If The Brit Awards prove anything it’s that with every passing year they move further and further away from the youth market they so desperately want to court. The Brits is now more like a corporate Christmas party for some faceless global enterprise. It’s the same bloated, balding record execs with wine breath populating the tables chattering nonsense, whilst a telly show gets in the way of their free bar. As dancing girls with vinyl visors over their heads (like something akin to a Clothes Show expo from 1990) flitted through the oblivious and already bored crowd, it was time for the show to begin its slow painful death.
With Corden off peddling his brand of faux-matey banter to the Yanks, it was Ant and Dec’s second year running attempting to corral this lumpen mess into something remotely human for the night, like the guys from Weekend at Bernie’s trying to drag the giant corpse of King Kong round the 02. Everyone loves Ant n’ Dec right? The forehead one and the smaller one, doing that nudgey-normal bloke thing they do. Yes, the normal bloke shtick may work when torturing Z- list ex-soap stars on I’m A Celeb but on a show that is ostensibly about celebrating the year in music they sound like that cousin you have that only owns two CDs (for his car) and both of them are The Best of U2. Ant trying to manipulate the words Tame Impala like he was ordering a kebab after a night out was a moment of pure joy.
No matter what way you slice it (and Lord we all wished we could’ve sliced SOMETHING) they are young fogeys, with their amiable patter at times taking a turn for the Working Men’s Club worst. When ambushed by designer Pam Hogg’s Siouxsie Sioux-esque model friend dressed in a vagina exposing body-stocking they squeaked like tiny school boys and then veered into an easy almost sexist joke. It all felt a bit queasy and dated.
That uncomfortable feeling permeated the night. Could it have been the bizarre spectre of Amy Winehouse that haunted the Best Female Solo Artist category, even though she has been dead for five years and the very alive and very brilliant Charli XCX didn’t even get a nod? Could it have been due to the fact that it wasn’t until Walshy Fire and Jillionaire from Major Lazer were presenting Justin Bieber with Best International Male that they’d been the only non-white faces onstage up until that point? If you thought this year’s Oscars were bleached out, the Brits were like Downton Abbey – the musical, with huge home-grown talent like Skepta and Stormzy ignored completely.
Yes, not only were the Brits So White this year, they also managed to be SO VERY BEIGE. Beginning the live proceedings with a whimper and a bang of cheap confetti, everyone’s favourite Dad band Coldplay looked like a Christian youth group lost at Glastonbury. Why do Coldplay insist on making their own clothes? Did Chris suggest it during the ‘conscious uncoupling’ and the rest of them were too nice to stop him from stitching holograms onto their bomber jackets and sticking strings out of his Benetton t-shirt, a deranged divorcee hobby? They seem to be fuelled by their own sense of righteousness, the aural equivalent of a dusty Greenpeace badge on a frayed denim jacket; they are a relic to a bygone era where popstars cared about ‘things’ maaaan. Sadly they still sound like a band of Rod and Todds covering Kula Shaker and as there was no Beyonce to grind them into dust it was up to monkey-worrier Bieber to shake things up.
Dressed in a Saint Laurent silk jacket and his standard scrotum itching trousers, Bieber has perfected that terrifying, dead-eyed look of perpetual ennui. He possesses the most blankest of faces like a nonchalant Bret Easton Ellis protagonist. He competently ran through a hollow version of Love Yourself (accompanied by be-hatted irritant James Bay) with all the soulless professionalism of a tired male escort before sliding around a faux-bonfire replete with dancing girls for the soft-bop of sad-banger ‘Sorry’. Unfortunately zombie-Bieber looked like he was adrift in a sea of prescription pills. He’s a younger version of Stephen Dorff’s character in Somewhere, trapped on a treadmill that could swallow him up at any moment.
Anyway he should have been sorry, sorry he didn’t sacrifice Bay on the bonfire as the rest of the night seemingly belonged to him and his earnest yelping. He was everywhere, accepting his British Male Solo Artist award thanking friends that sounded like they came straight from an Enid Blyton novel with names like Monty and Avery. Then he was onstage crouching over his guitar in a constipated grimace to show how ‘real’ he was, looking like something Jack White excreted ten years ago, sounding like every other guitar brandishing twerp that thinks by the very virtue of knowing how to play one they are somehow interesting.
There was no-one more interesting in the entire room than Rihanna. Little Mix may have brought the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party strut with their very literal representation of banger ‘Black Magic’ but Rihanna’s performance was of the transfixing type of pop power that the Brits can belch out every so often. As she stood in front of lasers that stretched across her body like futuristic venetian blinds blasting out ‘Consideration’ like a Barbadian boss – she looked impenetrable. “I‘ve gotta do things my own way darlin’” she sneered before shaking herself and her tasselled trousers into oblivion to the summery sensuality of ‘Work’ as Drake grinded around her, reduced to a singing prop. The greatest part of the whole performance was Ri-Ri’s giant grin escaping from her lips as the crowd finally had something to cheer, a woman at the top of her game controlling the moves and enjoying every second.
Before things got too enjoyable there was the Bowie factor that had to be dealt with as only the Brits could by sucking out any bit of carefree joy and happiness the man ever gave music fans. A po-faced proclamation was made by Annie Lennox that felt like a pop mass as the camera panned to a sullen and outwardly disinterested Louis One Direction dying to fiddle with his phone. Things looked bleak, bleaker than that bit of Gaga’s Bowie tribute at the Grammys where the keyboard laughably whooshed about like something from the Mighty Boosh. Then it happened. A montage of various Bowie images flooded the screens as his band played snatches of hits before timid, tiny Lorde took to the stage in her Thin White Duke garb and gave a gravelly rendition of ‘Life on Mars’, the lights scorching red as if she was alien ScarJo from Under the Skin. It wasn’t a perfect performance but it seemed heartfelt and honest, devoid of gimmickry whereas Gaga’s tribute mega-mix suffered from too much content, the idea to just sing one song and make it good was a welcome change. The relief was palpable.
Thankfully the only other major winner of the night (unsurprisingly) was cackle-fest Adele who roused the audience out of their collective slumber with a few well placed ‘FACKS’, a few mascara smudged tears and a charming line in self deprecation. She even gave a shout out to Kesha, the one solitary reference to the pop star’s ongoing trauma which hopefully stunned a few backslapping Sony execs into momentary silence. Unfortunately, Adele’s earthy enthusiasm does not infiltrate her music as the night closed with her dreary paean to nostalgia ‘When We Were Young’ – Adele, not yet 30 looked into the crowd of phone clutching kids and cried ‘Ah you remind me of me when I was young!’ Proving that yes, youth may be wasted on the young but you’re only as ancient as you feel at the Brits.