The BRIT Awards is the defining music industry event of the year.
It’s always playful, occasionally newsworthy — but 2018 was the year the show finally became relevant again.
It’s a ceremony often defined by high profile gaffes — from Adele’s middle finger to the BRITs producers in 2012 to Madonna’s tumble down the stairs in 2015 that taught us what Edna really meant by “no capes” in “The Incredibles”.
But Wednesday night was different. Sure, there were some marked departures from the script: Haim’s bassist mouthed “call me” to the camera while Jack Whitehall interviewed Liam Payne and Cheryl Tweedy, and after being labelled a “drunk woman” by LADbible, she later tweeted she was “living (her) truth”. Never stop being you, Este Haim.
Overwhelmingly though, there was a sense that artists had a point to prove — and as a result, it ended up being one of the most culturally important BRIT Awards yet.
1. Time’s Up Showed Up
Just like the Grammys, the BRIT Awards showed solidarity to the Time’s Up movement, protesting the culture of sexual harassment in the workplace with white rose pins, representing hope, peace, sympathy, and resistance. It differs from the approach of the film industry, as both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs chose to wear black as a sign of respect.
In lieu of the pin, Cheryl Tweedy and Ed Sheeran were among those to carry a real white rose with them to symbolise their support. Major credit must go to Dua Lipa, the most nominated artist of the night, who literally had nowhere to hang her brooch on a dress that never seemed to end.
It comes as nearly 200 British and Irish women from across the entertainment industries signed an open letter backing the Time’s Up movement, including a £1 million donation from actress and activist Emma Watson to the UK Justice and Equality Fund.
2. Stormzy Went Off Script — and It Got Fiery
Stormzy beat Ed Sheeran to best male solo artist and album of the year — and stole the show with a fiercely political closing performance.
In a freestyle between “Blinded By Your Grace” and “Big For Your Boots”, Stormzy proudly namechecked black British model Jourdan Dunn, and praised Oscar-nominated actor Daniel Kaluuya for winning the Rising Star Award at the BAFTAs for his roles in “Black Panther” and “Get Out”.
So i've actually just seen @Stormzy1 Brits performance. Why did u lot play it down? That's one of the most iconic moments in UK music— Akala (@akalamusic) February 21, 2018
Then, standing alone, drenched in (stage) rain, he started talking about the Grenfell Tower tragedy — a moment that some on Twitter think would have been muted if ITV had known in advance it was going to happen.
“Like yo Theresa May where’s the money for Grenfell?” he rapped. ”What you thought we just forgot about Grenfell? You criminals, and you got the cheek to call us savages. You should do some jail time, you should pay some damages.”
The blaze in the London tower block killed 71 people last year, and many saw it as a systematic failure to ensure the UK’s poorest people lived in safe accommodation. Stormzy featured on the charity single that raised money for the survivors — and millions watched as he continued to take action on the issue on Wednesday night.
Downing Street responded defending the Prime Minister, as a spokesperson said the government has provided £58.29m, which is the total sum committed rather than the total already spent, according to the Guardian.
“If there are any concerns being raised about that, we will of course look at those,” the spokesperson said. “Wherever there is more that can be done, we will look at that too.”
Tonight was a seminal moment for British music. The contradictions of inequality, power and greed have been laid bare on primetime national television by a hugely popular artist who refuses to cowtow to commercial or political interests.— Liam O'Hare (@Liam_O_Hare) February 22, 2018
Stormzy wins a couple of Brits and delivers this incredible performance. Asks "Theresa May where's the money for Grenfell, what you thought we just forgot about Grenfell?" pic.twitter.com/lCRjGO53VJ— Shehab Khan (@ShehabKhan) February 21, 2018
3. The Dua Lipa Revolution Will Be Televised
Dua Lipa was 2017’s most streamed female artist in the UK — and capped off an immense year by winning best British female solo artist and British breakthrough act.
But in the first award of the night, she brought it all right back to gender equality, thanking “every single female that 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, to look up and have allowed us to dream this big.”
"Here's to more women on these stages, more women winning awards, and more women taking over the world,” she added.
Basically, Dua Lipa is one of the leading lights of feminism in British music. All you have to do is play interview bingo — picking any published conversation with the singer at random — to understand that feminism comes as naturally to her as any blistering pop banger.
‘It’s a crazy time in the world — women are the f***ing future,” she said in an interview with the Evening Standard last year. “And we’re going to take over the world. That’s really what I think. I think if you’re not a feminist, you’re sexist. Both men and women. My idea of feminism is just wanting equality. It’s just wanting women to be treated the same and to have equal opportunities.”
"Here's to more women on these stages winning more awards!" @dualipa#DuaLipaBRITs takes home the award for British Female— BRIT Awards (@BRITs) February 21, 2018
Watch The #BRITs 2018 LIVE here: https://t.co/YP6iG713ESpic.twitter.com/DspVhGMPxB
4. Liam Gallagher Paid Tribute to Manchester Arena Attack Victims
Last year, 22 people died and over 500 were injured in a terrorist attack on an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena. A subsequent show called Manchester One Love then raised over £10 million for families affected by the tragedy.
Grande was originally due to sing a tribute to the victims at the BRITs, but wasn’t even allowed to fly because she was too ill. Instead, she watched from home, sharing an Instagram story watching Liam Gallagher’s touching performance of Oasis’ “Live Forever”.
Take That’s Gary Barlow introduced Gallagher, and said that the victims will "always live on forever in our hearts, in our minds, and in our memories.”
The whole show was later dedicated to the 22 who died, with their names broadcast across the credits.
5. Damon Albarn Summed Up the Spirit of the Whole Night
Damon Albarn had some choice words for the nation as Gorillaz took home the gong for best group. The Blur frontman channeled his inner Hugh Grant from “Love Actually” as he mediated on the state of Britishness in 2018.
“I’ve got one thing to say — and it’s about this country,” Albarn said. “This country is, believe it or not, quite a small little thing. But it’s a lovely place, and it’s part of a beautiful world. What I want to say is: don’t let it become isolated. Don’t let yourselves become cut off.”
“Considering our size we do incredible things in music,” he added. “We’ve got a real spirit and a real soul. Don’t let politics get in the way of all that s***.”
I suppose what Albarn is trying to say is that we should all be Global Citizens, right?
That’s what we heard anyway.
6. ITV Censored Kendrick — But He’s Still the Boss
Kendrick Lamar won best international male solo artist — and everybody expected his performance to the talking point of the night.
It had all the makings of it: he performed on top of a giant glass box as Rich the Kid smashed up an orange Lamborghini below him, echoing shades of his performance of “Alright” at the BET Awards atop a vandalised police car. The outcry from Fox News after the latter eventually made into his album DAMN as a sample, as Geraldo Rivera declared that "hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years."
But Lamar was muted by ITV — who deemed his expletive-laden lyrics inappropriate to broadcast, even after the watershed. It’s happened before at the BRITS: when Kanye West was backed by the very best of the UK grime scene in 2016, and when Skepta performed “Shutdown” last year.
Inevitably, this meant Lamar’s message — of the jarring conflict between fame and isolation on “Feel” — struggled to break through. But it still underlined Lamar’s credentials as a creative mastermind. He’s still the cultural force that curated the entire “Black Panther” soundtrack — and the inspirational activist that sent 1,000 low-income kids to see the movie when it hit cinemas last week.
ITV might not be ready for Kendrick Lamar — but we are!
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, including Goal No.5 for gender equality. We believe that music is a powerful way to inspire political change around the world — but we need people like you on board to make it happen. Take action with us here.