This year’s Brit awards took place on the 18th of February, and did not disappoint as a night of celebration of British culture, entertainment and amazing performance. Perhaps the most stand-out part of this year’s awards show however, was the sheer diversity present in the nominees, winners and performers on the stage.
The Brits took place in the O2 Arena in London, and the winners in each category were largely unsurprising. Lewis Capaldi took home both Best New Artist and Song of the Year for ‘Someone You Loved’. Mabel was awarded Female Solo Artist, thirty years on from the time that her mother Neneh Cherry took home the same award. All the artists and guests were in high spirits, from drinking on the podium as Lewis Capaldi did, to downing a glass of neat tequila in the audience in the case of Lizzo. The show was a celebration of British music and culture and a pleasure to watch, anchored by host Jack Whitehall.
Despite the show being an entertaining night, full of the best live performance the country has to offer, the most significant take-away from this year’s Brits was the artists’ use of the platform they were given as a means of political speech. A lack of diversity and representation has been a major issue in many awards shows in the past, and the Brits are no exception. The awards show came under fire in 2016, when it was announced that almost all of the nominees in the British categories were white; provoking the hashtag #BritsSoWhite. This was especially disappointing as it followed 2015: a pivotal year for the UK grime scene, one that is pioneered by predominantly black men and women. Since then, it seems as if the organisers have taken an active effort to recognise and reward the achievements of a diverse range of performers.
Many artists made use of their short opportunity on stage to call out the faults of the British government. In his acceptance speech for International Male Solo Artist, Tyler the Creator called out ex-PM Theresa May for banning him from the UK for using ‘hate’ speech, not dissimilar to what has been freely said by high-profile white artists such as Eminem. However, perhaps the most poignant speech of the night was made by Dave, a twenty-one year old rapper who took home the award for Best New Album for Psychodrama. Dave chose to perform his song, ‘Black’, written both to highlight the struggles that come with being a black person in our society, and what black people have been able to achieve despite this. In an extra verse written especially for this performance, Dave called out the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, labelling him a ‘real racist,’ and highlighting that even if racism is less of a problem in Britain than other places, this does not erase the fact that it is a very real and present struggle – especially in the current political climate. Dave also used this as an opportunity to bring necessary attention to the victims of the Grenfell Fire who are still waiting for housing, and as a tribute those who sadly lost their lives in the London Bridge terror attacks last year.
The extremely well-spoken South London native’s performance was met with a mixed response. Many praised his lyricism and use of his platform to spread a meaningful message, whilst others reprimanded him for judging Boris Johnson without knowing him personally. Whether we agree with Dave or not, it is undeniable that his performance marked a monumental moment for Black Britons everywhere. The demand for creativity from more than just white people in a way legitimised his voice, and he used it to present issues close to the heart of many Black Britons – rather than just an opportunity to self promote.
However, it does seem prudent to not be too quick in applauding this change in attitudes towards representation and diversity at the Brits. This wariness is raised simply by looking at its problematic history. Views spiked after Skepta’s performance in 2017 with a stage full of black men in hoodies, which many reported as being ‘outrageous.’ Would the British public have had the same reaction had it been a stage of white men? Unlikely. It is hard not to wonder whether those at the Brits truly see the importance of recognising these artists, or are simply trying to increase their views with provocative performances they know will ignite conversation. Either way, it is clear that diverse artists have been able to pave the way for themselves in an environment which has historically regarded them with apprehension, and we really do love to see it.