The music industry’s annual celebration of itself took place in London last night – but what were the talking points?
1. Adele is impregnable
Best British solo artist, British single, Mastercard British album of the year, the global success award … As the prizes rolled in, the only question was whether she would smash Blur’s record of four awards in one night, set in 1995. But was anyone surprised? These days, to the music industry – whose night this is – Adeleis a combination of Mother Teresa, Marie Curie, the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth I. She’s the single greatest provider of hope in dark times. She is the light at the end of the tunnel, the oasis in the desert, the ker-ching of the cash register. She was bound to win as much as humanly possible.
2. And she uses her impregnability for good
Adele’s shout-out in support of Kesha was unexpected, but equally exactly the kind of thing you would expect her to do. Ant and Dec, though, seemed not to have expected it: they stuck rigorously to their script and noted that at least this time no one cut off her speech. What’s also significant about Adele’s remark is that it was delivered in front of several tables representing Sony – Kesha’s record label, and the one Adele has been rumoured to be signing to when her XL contract expires.
3. Best international group was, as predicted, the most cheering category
Leaving aside the fact that when they have an album out, Foo Fighters tend to win this gong (2015, 2012, 2008), and when they don’t it tends to go to something equally “authentic” and American (Green Day, White Stripes, Black Keys), the international categories tend to be the ones in which there’s some evidence that the judging panel actually like music, rather than viewing it as a slightly unwelcome addendum to the study of accountancy. So it was cheering this year to see the prize go to a group who’ve grown gradually, stretching themselves along the way, with the backing of a label (Fiction) that takes developing careers seriously, and whose music conveys a sense of experimenting. Three cheers for Tame Impala.
4. Coldplay are now the most successful group in Brits history
Chris Martin et al have now won the British group award four times. Four times. More than anyone else in the history of British pop. Look, we know you don’t win this prize without lining a lot of executives’ pockets through sales, and Coldplay are a jolly likable group. But jolly likable isn’t the same as best in history. Through no fault of Coldplay’s, this is one of those categories where the need to thoroughly overhaul the Brits is made most apparent. We’re at a point in history where Coldplay could put out an album of Will Champion performing impressions of Bernard Manning and they’d still be named the best British group at the Brits. On the bright side, they did draw attention to the plight of those stranded in refugee camps.
5. Then again …
When the new blood coming up to challenge them comes in the form of the always quotable, but utterly unoriginal Catfish and the Bottlemen – winners of the British breakthrough act award – maybe we should be grateful for small mercies.
6. Rihanna was a star performer
Rihanna had, according to some reports, pulled out of the Grammys because she didn’t think she could deliver a performance that would meet the standards of the rest of the show. Her Brits performance was a curious piece of design – it looked like the computerised grid lighting would have been a headache live, and it wasn’t much easier on TV. But it showed imagination, at least, and in a show dominated by the safe, the dancehall-inflected minimal pop of her Anti megamix provided a welcome change of texture. And the arrival of Drake as a special guest was a collaboration that came as an actual surprise, whereas Bieber and Bay was more of an anticlimax.
7. What was the point of the Bowie speeches?
In the 1980s, Annie Lennox was rolled out every year, as seemingly the sole representative of womanhood in British music. So it was flashback to see her presenting the tribute to David Bowie. On the one hand, it was good to see someone with some gravitas reading the tribute. On the other, it would have been nice if the Brits could have made Bowie seem a bit more, well, current. I guess there’s no perfect way to do this, which makes you wonder whether these kind of tributes are best without lengthy speeches – maybe clips of Bowie speaking, delivering his own words, might have been more powerful. The fact is, every tribute speech ends up being the same, through no fault of the speakers: the departed was a genius, unique, brave, a shaper of our times. And so their uniqueness gets ironed out, and they become just another name to be ticked off on the industry honours list.
8. But then the music recontextualised him …
Lorde was an inspired choice to sing Life on Mars, although the initial megamix was a little disconcerting. And what was even better was to see her performing with Bowie’s backing band. This was the celebrating Bowie through combining old and new that the Grammys had missed – genuine youth with the people who had helped make Bowie great. And nothing fancy or fussy: just a great song, played beautifully.
9. The Brits could afford to realise that music doesn’t have to be safe all the time
It was 9.25pm, and Adele was up on stage collecting her award for selling more records around the world than any other British artist. And she swore. Judging by the ITV feed she swore like a trooper. Not that the viewers at home – after the watershed – heard more than the one word that slipped past the ITV bleep police. But was the bleeping really necessary? Even the safest man on telly, Phillip Schofield, was mocking it on Twitter. A large part of Adele’s appeal lies in her being unmediated: so why, after 9pm, can’t we be trusted to put up with some swearing? And why make poor Ant & Dec apologise for her?
10. Next year can only be livelier
The Bowie tribute was great, Rihanna was lively, but the award winners almost all carried with them a sense of grim inevitability. Every year we hope for change – and every year the most memorable events are when chaos intrudes a little. Maybe the Brits should stop treating music like light entertainment.