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BRITs goes ahead with audience of keyworkers, but makes Coldplay stay outside

By | Published on Wednesday 12 May 2021

BRIT Awards 2021

So, the BRIT Awards happened, everybody! Yes, an actual real world awards event. Prizes were presented. Artists performed live. There was an audience. It was almost like it was 2019 all over again. But what were the stand out moments? And did COVID still impact on the proceedings in any way?

Well, yes and no. As is tradition, the show opened with a strained gag involving Jack Whitehall referencing some pop culture stuff. Pandemic related pop culture stuff, as it happened, in the form of a Zoom call with ‘The Line Of Duty’, Vicky McClure and Martin Compston. That was actually very authentic, because the dialogue they were forced to deliver was awful. Then Jackie Weaver from that viral parish council meeting video you’d forgotten about came on and made a joke about Coldplay being called Foreplay. Classic BRITs!

Coldplay then performed new single ‘Higher Ground’ on a barge in front of the O2 Arena, flanked by CGI dancers. All very COVID-safe.

Although, of course, the whole point of this year’s BRIT Awards was not to be COVID-safe. Or, at least, to prove it is now possible to be COVID-safe without all the super-strict rules and regulations that have become the norm in the last year or so, like social distancing and pushing entertainment outdoors. Which kind of suggests that everyone just wanted Coldplay to stay outside.

Actually, had Coldplay been allowed in, they would have had to adhere to social distancing rules, as these were still in place for the celebrity audience and those presenting awards. However, proving that you can now be COVID-safe without social distancing, a couple of thousand of keyworkers were crammed into the arena’s tiered seating, partly there to enjoy the proceedings, partly as guinea pigs in the UK government’s ongoing Events Research Programme, which is investigating how to stage COVID-safe shows.

The ground floor was saved for a smattering of tables for nominated artists. These were set a good two metres apart from each other and, just to be extra safe, about half a mile away from the stage.

Beyond the COVID-safe experiments, there were a few other themes that ran through the night.

There were Jack Whitehall’s repeated digs at international artists who hadn’t bothered to turn up. Which was weird, you know, in the middle of a pandemic. Though, what was perhaps weirder was that some international artists had bothered to turn up, you know, in the middle of a pandemic.

That most notably included Taylor Swift, who was there to pick up the all-important Global Icon Award. That occasional BRIT prize was revived for the first time in five years because, well, she didn’t win the award she was nominated for, and you really have to give her something if she’s going to travel all that way to be in attendance in – let’s stress again – the middle of a pandemic.

There were also references from Dua Lipa and Little Mix to the improved representation of women at the awards, which was definitely a welcome trend worthy of mention. Although, expressing understandable frustration that that trend is still noteworthy in 2021, Little Mix also lamented being the first girl group to ever win the Best British Group prize.

In a speech, they said: “It’s not easy being a female in the UK pop industry. We’ve seen the white male dominance, misogyny, sexism and lack of diversity. We’re proud of how we’ve stuck together, stood our ground, surrounded ourselves with strong women and are now using our voices more than ever”.

“The fact that a girl band has never won this award really does speak volumes”, they went on. “This award isn’t just for us, it’s for The Spice Girls, Sugababes, All Saints, Girls Aloud – all of the incredible, incredible female bands – this one’s for you”.

Speaking of dedicating awards to other people, that brings us to the big innovation in the prize-giving. This year, everyone was given a smaller trophy alongside their proper one. The idea was that they could give the tiny trophy to someone else. Something almost no one did.

Harry Styles offered his to all of his fans, which wasn’t really practical. Later on, in an interview at their table, Whitehall pushed Little Mix to identify who’d get their mini-gong, but they said they were still undecided. Which presumably means they aren’t planning on handing it to any of those other groups they’d previously bigged up.

The only artist to actually get into the idea of the second trophy was Dua Lipa. She announced that the tiny trophy that came with her Best Female prize was for nurse Dame Elizabeth Anionwu. She also used her speech to say that there is “a massive disparity between gratitude and respect for key workers”, and called on Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson to give NHS staff a “fair pay rise”.

When she later won Best British Album, she dedicated the trophy to Joaquin Garcia and Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, who last month jumped into the River Thames to save a woman who had fallen from London Bridge, resulting in Olubunmi-Adewole’s death.

Among the night’s performances, Years & Years and Elton John performed a new version of the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s A Sin’, which was released simultaneously as a single in aid of the Elton John Aids Foundation. That was not the only charity single performance of the night. Rag N Bone Man and Pink played a new version of their single ‘Anywhere Away From Here’ with the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir. Money raised from the single release of that will go to the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust and NHS Charities Together.

Other performances failed to raise any money for charity, but I’ll mention some of them anyway. Once the show moved indoors, Dua Lipa was given the task of helping everyone to forget that they’d just seen Coldplay outside on a barge. She did so by recreating a crowded tube train on stage, reminding everyone of something they’ve been pleased to be rid of in the last year.

Later, joined by AJ Tracey and Young T & Bugsey, Headie One turned in a visually impressive performance, which was pleasing, and not just because he was the first artist to invoke the good old “audio muted” tag on screen (just after Whitehall was hit with it as part of a gag about the “corporate wankers” in the boxes).

Only a couple of slivers of Headie One’s performance were lost, in reality. And criticism of the treatment of drill artists and the free school meals scandal made it through loud and clear. However, later on Lewis Capaldi managed to have almost his entire introduction to the Best British Album prize cut. We’ve no idea what he said, but the swearing came so thick and fast that some of it still made it past the censor, whose finger just wasn’t fast enough.

What else? Oh, there was a special BRITs sea shanty. The Weeknd dressed as a deep sea fisherman. Jack Whitehall delivered his annual joke about “making Spotify even richer”, which always seems weird at an event basically put on by the major record labels.

Plus, I’m pretty sure some heavy hints were dropped that Taylor Swift is actually in the UK to play Glastonbury’s Live At Worthy Farm livestream later this month. But maybe not. Maybe she did just come over so that she could fail to give a small trophy to someone.

And here are all the winners…

British Single: Harry Styles – Watermelon Sugar

British Group: Little Mix

British Female Solo Artist: Dua Lipa

British Male Solo Artist: J Hus

Breakthrough Artist: Arlo Parks

Rising Star: Griff

International Female Solo Artist: Billie Eilish

International Male Solo Artist: The Weeknd

International Group: Haim

Global Icon Award: Taylor Swift

British Album: Dua Lipa

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