The Brit Awards — the annual award show celebrating the best in U.K. music, streamed live from the 02 Arena in London on Feb. 21, hosted this year by the posh comedian Jack Whitehall — is slightly more or less entertaining than the Grammys, depending your tolerance and knowledge of self-referential British humor and pop music.
Though the 2018 ceremony had performances from stateside giants Kendrick Lamar and Justin Timberlake, the BRITs necessarily focus on smaller community of artists, allowing for a type of even playing field of nominees compared to the massive American field. Compared to the Grammys, the Brits give out a diminutive number of trophies — 84 compared to 10, respectively, with seven of that 10 set aside for U.K. artists. Much like the Grammys, the show recognizes those at or near the top of the pop food chain, but its homegrown focus allows at least a bit more wiggle room for promising artists to percolate. Rappers like J Hus or Loyle Carner, parallel in visibility to U.S. artists like Saba, Smino or Leikeli47, are afforded the same shot at a moment of grand exposure as Dua Lipa, the most-streamed woman in the U.K. last year.
Stormzy's show-closing set is a live example of this. Stormzy, by no means an outsider to U.S. rap fans while also far from being a household name here, earned his first two Brit Awards last night: British male solo artist and British album of the year for Gang Signs & Prayer (scooping Ed Sheeran). Though winning the hardware during the broadcast was a personal moment, the South Londoner took the opportunity during his live performance to call out the government.
Stormzy sent a direct message in the form of a freestyle to British Prime Minister Theresa May in response to the devastating fire at Grenfall Tower that killed 71 people last year. "Theresa May, where's the money for Grenfell," Stormzy barked in the freestyle, which went viral and has since prompted a response from the Prime Minister's office.
Dua Lipa was the front runner of the night and winner of two big awards; British female solo artist and British breakthrough act. Her self-titled debut album earned the singer her first U.K. No. 1 on the strength of her single "New Rules."
Jorja Smith, a 20-year-old Walsall native, sings as if she's lived through a dozen heartbreaks — and alternates between the breaker and the broken. Her music's already landed placements on HBO's Insecure and the admiration of current rap kings Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Jorja won the critic's choice award back in January and commanded the stage during her performance with Rag'n'Bone Man.
Dave's name might be a publicist's SEO nightmare, but his bass-heavy cadence is distinct and memorable enough to look past. The 19-year-old got his start by posting freestyles on YouTube before his profile got hit with the Midas touch when Drake remixed his track, "Wanna Know," in 2016.
J Hus' strength lies in delivering the unexpected. The Stratford native cites 50 Cent as one of his biggest musical inspirations, but his latest hit "Did You See" is melodic — pulling from soca, Afrobeat and pop — without compromising his bars.
Sampha is not much of newcomer on the global stage and his appearance on the nominee bill is a classic example of an artist way overdue for recognition. Sampha's 2017 debut album Process was so stellar and stoically powerful, it earned the No. 4 spot on NPR Music's 50 Best Albums of 2017.
Loyle Carner has, arguably, the most potential to blow up this year. At 24, Loyle's Yesterday's Gone, released in Jan. 2017 via Virgin EMI Records displays his sensitivity in the form of stories about his family against the (sometimes) backdrop of contemporary jazz. If you haven't already, get familiar.