Ariana DeBose defended by BAFTAs producer after meme-worthy performance

Ariana DeBose defended by BAFTAs producer for viral rap
Ariana DeBose defended by BAFTAs producer for viral rap

Ariana DeBose

Ariana DeBose did the thing. The Oscar winner was on hand at the BAFTAs on Sunday and put on the performance of a lifetime, singing a mashup of “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” and “We Are Family.” But it was the original rap portion that got people talking, particularly a bit on the Leading Actress nominees: “Angela Bassett did the thing, Viola Davis my Woman King, Blanchett Cate you’re a genius, Jamie Lee you are all of us!” DeBose chanted breathlessly.

The brief clip instantly entered the hallowed halls of Twitter meme-dom, with special attention given to the pronunciation of An-ge-la Bassett. Rarely, if ever, has a BAFTAs bit garnered such an international audience. The feedback—what some are calling “backlash”—was so intense that DeBose actually deactivated her Twitter account.

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“I think it’s incredibly unfair, to be frank,” BAFTAs producer Nick Bullen opined to Variety in the aftermath. “I absolutely loved it. Everybody I’ve spoken to who was in the room absolutely loved it. She’s a huge star, she was amazing. The songs she was singing are very familiar songs, the room was clapping, and people were sort of dancing to the music.” He added, “We wanted to open the show with some energy, some fun, and also lay out straight away that this was hopefully going to feel like a different night, but with a familiarity as well, and what Ariana did was exactly that.”

Bullen noted that DeBose “only had a few weeks to put this whole thing together,” and that she worked closely with her team to do so. As for the so-called backlash, he said, “I think a lot of people don’t like change, and there’s a view that the BAFTAs have to be this slightly stiff, traditional British, middle-England messaging. But American awards shows have much more razzmatazz, much more showbiz and perhaps a broader range of people being involved. We felt we’re not about revolution, we’re about evolution.”

Attributing the response to DeBose as a fear of change seems like a misunderstanding of the response. While the reactions weren’t entirely positive (the words “cringe” and “flop” have been thrown around), most Twitter users seemed to delight in the campiness of the moment. It can’t always be fun to be at the center of such a social media spiral, even DeBose recognizes the cultural value of being a meme: “Honestly I love this,” she commented on an Instagram round-up of some of the memes of the night.

For the BAFTAs, it’s an easy slam dunk, especially since Bullen expressed a desire “to engage all audiences.” “We don’t want to just go for the traditional British award ceremony audience. The social media presence was incredibly important to us,” he said. Well, there’s nothing social media likes more than an organic, home-grown meme, so Bullen can check off a win in that category. And as long as Angela Bassett continues to do the thing, this meme will surely live on.

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