In a searing freestyle, he reminded us that young people are rising up, asking: “Yo, Theresa May, where's the money for Grenfell?"
In 2016, the BRIT Awards really made us question their validity. It was a year where in every British category, each nomination was made up of white artists. It was a year of failure to represent – but while this was nothing new, it was also the year that Croydon MC Stormzy decided enough was enough. He accelerated the conversation around the #BritsSoWhite movement on Twitter, and asked in his “One Take Freestyle”, “None of my Gs nominated for BRIT? Are you taking the piss?” He was eventually granted a one-to-one meeting with the BPI chairman, who then announced that the awards show would diversify its voting panel.
Two years on, and Stormzy is once again the biggest talking point of a show that’s largely becoming irrelevant – but this time, he dominated the conversation from within, as the BRITs had the sense to put him front and centre. In the last 10 minutes of last night’s show — after already picking up the award for Best British Male — Stormzy took home the night’s most important award for British Album of the Year. Then, donning a black hoodie and standing under a shower of water, he delivered the most important and best BRITs performance in recent memory.
As part of a medley of “Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2” and “Big For Your Boots”, Stormzy ripped through a spine-tingling freestyle that saw him take on Theresa May, the Daily Mail, and race relations in Britain.
“Yo, Theresa May, where's the money for Grenfell?” he blasted, taking the PM to task for her lack of action over last year’s tragedy, calling those in government “criminals”, stating that “you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages / you should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.” The freestyle also fired at the right-wing paper The Daily Mail (who last year accused grime artists of “fueling the use of 'skunk'”), for perpetuating negative racial stereotypes and for publishing racist rhetoric. As Stormzy put it, the paper could “could suck my —”. Weaving the two themes together, he also highlighted the differential treatment that he, as a young black star, receives in the press in comparison to members of parliament, stating,“MPs sniff coke/ we just smoke a bit of cannabis/ they’ll get me for this so be woke.”
The freestyle ended by triumphantly celebrating blackness, as he called out Jourdan Dunn and Daniel Kaluuya’s BAFTA win. Finally, he celebrated his upbringing by praising his sisters and mother for the fact he was “raised up by black girl magic”.
The BRITs normally feel so bland because, like showing up on The Graham Norton Show for a rote promotional appearance, each performance is just another advert for an album campaign. What made Stormzy’s performance so electrifying was not only his buzzing charisma but also his cultural awareness. While Justin Timberlake sang a misguided song about avoiding being caught up in a social media shitstorm for trying to be “woke”, Stormzy delivered profound home truths about the state of British society. He managed to do it without being censored, and to do it with real passion that never felt performative. That his performance should come days after #Justice4Grenfell protested the continued lack of new information and accountability for the fire shouldn’t be glossed over, either.
Like his vocal involvement during last year’s snap general election, Stormzy’s wins at the BRITs and his historic freestyle are a signpost of just how much politics in the UK is shifting away from the old paradigm. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the push back against Brexit have sparked a youth revolution that saw over a million under 25s registered to vote. Stormzy’s performance is yet another powerful reminder that when it comes to another election, young people will have a seat at the table. And if that doesn’t make this the most important performance in BRITs since Geri Halliwell emerged out of a giant vagina in 2000, then I don’t know what else is.