The actual Brit awards ceremony has changed its complexion over the years: from the old-guard backslapping of the 80s to the boozy chaos of the 90s and early 00s. Today’s offering is slickly professional – hipper than it once was, less tone-deaf when it comes to representation, but not a hair out of place to the point of seeming faintly uneventful, unless you count the sight of Anne-Marie falling over, or the sound of Ed Sheeran gamely attempting to turn Bad Habits into a metal anthem with the aid of Bring Me the Horizon: even the person in charge of the mute button for swearing had an easy night. There was a lot of talk from host Mo Gilligan about hedonistic behaviour, but not many actual signs of it. Nor did anyone attempt to say anything controversy-stirring or political.
This year, the onus appeared to have shifted slightly again. In what was clearly an attempt to attract a younger audience – an audience that don’t watch music shows on television – there were categories voted for by fans via TikTok; elsewhere, there were “afterparties” starring tweenage favourite PinkPantheress on gaming platform Roblox and the unmissable opportunity to buy Brits-related NFTs.
But none of this seemed to alter the awards themselves. As usual, the winners were easy to predict. Adele won all but one of her categories, a turn of events you could have seen coming from a mile off given that her latest album, 30, became the biggest-selling album of 2021 in the US and the UK, and her single Easy on Me topped the charts in 27 countries. Olivia Rodrigo was US pop’s multi-platinum breakout star of 2021: clearly she wouldn’t go home empty-handed. Perhaps it was surprising that the relatively leftfield Wolf Alice walked off with best British group, but then again, their only competition came from rappers D-Block Europe; London Grammar’s most recent album underperformed; so did Coldplay’s, at least by Coldplay standards; Little Mix, meanwhile, are going “on hiatus” (ie splitting up).
The TikTok voting system didn’t seem to change much either: anyone expecting the video-sharing platform’s youthful audience to turn things on their heads and bring to the Brits a raft of new stars hitherto unnoticed by anyone under the age of 21 was out of luck, or hadn’t accounted for the fact that the platform’s youthful audience could only vote for pre-selected nominees. Perhaps Sam Fender’s deserved win in the alt-rock category had something to do with his single Seventeen Going Under’s vast popularity on TikTok, where it soundtracks videos of users relating stories of overcoming abuse. But he would have won anyway: a powerful, working-class voice, willing to take genuine lyrical risks, his work is potent, moving and refreshing.
Indeed, the fact that you could have guessed most of the winners in advance wasn’t a reflection on the quality of the winners. If there was something odd about Little Simz winning best new act 11 years after she released her first mixtape, her authentically show-stopping performance underlined that her fourth album, 2021’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, was one of last year’s highlights: the sight of her mum collecting the award with her was really moving. One of its producers was Inflo, who also worked on Adele’s 30, and his best producer gong is richly warranted. Sault, the publicity-shy musical collective he helms, have released a succession of fantastic albums that are high water marks for British soul music and among the best records released in any genre in recent years. (In another sign of a great producer, Adele credited him with changing her life “not just with my music, but with me as well”.)
Nevertheless, it’s clear that the Brits is developing an issue keeping up with an increasingly fast-paced and divided pop world: there’s a noticeable disjuncture between what’s currently happening in the singles chart – dominated by a new wave of UK rappers and pop-dance hits – and what was on offer tonight. How it overcomes this and avoids the kind of slow slide into irrelevancy that dogged it during the late 80s remains to be seen.