artists from North America? For that matter, why are BRIT nominees predominantly commercial successes already? The BAFTAs, for example, recognise films that, in all likelihood, were never destined to be profitable in the UK, such as ‘I Am Not A Witch’ and ‘The Handmaiden’; the point of awards in film and television is to provide an incentive to make engaging art regardless of commercial viability, while the BRITs routinely honour artists in the very centre of the mainstream. Furthermore, it’s always worth reiterating that any music award that doesn’t differentiate between genres is silly. Having Dua Lipa face-off against Laura Marling is like trying to compare Bridge Thursday with an acoustic set in a Jericho café: the criteria used for one obviously cannot fairly apply to the other.

Yes, the BRIT awards ceremony was fun and avoided making any terrible errors, but it’s ultimately a spectacular act of self-aggrandisement by a multi-billion-pound industry, not an authoritative pronouncement on what is “good” or “bad” in modern British music. The more we recognise its ultimate inconsequentiality, the more we can enjoy it for the overblown circus it is at heart.

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