Once more the Brit awards have dazzled us with a veritable feast of musical excellence, spectacular performances and worthy winners. Or not, as the case may be.
The show was opened by British female solo artist winner Lily Allen, looking like a deliciously evil cartoon-strip temptress (later donning a bizarre orange wig; one thing you can say for Lily, she has her own style) and singing the most appropriate lyrics ever to be heard at an awards ceremony "I want to be rich and I want lots of money". Unfortunately this was about as clever and funny as it was going to get.
Andy Serkis is fresh from playing rock-n-roller Ian Dury, and Tom Ford is the man of the moment with his directorial debut A Single Man released this week. Even the appearance of Sam Fox reminded us of the good old days when the Brits really was broadcast live. Unfortunately, most of the presenters were an embarrassing display of how out-of-touch the organisers are. One can only imagine cigar-chomping execs saying "Now, if I were a young person watching this hip awards ceremony, what would I like to see? Ah yes, middle-aged, unfunny comedians and chat show hosts!” That's the trouble with the Brits. They try so hard to be edgy and cool, and then undo all their good work by nominating the same five artists for every category and using presenters who should have been forcibly retired some time ago.
Oddly enough, Jarvis Cocker's diversion from Michael Jackson in 1996 was not nominated for the most memorable performance in 30 years of the Brits. (Incidentally, where does this “30 years” come from? The awards began in 1977...) Instead, this award went to the Spice Girls for their electrifying show in 1997. Being sixteen at the time, I remember vividly the moment they launched into the previously unheard Who Do You Think You Are. It was simply one of the most exciting moments I had seen on TV.
Less edifying was the "Brits album of 30 years". As voted by listeners of Radio 2, nominees featured Coldplay, Dido, Keane, Oasis and Travis. In short, you would only have to add Westlife to the line-up and you could release an album of “The blandest music ever recorded”. With nauseating predictability, Oasis won. Liam Gallagher swaggered on stage looking for all the world as if he believed it was still the 1990s, and people still thought he was cool. It is impossible to see that man on screen without wishing to yell "Grow up! Nobody cares!" As for the award, I have one word for you: Radiohead.
Despite the tame nature of the Brits now that they have an audio mute button, there were still some shocks. Not least the fact that JLS won both British breakthrough act and Best British Single (with Beat Again) much to the chagrin of Fearne Cotton. What would have been really "controversial!" would have been SuBo winning, but there is a selective snobbery when it comes to Simon Cowell's protégés. One also has to wonder why Paloma Faith, VV Brown (now slipping undetected to the US) and Little Boots didn't make the breakthrough shortlist.
The best British single nominees featured La Roux (love them or loathe them, that falsetto has made an impact and is here to stay) and Pixie Lott, whose debut Mama Do was one of the most dynamic singles of 2009. It is somewhat depressing that genuinely impressive new acts such as these can be toppled by the kind of dreary R & B that has been churned out for the last 20 years.
The list of nominees for Best British Male Artist (including Mika, Paolo, and Robbie) had a whiff of 2006 about it; one wonders why the same old names turn up when other homegrown talent is storming the world. Jamie Cullum is selling out shows across the USA, Jamie Liddell features heavily in US soundtracks and Jay Sean's single Down cracked the USA as well as being enormously popular on this side of the pond. The winner, ubiquitous Dizzee Rascal, later performed with Florence and the Machine. In fact, roughly 99% of the winners also performed. Is it possible that (gasp) deals could have been struck? Or was it all just happy coincidence?
Kasabian, the Britpop-channelling winners of Best British group must have locked all of the health and safety officials in a cupboard before their rendition of Fire during which they were somewhat unimaginatively surrounded by, er, fire. Luckily Tom Meighan’s fall was not into the flames but rather, straight into Peter Kay’s ample frame. If only he’d kept quiet about slipping, we might have thought it was deliberate.
Among the nominees for best group were JLS (thank the Lord they didn't win that one too) but there was no mention of the Sugababes, or Girls Aloud. Was this absence of popular girl groups the Brits' attempts to be more credible? Too late.
Similarly conspicuous by their absence were the Noisettes, who didn't warrant a mention in the Mastercard British album nominations. Despite providing a bona fide disco classic for 2009 with Don't Upset the Rhythm, they lost out to nominations from all the usual suspects – Dizzee, Lily, Paolo, Kasabian, and deserving winner Florence and the Machine.
The Brits seem determined that best international male will be a rapper, awarding Jay-Z this year, after giving Kanye West the accolade in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Eminem (who is so behind the times that he was lampooning Sarah Palin in a music video released in April 2009) was also nominated. US stars like John Mayer and Gavin DeGraw were not mentioned, and surprisingly, nor was celebrity producer / artist Timbaland.
The nominations for international female were perplexing; why Norah Jones, for instance? Despite her obvious talent, she has never been a notable chart presence. Whereas the ever popular Beyoncé, who was not nominated, managed to start a dance craze with her single Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It). Alicia Keys’ lack of nomination seems almost rude when she bothered to perform; turning Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind from a mediocre rap to a sublime love song to the Big apple with her soaring vocals.
There was no denying that it was Lady Gaga's night, with the best act of the evening and her triumph in three awards (Best International Female, Best International Album, and International Breakthrough Act.) She appeared to be genuinely touched with each new statuette, to the point where it was tempting to say "Alright love, it's only a Brit award". She performed a more subdued set than expected, out of respect for Alexander McQueen’s recent death. However, her outfit did not disappoint.
The eagerly anticipated Cheryl Cole popped up to sing Fight for this Love; considering her troubles at home, it's hardly surprising that she could barely bring herself to mouth the lyrics. (Although I noticed she did manage to punch the air with some conviction.)
After winning the Outstanding Contribution Award, Robbie Williams sang a medley of his much loved hits, but after the fireworks of other artists, it seemed a little dull. I'm afraid I flicked over to watch the last five minutes of What Katie Did Next. Now that really is entertainment.
One last question; With both Alicia Keys and Lady Gaga in attendance, why is it that nobody suggested a duet, duelling-piano style? Here’s hoping for next year.