BAFTA producer slams ‘stiff, traditional British’ attitudes towards Ariana DeBose’s rap number

Ariana DeBose

BAFTA producer Nick Bullen has spoken out in defense of Ariana DeBose after her opening rap performance at the 2023 awards ceremony was lambasted on social media.

West Side Story Oscar winner DeBose performed an energetic and chaotic opening number, kicking off with a rendition of “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” and “We Are Family” with a group of backing dancers. However, this soon transitioned into an original rap in which she name-dropped all the female award nominees, prompting backlash on social media as viewers critiqued the “cringey” moment.

The rap contained clumsy and at times bewildering lyrics in an attempt to rhyme everybody’s name, resulting in what will undoubtedly become one of the best lyrical compositions of the 21st century: “Angela Bassett did the thing, Viola Davis my ‘Woman King,’ Blanchett Cate you’re a genius, Jamie Lee you are all of us.” 

As people continue to flood Twitter with their hilarious reactions to the viral tune, BAFTA producer Nick Bullen has launched a fierce defence of DeBose, calling the backlash “incredibly unfair”.

“I think it’s incredibly unfair, to be frank,” he declared while speaking to Variety about the musical performance.

“The songs she was singing are very familiar songs, the room was clapping, and people were sort of dancing to the music.”

You may like to watch

He continued: “That rap section in the middle, mentioning the women in the room, was because it’s been a great year for women in film, and we wanted to celebrate that.

“And here is a woman of colour who is at the absolute top of her game. And she’s opening the BAFTAs with a song that said so much on so many levels. All of those mentions, I felt, from the moment we were rehearsing it right through to the transmission last night, spoke to what we wanted to do.”

The camera cut to every nominee mentioned and many on social media have pointed out they most looked notably confused or apathetic.

Bullen suggested the opposite was true, claiming that “everybody I’ve spoken to who was in the room absolutely loved it”. The real reason for the backlash, he posited, was that British audiences simply missed the point of the performance.

“A lot of people don’t like change,” he continued, explaining that many viewers of the BAFTAs believe that the ceremony has to present “this slightly stiff, traditional British, middle-England messaging” – something he and the other producers made a concerted effort to move away from.

Bullen added that “American awards shows have much more razzmatazz, much more showbiz and perhaps a broader range of people being involved”.

BAFTA producer defends Ariana DeBose's rap. (Getty)
BAFTA producer defends Ariana DeBose’s rap. (Getty)

“We felt we’re not about revolution, we’re about evolution. Let’s just evolve, let’s just move forward with some gentle changes that start to lay out the stall of what this show should be and where we should be with it. Because we want to engage all audiences. We don’t want to just go for the traditional British award ceremony audience.”

“I think some people don’t like that change, but you know what? You need to get with it because changes are coming,” he concluded.

DeBose is yet to release a response to the reaction, but has deactivated her Twitter account in the wake of the performance. Nevertheless, many are arguing that she should embrace the reactions.

“I hope Ariana Debose doesn’t feel too bad. This is about to be a camp cultural artefact and I mean that,” one person wrote.

“Lean into it, you’ve never been more relevant like change ur name to Ariana Debose did the thing, make it an audio on TikTok, just run with it,” another added.