In response to a previous opinion article by Charlie Heywood-Heath.
The sanctity of Britain’s biggest music awards ceremony apparently came under threat this year. According to Charlie Heywood-Heath, Stormzy’s criticism of Theresa May saw politics in music having finally gone too far. The BRITs, Charlie says, needs stay true to its values as a night of celebration and enjoyment and stay away from commenting on politics.
I’m not sure if this is the first time Charlie bothered to tune in to the ceremony, or if he’s simply not aware of its long history of absurdity and political commentary, but let me quickly recap some highlights from previous years. 1998’s awards saw a member of Chumbawamba throw a bucket of ice over John Prescott. The Arctic Monkeys drunkenly ranting about the BRIT school whilst dressed as country gentlemen in 2008 is one of their many memorable BRITs moments. Geri Halliwell was birthed from between giant plastic legs on stage during a bizarre performance in 2000. Are these the values Charlie is talking about returning to?
Stormzy’s BRITs performance will have come as little surprise to anyone who knows anything about grime. In fact, it will have been hardly surprising to anyone who knows anything about the entire history of western art and music. To claim that here in 2018 we have finally reached the stage where political propaganda is being weaved into lyrics is almost laughable. Maybe someone should have told Bob Dylan to tone it down a bit in 1963. Homer’s Iliad, written to music some time in the 11th century BC, had deep political undertones. Should he have kept it to Question Time too? Was Beethoven’s 9th symphony, used for various political means throughout its history, a step too far?
Or maybe the issue is that Stormzy’s particular brand of politics isn’t tasteful enough for Charlie. Grime, a genre which laid its foundation on aggressive, confrontational sounds depicting the difficult realities of London life, has had a surprising break into the mainstream in recent years. Stormzy always intended to use any platform he was provided with to speak about the issues that mattered to him. By winning two awards at the ceremony, it is clear that many consider his music worth celebrating. No-one should expect him to sanitize that on the very night of his crowning glory as a British music legend, just because they find his views distasteful..
The people who have been affected by what happened at Grenfell aren’t watching Question Time, and Theresa May would never feel compelled to comment on views aired via the usual political means. By making a simple, provocative statement on Grenfell, the issue was brought back to centre stage and that should be applauded. Stormzy is one in a long line of musicians who have used their talents to powerful political ends and the more that continues to happen, the better.