There's a new award at this year's Brits, and it points at just how successful a year it's been for British music. The inaugural Global Success award recognises a UK act's worldwide success after a year in which its three nominees – Mumford & Sons, Adele and One Direction – all stormed the American chart.
Those three acts held four of the top five-selling albums in the American Billboard charts last year – Adele's 21, Mumford & Sons' Babel and One Direction's two releases, Up All Night and Take Me Home. Only 10 days ago the Mumfords won the most coveted Grammy, for Best Album with Babel, rocketing them straight back into the No 1 spot in the Billboard chart, maintaining Britain's stronghold.
The Brit Awards are unlikely to throw up any major surprises or recognise alternative talent – they reflect what's currently popular and successful commercially rather than what's challenging and getting the critics fired up. Even the Brits Critics Choice award, now in its sixth year, recognises a rising artist who is set for stardom as opposed to the critical favourite, which is why it has become such a reliable indicator of the next big star. The first ever male winner, Tom Odell, whose melodic, piano-led, sensitive singer-songwriter ballads channel Coldplay, will no doubt follow in the footsteps of 2012's choice and this year's four times-nominated-artist Emeli Sande, Jessie J, Ellie Goulding, Florence and the Machine and Adele before him, after he collects his gong tonight.
At a time when record shops are closing in their droves, reducing the outlets for recorded music, this year's Brits show another side to the bleak picture – that British music is going strong. And as with any music awards, from the Mercury Prize to the Grammys, one goal is to further boost the sales of those winners and nominees – not that the inevitable chosen winners are the ones that most need that bump.
Among a generally limp list of solo male nominees – the mass-pleasing folk guitar-strumming Ben Howard, the disco star Calvin Harris, and the pop star Olly Murs, who rose up through The X-Factor – there are two outstandingly worthy winners who continue to push the boundaries. Richard Hawley deserves the prize for sheer contribution to and influence on British guitar music, and for his stunning album Standing on the Sky's Edge, a sunburst of psychedelic rock. If that album is considered by some to be too retrospective, then Plan B holds the album that best captures the times, with his visceral soundtrack Ill Manors, depicting the harsh, gritty underbelly of London life. Although I suspect it will be the risk-averse choice of Olly Murs for the accolade.
The nominees for best Live Act show that it's not just recorded music that's enjoying wide-reaching success. The return of The Rolling Stones was a highlight of 2012, while their closest rivals are the UK's best contemporary live act Muse, who take their enormous prog-rock set on their biggest stadium tour this May. On the night itself, while Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift are set to perform, it is British acts who will be stealing the stage. Two of the three Atlantic-crossing giants Mumford & Sons and One Direction will take the stage, as well as Muse, Emeli Sande, Robbie Williams, Olly Murs and Ben Howard.
The Global Success award is a sign of UK acts' burgeoning international appeal, but whether or not the award will be included in future years depends on whether British music continues to make such an impact. It would be a tough year to repeat.