Talk about a mismatch

From his seat at the Brit nominations, Andy Gill bemoans the absence of any real rock'n'roll spirit - and of Jarvis Cocker
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The Independent Culture

I'll be perfectly honest about it: I hate awards ceremonies. Like any right-thinking person, I believe that if there's one thing the world needs like an ozone hole over the pole, it's another excuse for pampered celebrities to simper over each other and recite interminable lists of names - some starting with God, but most with their agent, and working their way steadily down to the kindergarten teacher who first spotted their enormous talent as a toddler.

I'll be perfectly honest about it: I hate awards ceremonies. Like any right-thinking person, I believe that if there's one thing the world needs like an ozone hole over the pole, it's another excuse for pampered celebrities to simper over each other and recite interminable lists of names - some starting with God, but most with their agent, and working their way steadily down to the kindergarten teacher who first spotted their enormous talent as a toddler.

Frankly, my dears, we don't give a damn. Unless some loose cannon like Johnny Vegas or Robin Williams is on hand to fulfil the basic imperative of the entertainment industry and entertain us, awards ceremonies are about as interesting as the state opening of Parliament, but with less ridiculous costumes. And thanks to the air of infantile excitement so feverishly nurtured by the presenters, music-biz awards ceremonies are even worse than film-industry backslapathons, plumbing deeper circles of hell than even Dante envisaged.

But it's not just the ceremonies that I find repellent; it's the awards themselves, the very nature of which is to turn culture into some kind of competition, to make a sport of art. For although competition may not be completely antithetical to art, it can't help but pervert the principles on which the art is undertaken, eschewing all those airy-fairy issues of aesthetics in favour of the brute power of commerce. Did Michelangelo, one wonders, have to go head to head with Leonardo and Raphael for the award for Best Fresco of the Year? Did Turner ever win a prize, or just have one named after him?

The really irritating thing about awards, as too about those 50 Greatest Lists of All Time TV programmes, is that the nominations remain for the most part firmly dictated by sales. And we all know which albums/films are the "greatest" by that reckoning, because they're the ones that have been clogging up the charts. We don't need any guidance in that respect, but what might be really helpful would be some guidance in terms of other, less readily computable qualities. Such as? Well, quality. What exactly is being said when Star Wars is deemed the "greatest" film of all time? Greater than Citizen Kane, La Règle du Jeu or Aguirre, Wrath of God? Similarly, any competition that just slings Franz Ferdinand, Joss Stone, Keane, Natasha Bedingfield and The Zutons (this year's nominations for British Breakthrough Act) into the ring together and purports to deliver some kind of meaningful verdict upon their relative worth is, frankly, trying to juggle fog.

So, all things considered, it was probably rather perverse of me to break the habit of a lifetime and attend the press launch for this year's Brit Awards. Well, it wasn't the actual awards ceremony, I told myself, just the announcement of the nominations, with a side order of plonk and peanuts. And it is the 25th year, for what that's worth. And at least it's not the Mercury Poisoned Chalice, that other annual music-biz award that appears to have the alarming ability - welcome in some cases, of course - to kill off the recipient's career. (Don't go walking under any ladders, Franz Ferdinand!)

The event began with some BPI suit bigging up the UK record industry something rotten. He seemed inordinately proud that "four of the five biggest-selling acts of last year were either British, or signed in Britain", blithely impervious to the obvious shortcomings of a music scene dominated by Dido, Katie Melua, Keane, Scissor Sisters and Maroon 5. Then he said a few words about the Brit Trust, a charity funded by the awards to the tune of £6.5m so far, most of which goes to Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy and - "you'll probably hear some noise now, because there are some students from there here tonight!" - the Brit School for the Performing Arts & Technology. (Cue silence from students. Maybe they make noise only for money now.)

Next up for the bigging was something called Media Partners, which turned out to be a credit-card company, some newspapers and a handful of radio stations that are apparently involved in "targeted media promotional partnerships", the aim of which is still unclear to me, even after I've read the corresponding bumf, with its snappy adspeak phrases such as "the icon creative" - sounds like an art-school band - and the appropriately queasy "viral marketing campaign". It seems that 25 silver Mini Coopers will be embarking on a promo tour of railway stations and shopping malls, for some reason. A rum do, if you ask me.

When the BPI suit was finished, we were treated to a dazzling video of highlights from the previous 24 years of the Brit Awards, which must have lasted all of, oh, about two minutes. Now, comb through your memory banks and see if you can come up with a single "highlight" from previous Brit Awards. Found one? I'd bet that nine out of 10 of you picked the same one. There is only one bona fide highlight in Brit Awards history. That's right, Jarvis mooning in the middle of Jacko's execrable parade of children. So guess which moment is conspicuously absent from the BPI's showreel? Right again! Still, there's lots of shots of Annie Lennox picking up statuette after statuette (which was nice) - and rather more footage of a gurning Robbie Williams than is permitted under the Geneva Convention.

It speaks volumes about the essential dead-handed conservatism of the Brit Awards - and the UK music industry - that the only times anything genuinely interesting happens are when something deviates from the event's carefully controlled schedules. Compared to Jarvis's protest, or Danbert Nobacon's dousing of John Prescott, or The KLF's dumping of a dead sheep outside the after-show party, such pathetic non-stunts as Justin Timberlake touching Kylie's bum (gasp!) are shown up for what they really are: the mechanical, corporate-approved sop to the notions of rebellion and outrage that lie at the heart of any music scene worth its salt.

The condition of the contemporary music scene was not, it has to be noted, best represented by the acts chosen to perform at the launch party - Athlete, Estelle and McFly - only the last of which, it transpires, features among the nominations. Within half a minute of Athlete beginning their glum Keaneplay prog-pop, they are virtually drowned out by the hubbub of audience chit-chat. The sound balance for Estelle's performance is so poor that it's all but impossible to make out what she and her mates are on about; and McFly - well, this is one night they won't be bothered by a mob of screaming girls, which is probably a relief for the young chaps.

Clearly, the BPI is saving up its big guns for the Brit Awards show on 9 February, which features a more diverse line-up of performers than usual, with Scissor Sisters, Keane, Franz Ferdinand, Joss Stone, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams, Green Day, Lemar and Jamelia, and Natasha and Daniel Bedingfield all slated to appear, along with Bob Geldof, who's set to pick up the award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and who, one trusts, will use the occasion to rattle the collection tin.

The nominations also exhibit a more thorough attempt than usual to encompass the broad range of modern pop, without slipping too much into the ludicrous niche-market particularism of the Grammys, which seems to have categories like Best Rock Album Recorded Between May and August by a Salsa Hip-Hop Duo. Young turks such as Franz Ferdinand, Kasabian and The Libertines are well represented alongside the usual run of MOR pop, while at the other end of the age scale, the International Male Solo Artist category includes oldhands Tom Waits and Brian Wilson. See above for my predictions for the winners - though no, I won't be there on the night. I have a sock drawer to organise.

GILL'S PREDICTIONS

British male solo artist: Morrissey

British female solo artist: Joss Stone

British group: Keane

Mastercard British album: Keane, Hopes and Fears

British single: Jamelia, "Thank You"

British breakthrough act: Franz Ferdinand

British urban act: Jamelia

British rock act: The Libertines

British live act: Muse

Best song of past 25 years: Robbie Williams: "Angels"

Pop act: Natasha Bedingfield

International male solo artist: Usher

International female solo artist: Kylie

International group: U2

International album: Scissor Sisters: Scissor Sisters

International breakthrough act: Kanye West

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