Ariana DeBose was ridiculed for her BAFTAs rap – but she finally made awards shows fun again

Ariana DeBose

Angela Bassett did the thing, she really did. But in creating her much-memed, name-dropping rap at the 2023 BAFTAs, now, so too has Ariana DeBose.

The actress and singer became a viral sensation overnight following her chaotic, “Vogue”-inspired ode to the women nominees at Sunday’s (19 February) ceremony. “Dame Emma, I’m so fond,” she exclaimed, followed with: “Ana girl, you were great in Blonde!”

It was a love letter – albeit an ever-so-slightly bonkers one – to Hollywood’s most cherised female performers, from Michelle Yeoh to Viola Davis. But above all, it was camp. Right to its core.

Predictably, the memes are endless and unrelenting. Many are humorous, a few are hilarious. Others walk the relatively thin line between joking and trolling, while some viewers are calling it “terrible” and “horrid,” and, in the words of one article in The Guardian, “deeply and unsettlingly confusing”.

Was it vocally perfect? Not exactly. Lyrically robust? Not particularly. A seminal work of art, which will make “best award show moments” listicles for years, if not decades, to come? Absolutely.

The honest truth? Award shows have become irrefutably boring in recent years. Have a quick mental flick through the most memorable bits of the past decade, and you’ll undoubtedly think of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock last year, or La La Land accidentally being announced as best picture at the 2017 Oscars. Maybe John Travolta mispronouncing Idina Menzel’s name stands out, or Miley Cyrus twerking on Robin Thicke at the 2013 VMAs. But are these mishaps, these fleeting moments of controversy… fun? No, not really.

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DeBose’s rap was fun. It was so fun. Reversing Cate Blanchett’s name for absolutely no reason whatsoever? Why not! That tinny backing track? It’s a toe-tapper – just look at the way Viola Davis clicked her fingers. She is all of us (as is Jamie Lee Curtis).

Watching the remainder of the BAFTAs was an unsightly task. Guessing, almost always correctly, that All Quiet on the Western Front would scoop the next award. Grimacing awkwardly as every nominated person of colour saw an award handed over to a white winner. Even Alison Hammond, though an absolute joy, couldn’t save it.

Awards season this year is very much under way. We’ve already had the Brits, the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards. Other than Jennifer Coolidge being Jennifer Coolidge, and a bit of misplaced controversy around Sam Smith and Kim Petras, the thrill has been sorely missing.

Speaking to Variety, BAFTAs award producer Nick Bullen actually got it right: “We wanted to open the show with some energy, some fun,” he said, disregarding the view that the event has to be “stiff” and “traditional”. It’s a fair point.

On paper, whacking the very best of Hollywood into a room with champagne for a few hours sounds like a riot. In practice, too often it is an unwatchable bore.

So, thank you Ariana for making award shows fun again. Thank you for doing what Karlie Kloss never could and truly looking camp right in the eye. 

It’s uncertain how DeBose herself feels about the reaction she’s getting. On Instagram, writer Evan Ross Katz compiled a list of some of the many, many memes, with the actress commenting: “Honestly, I love this.”

In the same breath, the star opted to deactivate her Twitter account, where much of the more-vitriolic comments could be found.

Regardless, she should take this moment and run with it straight to the nearest bank. An “Angela Bassett Did The Thing” merch collection with the Wakanda Forever star herself, perhaps, or an official remix with Madonna. I would stream.

One person tweeted that it was a “terrible time” to be DeBose. They couldn’t be more wrong. Less than a year ago, she became the first Black queer woman to win an Oscar, for her stellar performance in West Side Story. She’s currently got no fewer than six films in the works.

To top it off, she’s become a global household name overnight. She injected joyous havoc into an otherwise dull mid-February. She made award ceremonies worth watching again. In short, she did the thing.

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