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Stormzy’s ‘Mel Made Me Do It’ and the Nuances of Representing Black British Communities

Stormzy’s ‘Mel Made Me Do It’ and the Nuances of Representing Black British Communities

Stormzy at the 2020 Brit Awards | Alamy

3 min read

Galvanising an instantly primed audience — both domestically and beyond borders — the music video for the rapper Stormzy’s Mel Made Me Do It, was an instant draw upon its release released on 23 September, sitting atop Twitter’s trending topics within moments of its premiere.

The premium music video directed by KLVDR highlights the work of and pays tribute to Melissa Holdbrook-Akposoe, better known as Melissa’s Wardrobe and Stormzy’s long-term stylist. This display of solidarity and platforming of a darker-skinned Black woman pushes back against the erasure that has happened across media to Black women at large. Stylist’s recent “Black British Women’s Census” revealed that 82 per cent of respondents needed to go “out of their way” to find stories that reflected and represented their experiences.

The use of Holdbrook-Akposoe’s tag-line as the single’s title and her side-profile on the single’s cover evidences Stormzy’s cultural prowess and attention to Black British experiences outside of his own. Through his #Merky imprint, he has consistently platformed Black cultural figures across the literary space, as well as funded disadvantaged Black youth accepted to Oxbridge universities.

As well as Holdbrook-Akposoe, the founders of renegade radio platform No Signal feature in the video, alongside several Black British titans including former Premier League footballer Ian Wright, musicians Tiana Major9 and Little Simz and Loose Women panellist Brenda Edwards — representing her son, the late music entrepreneur Jamal Edwards.

This video adds to the archive of Black British culture in real-time. Visuals like Stormzy’s Mel Made Me Do It, at the very least, act as a placeholder in time and at their most impactful provide platforms for Black Britain to be "seen."

However, as well as putting the spotlight on Black British culture, Mel Made Me Do It foregrounds wealth and capitalism, with premium items like Prada and Dior appearing throughout, which feels detached from the material reality of Black British life in 2022.

In a 2020 interview on neo-liberalism, American philosopher Cornel West talked about diversity and representation allowing poorer Black people to “live vicariously” through Black figures in high places. Yet, even if in jest, some of the tropes in the video felt stale when placed in the context of 44 per cent of Black Africans and 40 per cent of Black Caribbean people currently living in social housing.

Stormzy placed himself in settings of status and wealth in his video, places that many rappers –both in Britain and the United States – have done across time. Artistic freedom and choice is paramount, but this music video is far from revolutionary.

In contrast, Stormzy’s contemporary fellow rapper Dave, who also features in Mel Made Me Do It, showcased modern Black British trailblazers – including actor Damson Idris, fashion designer Ozwald Boeteng and footballer Raheem Sterling[RP2]  – in more innovative settings in the music video for his hit song Black. There, Dave showcased a range of regionalities, hair textures, social statuses and walks of life, making his visuals closer to home than Stormzy’s. Representation is substantial when intentional, but evolution from a reliance on wealth and luxury is an urgent cultural shift needed in Black entertainment.

Performative representation is often vulgar – the difference in reaction to Mel Made Me Do It from Black British people to Liz Truss’s “diverse” platter of minority Cabinet members, whose life experiences seem detached from those of our own, is a stark example of the consequences of authenticity vs pandering. However, while the figures in Mel Made Me Do It felt hyper-local and relatable, Mel Made Me Do It uncritically regurgitated tropes of status, regality, and wealth. We can and should exude boldness and promote self-worth and value, without hollow representation that prioritises capital over the more interesting and apt cultural nuances. 

Nicolas-Tyrell Scott is a London-based music and cultural journalist who has been published widely, including in GQ, Pitchfork, Dazed and Apple Music

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