As anyone who keeps up with British music will probably be aware, the BRIT Awards took place last night and, as predicted, the big winners were yet more of the blandest, most inoffensive acts we have to offer, such as Adele, Coldplay and the rest of their milquetoast clique. That alone sparks the question posed here – what really is the BRITs all about? On the face of it that may seem like a stupid question – it’s to celebrate the best music we have, of course! But…is it? Really?
That’s what it claims to be, but as has been ever historically accurate, that hardly seems to be true. It’s less about ‘the best’ and more about ‘the most popular’. It’s no secret that the general public love their music as safe as safe can be, and it’s always fully reflected in the nominees. As well as the aforementioned pair, this year’s nominees featured such high-octane performers as Calvin Harris, James Bay and Amy Winehouse (‘cause she’s done loads lately, hasn’t she?). The fact that Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes standing on Coldplay’s table at the NME Awards is the most debauched act of rock star hedonism imaginable speaks volumes in terms of the bubble devoid of any sort of edge that the public – and thus, the critics who listen to the public – reside in. Last year, Bring Me The Horizon released one of the most left-of-centre, experimental rock albums heard in some time, but apparently, compared to Adele’s latest disc full of dreary sap, it can’t hold a candle. Again, it just highlights the safety net that the public so dearly love, and this particular net is literally right beneath their feet. Admittedly this may be a bit biased – as someone who naturally gravitates towards the alternative, opinions are likely to be different – but even the most mollycoddled of radio listeners would struggle to agree that the stuff nominated is not exciting in the slightest. It links in nicely with the Grammys a couple of weeks back – Taylor Swift’s 1989 took the award for Best Album over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, one of the most boundary-pushing, intriguing hip-hop albums released since the turn of the century. But ultimately, because of the monolithic power that is Taylor Swift and her #squad’s hold on the American public, it must be a better album, right?
This brings us to the other salient point in this argument, taking the form of one of the glaring inclusions in the Best International Group category. As well as featuring such shoo-ins as Tame Impala and U2 (…okay?), there’s also Eagles Of Death Metal. Now let’s be honest here – apart from those in the know, prior to the past few months, how many people had actually heard of Eagles Of Death Metal? This may be the cynic talking, but if the tragic shootings at Paris’s Bataclan Theatre had not occurred, there is no way that they would have been nominated whatsoever. And for an award show supposedly designed to snuff out the best of the best, is a sympathy vote really what we need? Bear in mind that this is a band nominated for Best International Band – as in, they are better than every other non-British band on the planet – whose last album was mediocre at the very best. It honestly seems like a new low for the BRITs’ mysterious panel of judges – the rest of the nominees aren’t great by any means, but there are at least a couple that are more deserving of the award than an act who only materialised into the public consciousness because of a terrorist attack.
And of course, there are the inevitable ‘controversies’. It’s really only a matter of time before ITV become inundated with complaints about Rihanna and Drake’s performance from all manner of overzealous prudes, but the biggest of these issues has, unsurprisingly, been surrounding the latest hot button issue sweeping its way through the award show circuit – race. The BRITs have been widely criticised in the press for a lack of diversity among acts, and while they may have a point (the entire list of winners was white, after all), it’s not hard to think they might be missing the point. Surely awards ceremonies should be about supporting the best of their respective industries, not having a stratified sample of every race on the planet in order to please people who get offended for the sake of being offended. It’s true that Kendrick Lamar was robbed of Best International Male by Justin Bieber, but it would be ultimately stupid to deem race a factor in this. Again, it’s all down to sales – if Kendrick had sold more than Bieber he undoubtedly would’ve won, but the sad fact is he hasn’t, so he didn’t. It just goes to show that even the people who are meant to know what they’re talking about have lost sight of what the BRITs is about. As ludicrous as it may seem, these may genuinely be the acts that the judging panel deem to be the best (or, shall we say, ‘worthiest to win’) with no ulterior motive, and while it’s true that acts like Kendrick and The Weeknd could run circles around James Bay in their sleep, they don’t have as much of a mainstream push or following as the winners, ultimately meaning that dull, generic acts will get priority. It’s easy to see where such complaints are coming from, sure, but it may be a bit far-fetched to suggest that the whole list of winners has been a racially motivated decision.
Among the drabness and homogenity of the bill though, there are a few sparks of light – the likes of Foals, Kendrick Lamar, Aphex Twin and The Weeknd are all genuinely talented acts that deserve their nominations. But other than that, there’s so little of note, especially when compared to what else is going on outside the BRIT bubble. There’s hardly a shortage of interesting, talented acts in Britain – Bring Me The Horizon, Architects, Marmozets, Lonely The Brave, Hacktivist, the list goes on ad infinitum. But the sad fact is the none of these will ever get nominated, because of what they are – interesting, talented acts. They don’t meet the BRITs’ standard criteria of crowd-pleasing, bubble-wrapped radio fodder, and that’s where the naysaying cries of ‘rock is dead’ come from, and why people believe it. Outside the obvious outlets, there’s so little support it’s essentially a non-entity to mainstream eyes, a view that is, unfortunately, unlikely to change. So to address the question of what is the BRITs really about, the answer is ultimately simple – for promoting the music that needs the very least promotion, and ignoring what it ultimately claims it’s out to search for.
Words by Luke Nuttall