British grime star Stormzy and pop singer Dua Lipa were the big winners on a night of shock surprises, political protest and somber reflection at the 2018 Brit Awards, held at London’s O2 arena on Wednesday (Feb. 21).
Both artists took home two awards apiece, with Stormzy generating one of the show’s biggest upsets by beating firm favorite Ed Sheeran to the best album award for his debut Gang Signs & Prayer.
The London grime artist, whose real name is Michael Omari, also collected British male solo artist, which Sheeran was also widely expected to win given the all-conquering global success of his third studio album, Divide.
“Gang Signs & Prayer was the hardest thing. I’ve never worked on something like this in my life,” said Stormzy, collecting the coveted best album prize from Nile Rodgers.
“I’ve [gave] my entire being; my entire emotion. Everything I put into that album. I didn’t have anything left after. We made something that I feel is undeniable [and] I can stand by it today,” said the 24-year-old, before closing the show with an electric three-song medley that began with a rousing gospel version of “Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2” before switching into a ferocious freestyle that saw the rapper criticize British Prime Minister Theresa May for her handling of last year’s Grenfell Tower fire in London, which killed 71 people.
“You criminals. You got the cheek to call us savages. You should do some jail time. You should pay some damages. We should burn your house down and see if you can manage this,” he vehemently shouted. The grime star’s set ended with a boisterous rendition of “Big for Your Boots” that saw the topless MC bounce around the stage to wild applause from the 15,000-strong crowd.
Earlier in the evening, Dua Lipa collected the awards for British breakthrough act and British female solo artist, making indirect reference to the #MeToo movement in her acceptance speech by thanking “every single female that’s been on this stage before me that has given girls like me — not just in the music industry, but in society — something to look up to and allowed us to dream this big.”
“Here’s to more women on these stages, more women winning these awards and more women taking over the world,” said the singer, who delivered one of the night’s standout performances with a lively rendition of her hit single “New Rules.”
Prior to the awards taking place, Brits organizers had said that they would be asking all guests to wear a white rose pin as a sign of solidarity with the fight against sexual harassment. Nearly everyone in attendance appeared to do so, with Sheeran, Camila Cabello, Ellie Goulding, Sam Smith and Rita Ora among the high-profile names showing their support by either wearing the pins or carrying white roses.
In the award stakes, there was commiseration for Ed Sheeran — who was famously snubbed in the main categories at this year’s Grammys — in the form of the global success prize, which he collected from Ronnie Wood following a gushing video tribute from Elton John.
Midway through the Jack Whitehall-hosted show, Sheeran played a plaintive rendition of Divide track “Supermarket Flowers,” accompanied by piano, guitar and a vocal choir.
There were also prizes for Foo Fighters (international group), Gorillaz (British group) and last year’s Brit Critics’ Choice award winner Rag‘n’Bone Man, who took home the Anish Kapoor-designed Brits trophy for British single for his breakthrough track “Human.”
Kendrick Lamar was a previously unannounced surprise guest at the awards show and collected the award for international male solo artist for his efforts.
Lamar, who is currently touring Europe, also produced one of the night’s more memorable and unique performances, beginning with him lying on top of a glass box containing a high-end sports car as the instrumental of “FEEL.” paused and restarted several times (possibly deliberately, possibly not) before he finally stood up and began rapping.
As per his Grammy performance, the words “This Is Another Satire by Kendrick Lamar” subsequently appeared on a screen behind him, leading into a fiery run through “New Freezer” while Rich the Kid energetically smashed the car with a baseball bat, leaving those inside the arena and, according to reports, the watching TV audience, somewhat puzzled.
More conventional live thrills were provided by Justin Timberlake, who opened the show with a crowd-pleasing medley of “Midnight Summer Jam” and “Say Something,” joined by country singer Chris Stapleton.
Sam Smith, Rag’n’Bone Man and Rita Ora also delivered slick live performances, with Liam Payne joining Ora for a sexually charged “For You” from the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack. The Foo Fighters also made their Brits live debut belting out “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” from the roof of what appeared to be a ski-chalet-style stage set.
One of the night’s most moving moments occurred when Take That singer Gary Barlow made a heartfelt speech paying tribute to the victims of May’s Manchester bomb attack following an Ariana Grande concert.
“A horrific terrorist attack took place stealing the lives, dreams and futures of 22 people while injuring and maiming hundreds of others,” said Barlow, who performed with Take That at the One Love Manchester fundraising concert that took place in the city two weeks after the blast. He called the benefit concert “an event that epitomized the human spirit. An event that showed that hate will never win, and fear will never divide us.”
Brits organizers said Grande was planned to perform at this year’s Brits, but “was not able to travel on doctor’s orders.”
In her place, Liam Gallagher was a last-minute addition to the bill, performing a stirring take of Oasis classic “Live Forever” in honor of those who lost their lives.
Full list of 2018 Brit Award winners:
British Female Solo Artist – Dua Lipa
British Male Solo Artist – Stormzy
International Group – Foo Fighters
British Single – Rag‘n’Bone Man ‘Human’
International Male Solo Artist – Kendrick Lamar
British Breakthrough Act – Dua Lipa
International Female Solo Artist – Lorde
British Group – Gorillaz
Brits Global Success Award – Ed Sheeran
British Artist Video Award – Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times”
Mastercard British Album of The Year – Stormzy Gang Signs & Prayer
Critics’ Choice (previously announced) – Jorja Smith
Producer of the Year (previously announced) – Steve Mac
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Little Mix’s “Touch” as the winner of the British Artist Video Award. The nod actually went to Harry Styles for his “Sign of the Times” clip.