Jhe UK awards ceremony has changed its face over the years: from the backslapping of the old guard of the 80s to the boozy mayhem of the 90s and early 2000s. Today’s offering is expertly professional – hipper than she once was, less tone deaf in representation, but not a hair moved so far as to seem slightly uneventful, unless you count the sight of Anne-Marie falling, or the sound of ‘Ed Sheeran valiantly trying to turn Bad Habits into a metal anthem using Bring Me the Horizon: even the person in charge of the mute button for swearing had an easy night. Host Mo Gilligan has talked a lot about hedonistic behavior, but few real signs of it. Nor did anyone attempt to say anything controversial or political.
This year, the responsibility seems to have shifted slightly again. In what was clearly an attempt to appeal to a younger audience – an audience that doesn’t watch music shows on TV – there were fan-voted categories via TikTok; Elsewhere, there were “afterparties” featuring tween favorite PinkPantheress on the Roblox gaming platform and the unmissable opportunity to buy Brit-related NFTs.
But none of that seemed to alter the rewards themselves. As usual, the winners were easy to predict. Adele has won all but one of her categories, a turn of events you could have seen coming a mile away as her latest album, 30, became the best-selling album of 2021 in the US and UK , and her single Easy on Me topped the charts in 27 countries. Olivia Rodrigo was the multi-platinum American pop star of 2021: she clearly wouldn’t be going home empty-handed. It was perhaps surprising that the relatively leftist Wolf Alice left with Britain’s top band, but again their only competition came from rappers D-Block Europe; London Grammar’s most recent album underperformed; Coldplay’s too, at least by Coldplay standards; Little Mix, on the other hand, takes a “break” (i.e. separates).
The TikTok voting system didn’t seem to change much either: anyone expecting the video-sharing platform’s young audience to turn things around and bring Brits a slew of new stars hitherto unnoticed by the under 21 was irrelevant. luck, or failed to take into account that the platform’s young audience could only vote for shortlisted nominees. Perhaps Sam Fender’s deserved win in the alt-rock category has something to do with the huge popularity of his single Seventeen Going Under on TikTok, where he records videos of users telling stories of overcoming abuse. But he would have won either way: a powerful, working voice, willing to take real lyrical risks, his work is powerful, moving and refreshing.
Indeed, the fact that you were able to guess most of the winners in advance was not a reflection on the quality of the winners. If there was anything odd about Little Simz winning Best New Act 11 years after releasing their debut mixtape, their genuinely spectacular performance underscored that their fourth album, 2021’s Sometimes I Might Be Introverted, was the One of the highlights of last year was the sight of her mother receiving the award with her, which was truly moving. One of his producers was Inflo, who also worked on Adele’s 30, and his best producer gong is amply justified. Sault, the shy music collective he leads, has released a succession of fantastic albums which are landmarks for British soul music and among the best records released in any genre in recent years. (In another nod to a great producer, Adele credits him for changing her life “not just with my music, but with me.”)
Nonetheless, it’s clear that Brits are developing a problem keeping up with an increasingly fast-paced and divided pop world: there’s a noticeable disjuncture between what’s currently happening in the singles chart – dominated by a new wave of British rappers and pop-dance hits. – and what was on offer tonight. It remains to be seen how he overcomes this and avoids the kind of slow slide into insignificance that dogged him in the late 80s.