Mention The Brits and what springs to mind? National embarrassment? Annual catastrophe? Shambolic kitschfest? For over three decades now The Brits Awards have acted as a sort of emblem of British morosity, representing everything we feel about success, talent and artistic endeavour – namely awkwardness and shame. It has functioned as the most expensive, cringing and pointless display of tediously British self deprecation in the last fifty years and it was with a heavier heart than usual that I pressed the button marked ‘3’ on my remote last night for what was surely set to be two hours of shoddy sound, ‘amusing’ duets and ‘spectacular’ set pieces interspersed with drunk acceptance speeches and controversial hosts fudging their otherwise hilarious lines.
From the outset though it was clear that this was no ordinary Brit Awards ceremony. Confusing as it may be for anyone older than 25 to see Take That performing with Robbie, this ain’t 1995 and we certainly ain’t in Kansas any more. The That’s suitably theatrical opening number, featuring sheild-thumping riot police who stripped off to their lovely white undies for a Tahrir-inspired peace party, was slickly choreographed and accompanied by crystal clear sound. Whether that’s a good thing when Mark Owen is doing his bestest David Bowie impression is a matter of taste, but the sentiment of strength and positivity was undeniable.
The show was then deposited into the surprisingly capable and unassuming hands of presenter James Corden, who led us through the show with a sort of cheerful earnestness and all-round good nature that is rare in most walks of life, but totally unheard of in the grotesque world of the awards ceremony. The tone of simple, slick elegance continued through most of the performances, particularly Adele’s goosepimple-inducing rendition of Someone Like You, sung alone on a black stage with just a piano for accompaniment.
Mumford and Sons and The Arcade Fire provided similarly raw, if not quite to achingly powerful, performances in an evening full of celebration and confidence rather than the usual apologetic bluster. Obviously there were moments of overcooked nonsense, Plan B’s strangely violent performance (oddly, also featuring riot police) was a low point, and the ad breaks were bookended by nauseating clips of ‘stars’ (The Ting Tings, anyone? No? How about Lulu? Anastasia?) giving their ‘fans’ stinky old shoes and broken musical instruments for the benefit of Mastercard. But on the whole there is a new and long overdue confidence and pride at work behind the scenes of this much maligned national joke and that can only be a good thing.