The musical world woke up on the 13th of February 2020 to the news that the prestigious NME awards had been spoiled by one particular Northampton rapper and his behaviour towards comedian and host Katherine Ryan after receiving the Hero of the Year award.
Moments before calling for the acceptance and inclusion of minorities into music, Slowthai asked Ryan to “smell his cologne” and indicating to a packed crowd of musicians, critics and fans alike that she wanted him to “tend to her flowers”.
This was all before finishing his speech, thanking a gentleman in the audience for ruining it, dropping his mic off stage, being called a wasteman and then jumping into the crowd to fight said heckler. The gentleman Slowthai had as his target had been calling him a misogynist throughout the speech and was too drunk to keep all of his drink off the stage.
Before these events Slowthai had meant a lot to me, being the only musical act to make it from my hometown of Northampton. He is known among those as back home as a herald and a champion of the working class amongst young people, such as myself, coming from council houses and single mothers.
I have no shame in saying that I idolised Slowthai. His energy and joy was something I wanted to take into my own music–if he could take on the world stage, playing on Jimmy Fallon, then I could take on university. But, Slowthai’s thrown that reputation away.
This isn’t to take away from the real victims of these events, those that have been sexually harassed and mistreated in the past, but rather explain why I wanted to personally detail what happened and show how quickly artists can go from hero to zero.
Slowthai responded by labelling his comments as a joke he escalated “to a point of shameful actions” and attempted to open a point of discourse. His comments felt rather flat however and were seen as more of method of damage control rather than heartfelt apologies. Even offering to give Katherine his hero of the year award:
After Slowthai had given his response, one that I found unconvincing, I had made up my mind that he had been sexually threatening to Ryan and that was it. I had made the decision to stop supporting him as an artist as I have with the likes of Michael Jackson and Chris Brown.
However, I then saw the response of Katherine Ryan herself and the popular radio DJ Annie Mac, and found myself even more confused than before.
At first, I was relieved, I felt convinced I could continue to support one of my favourite artists because, who was I as a man to tell a woman whether she was sexually harassed if she felt that she wasn’t.
It felt for a moment that these negative feelings had stemmed from the twitter storm that had amassed from a few moments of footage posted by the audience. Now, much of the audience and several females prevalent in the UK music scene were saying Slowthai’s behaviour was a joke taken too far, stupid but not harassment.
Yet, even this didn’t totally convince me, I still felt part of the issue was performers like Ryan and Mac attempting to avoid being viewed as ‘problematic women’ that many females who stand up for themselves in the music sector get labelled to be.
All in all, the events that followed the NME awards have left me more confused than I thought I could possibly be from sexually threatening comments. I aim to support women at all levels from the local pub to the stage of music awards, and this means listening to them and their feelings about how they’ve been treated.
Therefore, I am torn between forgiving Slowthai, because of the comments made by Katherine Ryan and Annie Mac, and on the contrary listening to many of the women of the public who feel that his actions were a detriment to gender relations. Blindly supporting Slowthai through this could encourage a lot of young men that idolise him that this is acceptable behaviour – which of course it is not.
As with all controversy in the music world, there will forever be polarising opinions on these events. Some readers will believe Slowthai did nothing wrong at all and some will believe that he has no chance for redemption for his actions. My opinion is that I have no clue where to stand as we will never know whether the statements published by Katherine Ryan were truly her real feelings, alongside the fact we will never know Slowthai’s real intention.