Back to the Drawing Board – The Brits

Tuesday night’s Brits were billed as “Back to the Music” for the annual industry piss up. It was aimed at being an attempt at holding back from the celebrity culture that has dominated the award show in the last few years. Critics have labeled it in the past as just another bellows, fanning the flames of Simon Cowells massive ego. So the point was to have better acts win the awards, less gimmicky presenters and a focus on quality live performances.

Speaking of which the acts on display were certainly the highlight of the show. Adele gave a beautifully understated number that, according to host James Corden, proved you don’t need flashy sets and pyrotechnics to captivate an audience. So why did that define half of the performances of the night? Why did a blood soaked riot break out in Plan B’s performance? Why was Tinie Tempah backed up by an army of clones? And why, oh why, did Take That try to convince us of their edginess by going up against what appeared to be the unemployed rejects of Mubarak’s riot squad? Were they trying to appeal to students? The sight of a bunch of middle aged millionaires playing off of armed police when real revolutions are going on in another continent seems rather cynical and forced.

Ignore the gimmicks and most of the acts gave quite charismatic performances. Plan B and Tinie Tempha both looked thrilled to be a part of a program they have been preparing for in front of a mirror since they were teenagers. Rihanna, while not fulfilling the promises made by some tabloid reporters, did an excellent job of entertaining the audience with a medley of everything everyone wants to hear. Cee Lo Green, despite not looking like he knew where the hell he was (and rightly so, for him and Arcade Fire had just got back from performing at the Grammy’s), made a potentially disastrous performance a fun one by playing off Paloma Faith with a deft comical touch.

The back to the music message was attempted throughout however, as Arcade Fire made the performance of the night with a rendition of their latest single, that could have been the closer on one of their famous live concerts. The miss of the night however was Mumford & Sons. Their performance, a laid back acoustic affair, was supposed to make everyone in the audience there and at home realize why they were the strongest contenders for two of the most prestigious awards. But it was so quiet that they couldn’t rise above the noise created by the general chatter of an uninterested crowd.

The o2 is not the kind of venue that would carry off an act as delicate as that well. It makes you wonder just how seriously they are taking their own “Back to the Music” message. If they were,  why is there no Live Music award? Why is Justin Bieber given the same fanfare as Roger Daltry?  Why did Take That open? If they were serious about eliminating the focus on celebrity culture then they would have held the awards in the o2’s little cousin The Indigo2.

But even if they do that, should they? Half way through the show ratings plummeted as the audience flocked to see My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. It would seem that for the show to continue its success at a scale to which the British public have become accustomed, then they will have to ramp up the levels of celebrity debauchery. Even Corden who remained impressively restrained throughout the night (apart from, worryingly a segment involving him touching Justin Beiber’s face) felt bland and insincere as he tried so hard to hold back on the laddishness.

As a result we had an awards show that resorted to the same tired routine often and when it did show some originality, produced mixed results; sometimes hitting it bang on but other times too much like it was out of it’s comfort zone.

The Brits currently stands at a breaking point. It either needs to go one way or another to succeed. It either needs to regress back to the days of drunken glamour models shouting on-stage, or pull it back even further to the realm of musical respectability.

Lee – lee@vulturehound.com