That Might Have Been The Most Surreal BRIT Awards Ceremony In Memory

That Might Have Been The Most Surreal BRIT Awards Ceremony In Memory

A look back at key moments...

There are absolutely no words to sum up the sheer strangeness, the bizarre perversity of walking up to the O2 Arena for the first time in 12 months. After a year of barely emerging from my flat, scarcely interacting with other people, here I was – a negative COVID result from the NHS on my phone – with thousands of other individuals, no doubt sharing a similar vein of anxious excitement.

Because make no bones about it: this was perhaps the most surreal ceremony in the history of the BRIT Awards. From host Jack Whitehall’s opening Zoom based skit – an amalgamation of Line Of Duty and Jackie Weaver’s authoritarian lust – to the bizarre Rag’n’Bone Man vs P!NK collaboration which closed the show, the BRIT Awards grappled with COVID limitations and emerged with something just about worked.

Female artists were the big winners on the night. Dua Lipa took home two key awards, taking her career-long haul to five. Arlo Parks graced the evening with a subtle, moving performance, before claiming Breakthrough Artist. HAIM won Best International Group, while Best British Group went to female artists for the first time, in the form of a groundbreaking win for Little Mix.

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In terms of performances, Elton John and Olly Alexander’s dynamic version of ‘It’s A Sin’ was easily the stand out – a larger than life duet that saw the two living their best lives and taking LGBTQ+ representation into the nation’s prime time living rooms. For reasons unknown, though, it was a pre-record – if you were in the arena, all you saw was the huge screens. Coldplay’s somewhat awkward opener saw Chris Martin do the robot on a pontoon, while Dua Lipa’s dazzling medley underlined just how successful her year has been.

Headie One led a celebration of UK rap talent, with his short set making room for AJ Tracey, and Young T & Bugsey - the young kings shelled it down, a demonstration of the raw power this generation of artists can conjure.

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It was a ceremony in which context meant everything. It’s been – and we put this mildly – a traumatic year for a great many people, with the BRITs opening their doors to key workers. The trimmed back audience – a mere 4000 people in the cavernous arena – was overwhelmingly slanted towards those doing such extraordinary work in the NHS.

Dua Lipa made her thoughts explicit, dedicating her Best British Female award to healthcare pioneer and nurse Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, before urging the government to enact a pay rise for NHS workers. “It’s all very good to clap for them but we need to pay them,” she said. “I think what we should do is we should all give a massive, massive round of applause and give Boris a message that we all support a fair pay rise for our front line.”

Critics online, however, immediately pointed out the Achille’s heel in Dua’s argument: she spent 2020 seemingly jetting from exotic location to exotic location, recently settling down in Mexico, a country that is struggling to contain the pandemic. It’s a layer to the debate that illustrates how profoundly odd and contradictory last night felt; ultimately, no one else thought to demand direct action from those often-hollow government promises.

Later dedicating her Album Of The Year award to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole – the young man who gave his life attempting to save a woman who had fallen into the river Thames last month – it was pair of classy speeches from Dua, who wore her hair in a Winehouse-esque beehive.

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2021 became a year of substantial change for the BRITs. After criticism for its male-heavy winner’s list, the ceremony responded by platforming an international array of female talent: from Taylor Swift to Arlo Parks via HAIM and Little Mix, whose powerful speech spoke of the struggles women face in the British music industry.

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From a personal perspective, though, what I’ll remember is how curiously bizarre tiny details in our daily lives have become. From struggling to remember how to do small-talk through to climbing an escalator for the first time in what feels like forever, last night seems to be covered in a strange, hallucinatory gauze. A celebration, for sure – but also a profoundly surreal one.

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