BRIT AWARDS 2017 commentary – Evening Standard, 23 Feb 2017

After being criticised for a lack of diversity in 2016, this was the year that the Brit Awards welcomed grime into the house but kept it in the hallway. Nominees Skepta, Stormzy and Kano all went home with empty pockets, and although Stormzy’s surprise rap during Ed Sheeran’s meek Shape of You was a welcome surprise, Skepta’s incendiary performance of Shutdown was heavily disrupted by muting for television even though 9pm had passed.


In a reversal of the Mercury Prize’s decision last year that David Bowie would have wanted the award to go to Skepta, here the late legend beat the Tottenham rapper to both the British Male and Album of the Year trophies. Accepting the first of those on his behalf, the actor Michael C Hall pointed out, “If David Bowie could be here tonight, he probably wouldn’t be here.”


Bowie was matched as a double winner by a singer at the opposite end of his career: Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. Surely no one has ever won two Brits as quickly as the former Rory Graham, whose debut album was released less than a fortnight ago and has already gone gold. Giving him the British Breakthrough award over Skepta was mildly controversial, as was the decision to chuck International prizes at Beyonce and A Tribe Called Quest in passing, without even naming the nominees or letting them do a little video.


It was strange to have to turn to Katy Perry for the most danger. While everyone else stoically ignored the wider world – apart from something vague about “social issues” from The 1975 – she produced giant skeleton puppets of Donald Trump and Theresa May and thrust a sense of impending doom into the back-slapping. On the offchance we’re all still around for the Brits 2018, maybe a British rapper will finally win one.