Can musicians use their influence to achieve more than a sponsored #ad ft Stormzy

To understand what this blog is about, please click here . Last week’s article ft Ella Mai & why we only listen to music once it has enough clout can be found here.

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{Note: Obviously social media is extremely damaging upon mental health, and artists are under no obligation to feel pressured to speak on issues just because of their platform. This article only explores the possibility of doing this and what the impacts have been for one artist}

Who is Stormzy?

Today Stormzy has over 100 million YouTube hits, has performed around the world and spoken at Oxford University, is an ambassador of Adidas (Turner, 2018) and had exclusive use of a theme park for his birthday (Collins, 2016). But before this, Stormzy was working a 9-5 job, trying to keep out of trouble and make his mum proud.

He left an apprenticeship to pursue his passion for music and become popular for his style and fit within the musical genre grime, which was “about to enter its renaissance” and “Stormzy slotted in with impeccable timing (Collins, 2016)”. He has become a prominent figure within a genre that “challenges contemporary music” and is “the most significant musical development within the UK for decades” (Holden, 2017).

What has Stormzy done and what are the impacts for the music industry?

Stormzy’s influence goes way beyond the music industry; he’s not just an MC but a spokesperson, man of the people and ground breaker (Collins, 2016). Stormzy isn’t afraid to voice his thoughts, and it’s “important to [him] to express [his] opinion cos [he’s] a black boy” (Collins, 2016).

Being black, young and British shapes a lot of Stormzy’s ‘activism’ (he doesn’t consider himself an activist (OTB Podcast). You would expect this from a grime star as the genre is a “tool for expression” which addresses the stereotypes, violence (Katsha, 2017) and general misunderstanding of being these three identities. An example is when Stormzy was accused of trying to burgle his own flat in Chelsea, London. The police broke down the door, in a situation where “a successful black man going home to his West London flat [didn’t] fit the narrative” (Salisbury, 2018). Another example is the linking of urban genres like grime and drill to the surge in violent knife crime across London in 2018, which has seen YouTube respond by censoring content from this genre.

Is an #ad the only outcome of a musician’s influence?

britsAt the Brit Awards, watched by millions of people, Stormzy’s acceptance speech highlighted institutional racism and the government’s treatment of the underprivileged (Turner, 2018). This included behaviour following the 2017 Grenfell fire tragedy: “Yo, Theresa May, where’s that money for Grenfell?”, while labelling the government “criminals…you should do some jail-time”.

Many musicians would worry about how this loud, political statement could impact their reputation and fanbase, especially with Stormzy’s boldness towards the Prime Minister. PR teams would advise their musicians against discussing politics because of how divisive and personal it is. Some might believe musicians should stick to their field: how dare a grime artist, who you were led to believe are unable to understand these issues (Katsha, 2017) by the media’s portrayal, get involved in governmental affairs? Yet music and politics have a long-running history (Two Buttons Deep, 2016) with one another, making Stormzy’s actions appropriate.

As the music industry today (and probably in the future) is having difficulties making money from streaming/digital, alternative ways of making income from music are  sought. This means a rise in sponsorships from brands (aka #ad on Instagram) given that individuals like musicians have high levels of influence, interest and discussion from their social media accounts.

But ask yourself, if a musician accepts sponsorships because they can reach a large audience and encourage them to do something, should this just be limited to increasing a paycheck? Artists don’t have to announce who they are voting for but encouraging people to vote and stay involved/informed about world affairs is a good idea (Two Buttons Deep, 2016) considering we spend so much time on social media and it has become a  major news source.

How far can Stormzy’s influence spread?

Grime stars are an “intelligent group of individuals” (Holden, 2017), who have discussed masculinity, anti-classism and anti-racism among politics (Katsha, 2017) in their lyrics. And outside of music, Stormzy partnered with the publisher Penguin to produce the #Merky books (Onwuemezi, 2018) and a paid internship opportunity for talented young writers to pursue their dreams.


And another non-musical field Stormzy is impacting is education. When a UK student became one of few accepted into the notorious US university Harvard, Stormzy contributed £9000 towards the student’s £14,000 tuition fees (Griffin, 2017). More recently, he launched a scholarship with Cambridge University to grant 2 black students financial aid towards their tuition and living costs, available for up to four years of study.

Stormzy’s actions are significant to instigate discussions and tackle underrepresentation at leading universities like the Russell Group Cambridge belongs to. For anyone labelling Stormzy’s actions ‘racist’, you couldn’t understand how it feels to have racist incidents normalised at a Russell Group uni that is >85% white because you receive little help to combat them, suffering from microaggressions and being the only black person in your accommodation/course and how this mentally impacts you.

 russell russell


IMAGES: BBC (2018) 

As Katsha (2018) said, the scholarship isn’t because black students are more deserving on the grounds of race alone, it’s looking at the whole picture. Stormzy is trying to change a harsh reality and “normalise young black kids being in academia”. He dared to voice an important and often unspoken question: why aren’t there more black students in these spaces, when there are lots of black students out there?

Stormzy’s donations weren’t cheap and some might wonder why he would do this for people he doesn’t personally know. The most obvious answer is to label this a publicity stunt, but Stormzy shrugs this off. He wants to highlight societal issues and start discussions, lead the way in improvements and ignite cultural change. Artists can do this today because as Stormzy said, they can do things with their name and their level of influence makes it easy to get these projects completed (OTB Podcast). As he sees it, why wouldn’t he do it?

For the future of the music industry…

Social media is making more people than ever famous, with large amounts of following and people who want to collab with them. Of course, bills have to be paid and public figures will continue to accept paid opportunities, as they should given the  reach and the benefits of their platform for brands.

But this doesn’t mean that musicians can’t do things with their platform that might not directly benefit them as an #ad would. Nicki Minaj and Cardi B’s recent fights on both social media and at NYFW have got many discussing things like stan culture, female rappers, social media beef. But couldn’t we also use the same energy to talk about a bigger issue in the matter – why are there so few female rappers, how do they get treated and why do those in the industry seem to feel like there is a competition?



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