Dave hailed for Brit awards protest against 'racist' Boris Johnson

Lanre Bakare
Dave hailed for Brit awards protest against 'racist' Boris Johnson. Music watchers say emerging crop of young artists are unafraid of speaking out

It has been described as “the most important performance in the history of the Brits” and “a necessary wake-up call in the most provocative way”. After the rapper Dave’s star turn at the Brit awards, in which he called Boris Johnson a racist and rebuked the media over their treatment of Meghan Markle, critics and musicians have said such overt political stunts are a sign of the times.

The Brits on Tuesday were dominated by pointed statements. Dave performed his track Black, about perceptions of blackness, adding new lyrics about the treatment of Grenfell victims and the Windrush scandal, and the line “the truth is our prime minister’s a real racist”.

Stormzy, who at the 2018 awards criticised Theresa May over her handling of the Grenfell disaster, made a subtler point this time, filling the O2’s stage with a mainly black or ethnic minority cast of dancers.

“Artists like Dave and Stormzy don’t care what anyone thinks of their truths,” Joseph Patterson, the founder of Trench magazine, told the Guardian. “It’s that simple. These young artists are fearless, they’re doing things their way and without puppet strings. That can only be a good thing.”

Labour politicians tweeted support for Dave’s performance. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, wrote: “Amazing. Dave telling it like it is.” Jeremy Corbyn retweeted Dave’s lyrics: “We want rehabilitation, now that would be amazing / But Grenfell victims still need accommodation/ And we still need support for the Windrush generation.”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, pushed back against the rapper’s comments on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday, saying Johnson was “absolutely not a racist” and that Dave had made a “generalisation” that she disagreed with.

“I don’t know how much he knows about the prime minister and whether he actually has met the prime minister or knows the prime minister,” she said. “I work with the prime minister, I know Boris Johnson very well, no way is he a racist, so I think that is a completely wrong comment and it’s the wrong assertion to make against our prime minister.”

Jordan Stephens, an actor and musician who attended the Brits, said the performances were a timely rebuke to Johnson’s government, coming in a week when the prime minister refused to denounce the views of an adviser who had expressed support for eugenics and forced contraception.

“It’s come at a moment when we’re having to deal with a prime minister not distancing himself from Nazi-like comments,” he said, referring to the writing of Andrew Sabisky, who resigned on Monday. “I think the prime minister would have been better off watching one of the most gifted young black men this country has produced performing on stage.”

Dave – full name David Orobosa Omoregie – won best British album for his debut Psychodrama, which focuses on his upbringing in Streatham, south London. The album features phone calls between Dave and his brother Christopher – who is serving a life sentence for his involvement in a teenager’s killing – and references to his father, Frank, who was deported to Nigeria in 1998.

On Tuesday night the musician Example tweeted: “Dave just delivered the most important performance in the entire history of the Brits. Gobsmacked.”

Sayeeda Warsi, the former chair of the Conservative party, wrote: “After the appalling appointment of #Sabinsky & the shameful lack of condemnation this week from No10 this performance felt like a necessary wake up call in the most provocative way.”

Two weeks ago at the Super Bowl, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira included caged children in their half-time performance to pass comment on Donald Trump’s immigration policy.

Stephens said politically charged performances were being seen more regularly at awards shows as artists used them as a platform to express anger about issues that affect them.

“We’re seeing a crop of artists who are emerging from a world where youth centres have been shut down as youth crime has risen,” he said. “There’s the backdrop of the Windrush scandal and Grenfell. There’s a lot of anger at the moment. I don’t think this is a case of artists jumping on the bandwagon to get some time in the spotlight. This is genuinely how they feel.”

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Patterson suggested overtly political performances had become more commonplace because acts had the security of huge social media followings that were loyal and not put off by negative press. “That pulling power is very important here, because these guys are not afraid to lose a fan or two who look at things on a basic level.”

Stephens said he was at the Brits the year Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys made a speech about the “death of rock’n’roll”, and said there was always “some kind of fight” playing out at awards shows. “It just so happens that the very real and imminent battle cannot be anything other than one of rebellion against what black culture considers to be a hostile government,” he said.