As the nation sat down for the 37th year running to gorge themselves on this February’s recreation of the Brit awards, it became clear that something was strikingly off. While we were up all night for Daft Punk to inevitably (and quite rightly) get lucky, the only truly prominent feature of the ceremony was how mind numbingly dull it was. Despite performances from a handful of this generations’ musical giants, the vast majority of the acts felt over-rehearsed, ensuring they lacked any human quality whatsoever. It didn’t help that, for the fourth year running, James Corden was crowned moral arbiter of all things musical, offering up yet another selection of poorly filled cheap jokes and irritatingly matey banter.
So where did it all go wrong? Perhaps the Brits, in its bid to represent the most current music, are also representing the least substantial. Many of the acts present have songs produced specifically with the hit parade in mind. And love them or hate them, 1D’s infectious pop has undoubtedly achieved the total world domination they were awarded for. However, it is much rarer this genre generates personalities capable of captivating an audience at an event like the Brits. In fact, such superficial characters may be representative of the ephemeral nature of our increasingly Youtube-driven, download culture. Has our hunger for hits come at the expense of music with meaning?
The performances, undoubtedly a spectacle in themselves, seemed to also reflect the glitzy, attention-grabbing nature of today’s pop scene. And though probably intended as an exhilarating visual aid, the overt use of costume and lighting by culprits like Katy Perry and Ellie Goulding turned otherwise faultless performances into excessively produced and vacuous displays of pop culture. This year also saw an unusually high level of huge stars from overseas such as Beyonce, Pharrell and Lorde. The presence of such influential performers, though a tactical move by organisers, mostly seemed to highlight a current lack of home-grown talent in the UK.
The Brits are regularly acclaimed for the raucous, unruly nature of it all. The truth is we all just love to watch everything flying out of control; for Liam Gallagher throwing a mid-speech tantrum, for a stage crasher getting booze thrown over him by Ronnie Wood. These moments are what cements in the nation’s mind, but year on year it feels organisers aim to suppress them in favour of a smooth running broadcast. And unfortunately, while the word efficient can be used to describe the proceedings at this year’s Brits, the word spontaneous cannot.
This is in no way to say there were no deserving winners at this year’s awards, just that they were a minority. Work by Bastille and Rudimental is certainly commendable for its originality and depth. David Bowie by far surpassed the rest of the Male Solo Artist category, making the other nominees seem mere boys in comparison. It would have been an outrage had he not won, and though his presence would have undoubtedly raised the bar of the broadcast tenfold, his influence can be heard in the music of everyone present that night. Newcomer Lorde deserved Female Solo Artist not only for her musical prowess, but also for the adamant non-sexualisation of her music in a category where her contemporaries all too often reveal themselves.
And of course, the overlords down at Mastercard bestowed their divine blessing of Best Album to Arctic Monkeys this year. There is no doubt that AM has marked a triumphant return to form for the Sheffield boys after what has at best embodied a transitional phase in their writing. However, Turner’s attitude at the ceremony is what has received the most attention. His largely bored demeanor, accompanied by his controversial and potentially offensive acceptance speech, has viewers questioning their view of Turner. Is he the last bastion of rock and roll, or a drunken embarrassment to his band and fans? Irrespective of this, no-one can deny that through his slurs and slander Alex Turner embodied a dominant and ballsy personality; a trait becoming depressingly rarer both at the Brits and in music more generally.