This year has long been forecast to be a good one for grime at the BRIT Awards, and it was. If we’re talking at the BRITs as in, inside the O2 Arena on the night of February 22, that is.
Boy Better Know’s Sam Burton promised “a big performance” from Skepta in a recent Music Week interview, and that’s more or less what the Tottenham MC – nominated in three categories on the night – delivered.
His run through Shutdown might have received a mixed response on social media (where many references were made to ITV’s censorship of its lyrics), but in the arena it felt impactful, significant. The sight of Skepta, backlit in red, pogoing around the shiny square stage in the middle of the O2 will live in the memory, despite Robbie Williams’ and Katy Perry’s best efforts.
Then there was the surprise addition of Stormzy to the line-up when, two days prior to dropping his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer, he bowled out on stage with Ed Sheeran. Anyone who saw Noisey’s video feature this week will know there’s good chemistry between the pair, and that was blatantly obvious as they roamed around in front of the suited schmoozers down the front.
Performances from Little Mix, The 1975 and the rest resounded too, but it was always going to be Skepta that stood out most. He was involved in the great Kanye-orchestrated grime mobbing of the BRITs in 2015 (referred to via sample this evening), but now he was back and on his own, beefed up by a glorious two years in the interim. Konnichiwa hit No.2, won the Mercury Prize and went gold. It now sits on 119,590 sales, a figure that deserves to be boosted by a statement performance televised on ITV.
The nominations were lauded for increased diversity and the fact that grime was more fairly recognised, and there’s been distinctly less noise around criticism of the artists the Academy chose for this year. However, while that’s important, the actual physical representation of grime onstage at the BRITs landed as a weightier message. And, given the broken bleep machine and general fuss over the Yeezy-led 2015 show, you’d imagine there were nerves about how embracing the genre to such an extent would go down.
But are the nominations and performances enough? Is the fact that a grime artist didn’t actually win in a single category a missed opportunity to make a real statement, to recognise an undeniably exciting, innovative musical movement?
In the interview referred to above, BBK’s Burton said grime was enjoying “a real moment, black British culture has never been as big globally as it is now”. Does the decision not to award one of its leading cast represent a mis-step? The answer could lie with the Academy’s panel; perhaps the shake up wasn’t significant enough. Or, maybe grime’s relative lack of sales compared to the more traditional pop acts among the nominees was a factor. Were it put forward, they’d surely have lost the charts argument.
Whatever the reason they didn’t win, the BRITs are in a far better position than this time last year, where grime is concerned. But, despite the strides made, the feeling persists that, perhaps, this wasn’t the landmark event it could have been.