If last year’s Brit Awards went out with something of a COVID-restricted whimper, this year’s ceremony came in with a bang.
Several bangs in fact, as an unexpected mash-up between emo-metal hybrid Bring Me The Horizon and Ed Sheeran on the latter’s “Bad Habits” launched the show to, no doubt, the bewilderment of mums and dads tuning in at home and expecting the nice, ginger-next-door they usually see at events like this. The arena, however, was ablaze — quite literally, as the unlikely collaborators became the first of several performers to torch the stage.
Held at The O2 Arena in south London, this year’s Brits — unlike last year’s event — took place in a country that is largely free of COVID restrictions. The Brits, however, chaired this year by Tom March, co-president of Universal Music’s Polydor Records, still chose to play things on the safer side — negative lateral flow tests as well as proof of vaccination was required on the door, and the usual boisterous, booze-laden industry tables were again banished to the boxes.
Instead, on the floor, was a VIP section for artists and presenters — where Arsenal and England soccer player Bukayo Saka could be seen posing for endless selfies with the stars — and two areas for fans. This was designed to boost the atmosphere but, while the mosh pit by the main stage was lively enough, the seated attendees further back in the arena didn’t always seem much more involved in proceedings than a jaded industry crowd.
After two years on the sidelines, many in the biz wonder if the industry will ever return to its usual privileged position, although the table sales revenue is traditionally vital for the Brit Trust charity that the Brits benefit. That will be a tricky issue for the next Brits chairman — scheduled to be a Warner Music U.K. executive — to ponder.
He or she may also have to once again consider the perennially vexed question of the event host. After Jack Whitehall’s popular four-year stint in charge, fellow comedian Mo Gilligan was left with the thankless task of taking over. He brought plenty of energy to the early part of the show, but played things very straight, with few jokes and none of Whitehall’s digs at the artists, but an over-reliance on not-overly-interesting interviews with passing stars.
Whitehall, of course, also took time to grow into the role, while Gilligan wasn’t helped by a ceremony that crammed in way more awards than usual, and yet still sometimes seemed to be padding to fill the two-and-a-half hours run time.
Other changes proved more successful. Despite fears expressed by some that doing away with separate male and female awards would see women lose out, female/mixed artists picked up 10 of the 15 awards on offer.
The night’s biggest winner, however, still chose to wade into the debate. When Adele — who trumped Ed Sheeran in three categories; MasterCard Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Artist of the Year — picked up the latter award, she declared: “I understand why they changed the name of this award, but I really love being a woman, I really love being a female artist.”
Ironically, Adele was prevented from tying the all-time record for Brits wins (Robbie Williams’ 13) when she was beaten by the absent Dua Lipa, rather than the very present Sheeran, to Best Pop/R&B Act. And while Brits organizers may be nervous about how her comments will be spun in tomorrow’s tabloids, at least Adele’s multiple speeches – she also paid tribute to her son, ex-husband, best new artist winner Little Simz and producer of the year Inflo — provided more talking points than her performance. In front of a shimmering gold set that — whisper it — wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Las Vegas residency, she gave a performance of “I Drink Wine” that, while predictably vocally flawless, could have used a little oomph. Where were Bring Me The Horizon when you need them?
There was no shortage of rock elsewhere, however. Olivia Rodrigo’s pop-punk banger “Good 4 U” picked up international song of the year; Sam Fender’s emotional indie-rock filled the arena during his performance and picked up Best Rock/Alternative Act; Liam Gallagher gleefully trashed his tambourine as he channeled the ‘90s on his comeback performance; Wolf Alice won British group and even best hip-hop/grime/rap Act winner Dave ended the night wailing on a guitar that doubled up as a flamethrower on the appropriately titled “In the Fire.” Expect those to feature on every wannabe guitar hero’s Amazon wishlist soon.
Ed Sheeran, however, still can’t catch a Brits break. Despite being the U.K.’s most consistently successful performer over the last decade, he has not won a regular Brit since 2015, although he has picked up the Global Success Award, decided by Brits organizers, twice. And this year he collected the all-new Songwriter of the Year gong, again handpicked by organizers rather than voted for by the academy.
Sheeran’s clearly not the type to hold a grudge over his Brits curse, however, performing for the second time with a gentle version of “The Joker and the Queen” that was the complete opposite of his Bring Me-fuelled opener.
With both British superstars present and correct, this was a rare Brit Awards that didn’t need to import any U.S. glamor (although Doja Cat’s withdrawal, for inevitable COVID reasons, did leave a sizable hole).
Ultimately, that should be a bonus for an event that’s designed to provide a global showcase for local artists, and some stepped up. Little Simz — while a curious choice to win best new artist given her already-lengthy career — put on a spectacular choreographed show and won hearts by bringing her Mum on stage. Others fell down, literally — poor Anne-Marie taking a Madonna-esque tumble down the stairs during her collaboration with KSI and Digital Farm Animals, before carrying on like a trouper.
There will be more changes next year. Tom March bowed out as chairman with Polydor winning the most awards of the night (five — Rodrigo, Fender, best dance act Becky Hill, Rising Star Holly Humberstone and international artist of the year Billie Eilish), trumping Columbia’s Adele-inspired three wins.
And it was also the last Brits for Sally Wood, long-time executive producer, who is off to a new, high-profile job as Commissioning Editor, Pop Music TV at the BBC.
“Without Sally, I would have gone crazy,” March told Variety. “She makes it … I wouldn’t say easy, but possible!”
And, ultimately, that’s the Brits all over, both this and any other year. 2022 brought us another frantic night stuffed with mishaps, surreal moments (where else could you see Brian “Logan Roy” Cox failing to go full beast in a surprisingly polite introduction of Ed Sheeran?) and talking points, infused with just enough musical excellence to keep things on an even keel.
And, in a world that — like the Brits stage – remains both metaphorically and literally on fire — that’s more than enough.
See the full list of winners below:
Alternative/Rock Act – Sam Fender
Artist of the Year – Adele
Best New Artist – Little Simz
Dance Act – Becky Hill
Group – Wolf Alice
Hip Hop/Grime/Rap Act – Dave
International Artist of the Year – Billie Eilish
International Group – Silk Sonic/Bruno Mars/Anderson .Paak
International Song of the Year – Olivia Rodrigo ‘Good 4 U’
Mastercard Album of the Year – Adele ‘30’
Pop/R&B Act – Dua Lipa
Producer of the Year – Inflo
Rising Star – Holly Humberstone
Song of the Year – Adele ‘Easy On Me’
Songwriter of the Year – Ed Sheeran