Ed Sheeran and Bring Me the Horizon
Is there no genre that Sheeran cannot subsume into his oeuvre? Apparently not, because here he is performing his hit Bad Habits with British metallers Bring Me the Horizon and a cohort of goth circus performers and/or rejects from the musical Cats. He starts the song alone, but the double billing means we’re holding our breath for the inevitable metal RAWRRRRR – and here it comes courtesy of Oli Sykes! RAWWRRR! RAWWRRRRRR! It’s basically the KLF and Extreme Noise Terror at the 1992 Brit awards. Maybe a 30th anniversary celebration, in fact. Yes, that must be it. Anyway, the Brits love a mashup and here’s a characteristically naff one – complete with those shopping trolleys from the red carpet – albeit one that nods to the versatility (some might say blandness, who could say, couldn’t be me) of Sheeran’s songwriting.
Anne-Marie and KSI
“Another iconic collaboration,” says Mo Gilligan, introducing Anne-Marie and KSI. We get a bit of an Anne-Marie medley at the start – then she takes a very painful looking tumble down the red steps at the top of the stage! To her credit, she pulls it back with barely a wince and rejoins the choreo. Within seconds, she’s slapping a button, triggering some pyro, and kicking a man off a podium (must have been cathartic after that fall). Sadly, she does not do a Patti Smith at Glastonbury and shout: “Yeah, I fell on my fucking ass at Glastonbury. But you know why? Because I’m a fucking animal, that’s why!” Instead, there’s a man wearing a pink egg for a head on the decks, then here’s KSI and off they go into Don’t Play Games With My Heart for half a minute before we get KSI’s Holiday, a phenomenally drippy lighters-up moment. Iconic? Errr …
“She is one of our hottest new artists,” says Mo Gilligan, of a rapper who released her debut mixtape in 2010. Come on, Mo! It sometimes feels like Simz is kept in a perpetual state of arrival, hailed as a “breakout star” when she’s been releasing brilliant albums for the last six years. But if anything is finally going to rocket launch her into public consciousness, it is this unbelievable, grin-inducing performance.
It starts with Simz concealed by dancers clad in burgundy, a vision of communality that recalls Solange’s gorgeous live shows. She emerges from their midst in a fabulous black leather trench coat to sing the title track from her 2021 album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Then Emma Corrin – yes, The Crown’s Princess Diana! – appears to perform their interstitial parts from the album, encouraging Simz to embrace the journey of becoming a woman.
And then, like magic, the stage turns red, Simz’s leather coat has become a soft furry number, and she’s flanked by dancers in silky pantsuits for the wonderful Woman, with its chorus vocals by Cleo Sol. Simz may be shy in person, but she’s in her element on stage: effortlessly cool, putting the night’s previous try-hard performances to shame, rapping with spirit and admiration and well-earned confidence as she sings of “innovating just like Donna Summer in the 80s”.
“Woman to woman, I just wanna see you glow, tell ‘em!” she sings, popping a little shoulder flex. I can report a sensation of rosy warmth from the sofa, so I hope Simz is absolutely basking in it.
He’s flown in by helicopter to ‘av it in a trapper hat and sing a brand new song that precisely nobody wants to hear. If your new music sounds like plodding, fist-through-a-wet-paper-bag Oasis cast-offs – and you’re going to bring Bonehead with you on guitar! – just play the hits, man! Having Liam here is a strange tactic from the Brits, too, if they’re looking to lure in a younger audience, although I was recently disturbed to learn of the massive cohort of teenage Britpop lovers using TikTok to debate whether Liam or Noel was the biggest dilf. (Liam tbf.) Apparently this song was inspired by Gimme Shelter, which is quite the understatement given that telltale bit of piano boogie at the end, literally the only trace of colour in a ferociously drab, pile-driving four minutes.
“Oh my gosh, how epic was that!” says Mo Gilligan. Not epic at all, Mo. The days when Liam could coast on fronting at the Brits are long, long gone.
Here’s this year’s Rising Star winner – beloved by Olivia Rodrigo, as we just learned – making her TV debut. You wonder whether the 22-year-old Lincoln songwriter shouldn’t have played one of her better known songs – the euphoric Scarlett or dramatic The Walls Are Way Too Thin – instead of the featherlight new single London Is Lonely. But what starts a little wispy, the vocals barely audible, forces closer listening, and Humberstone, walking towards the camera and staring straight down the lens, seems rightly confident in her ability to command attention. Her shadowy dancers flit through the background as the song gains in melodic magnetism, as so many of Humberstone’s singles do, and the drama picks up when the electrics seem to cut out, the dancers walk away and Humberstone finishes the song alone at the piano, surrounded by white lights.
The I Drink Wine singer starts her set with I Drink Wine, of course. And dressed as the Quality Street toffee penny, too. Perhaps after Anne-Marie’s tumble, she’s taking no chances and performs the song perched on a piano. What starts as a low-key, tipsy gals together singalong quickly gives way to some proper Adele virtuosity, backed by a small gospel choir.
The hints of self-awareness in her face in the first verse dip away by the second, as she leans into the feeling of the song, grimaces with the full force of her emotions and clutches at her heart. The small-scale performance preserves the humanity and directness of the song: “You can’t fight fire with fire,” she sings with an exasperated look, as if she were trying to drum the advice into a mate at the pub. Her seductive boozy melodrama takes a brief digression into full diva at the end, with a tantalising glimpse of vocal overdrive – but then she dials it back down to earth.
Lovely, though I reckon people were expecting more especially given how rehearsed she must have been for her cancelled Vegas shows. May the I Drink Wine singer go and enjoy some wine now her professional duties are done.
The War on Drugs may have just lost out on international group but here’s their spirit (and their mutual Springsteen DNA) in the superb Sam Fender, another British star who deserves every bit of success coming his way. (The War on Greggs? Needs work – ed.)
Curiously, this classicist rock song has blown up on TikTok, where it soundtracks videos about overcoming abuse (as well as sparkly fancams about Fender being a “top tier indie boi”). Although there’s been a fairly conspicuous lack of political commentary to usual at the Brits tonight – and there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit to go at – Fender singing about his mother, who has fibromyalgia, struggling to get help from the Department for Work and Pensions, is a powerful moment not to be underestimated in the middle of a shiny floor entertainment show.
Ed Sheeran, again
Here’s The Joker and the Queen, a sugary slab of classic Sheeran sentimentality played largely on acoustic guitar: his lady could have absolutely anyone, “a thousand kings and hearts that could give you a diamond ring”, and yet, she chooses this guy. To his credit, he knows a lot of card playing-related puns and he’s not afraid to use them. My cynicism meters are off the charts, my teeth are aching from the saccharine strings – this makes Bread’s Make It With You sound like Sabbath – and yet... the millennial Neil Sedaka comes back to this MOR slush mode so often that you can only believe he means it, and good for him. Maybe we could all learn from his guileless submission to romance, to minimising unnecessary second-guessing.
That said, Bring Me the Horizon were wasted on Bad Habits. This could definitely have been livened up with some throat-grating wails.
It’s Dave performing In the Fire with help from Fredo, Ghetts, Meekz, Giggs and a gospel choir. Unlike his 2020 Brits performance in which he attacked prime minister Boris Johnson as “a real racist”, this performance is all about pure feeling, Dave detailing the experience of being at risk of deportation, and how “everythin’ but my mum’s pay’s on the rise”. It may well be its own form of limitation to expect political artists to keep on making political statements, and so this is a well earned moment of full-frontal emotional expression that climaxes with Dave ripping a solo on a guitar that shoots real flames out of the neck.