Niceness rocks! Ballads take centre stage at the Brits

To some they're just the stars of the 'New Boring' but Adele, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay took the major awards last night

For millions of fans, Adele and Ed Sheeran are purveyors of soaring, heartfelt anthems which soundtrack their lives. To their detractors they are leaders of the New Boring, a wave of polite, ballad-friendly artists who have driven rebellion and noisy guitars – traditional tropes of British pop – to the margins.

Last night Adele, Sheeran and Coldplay swept the Brit Awards as the music industry honoured the artists whose mainstream appeal has given the struggling record industry a much-needed boost. Last year Adele's emotional performance of the break-up ballad "Someone Like You", to a piano accompaniment, hushed even the Brits' corporate guests, catapulting the London singer to global fame.

Twenty million albums sales later, Adele, 23, returned to the O2 Arena to claim a brace of awards. She followed up her six US Grammys with the Best British Female and Mastercard British Album of the Year awards for 21.

Independent record labels surged to a 25 per cent UK market share as a result of the success of Adele, who is signed to the indie label XL.

British audiences will probably forgive Adele for reacting angrily when embarrassed host James Corden was forced to cut her off in her acceptance speech for the Best Album award. "Can I just say goodbye and I'll see you next time around?" she said and waved her raised index finger towards the crowd.

The incident came hot on the heels of rapper MIA sparking a storm of controversy in the US when she raised her middle finger to more than 114 million viewers during Madonna's performance at the Super Bowl halftime show.

Adele shared top honours with Sheeran, 21, the folk-inspired acoustic performer from Suffolk. He took the Best British Male and Breakthrough awards after breaking into the charts with his song "The A Team", a sympathetic portrait of a homeless prostitute. His million-selling success was a reward for playing hundreds of pub gigs and an open-minded approach to collaborations with UK grime and hip-hop artists.

However, Sheeran was cited as a "posterboy for the New Boring" by one critic for reviving memories of James Blunt and singing gauche lyrics.

A broad cultural movement, encompassing Downton Abbey and Kirstie Alsopp, the New Boring was apparently birthed during Adele's stripped-back Brits performance, which launched "a ballad-friendly tedial wave destroying everything in its path".

Coldplay, another band whose piano-swaddled anthems divide critics, returned to claim the Best British Group for the third time, 11 years after their debut win.

Industry executives believe that artists like Adele and Sheeran, who doesn't drink, are more likely to build Coldplay-style lengthy careers than Amy Winehouse, whose premature death was marked at the awards, alongside the passing of Whitney Houston.

Artists are now the largest group on the Brits voting panel, in an attempt to enhance the awards' credibility. So while US rockers Foo Fighters were honoured, there was scant reward for Simon Cowell's stable of reality pop stars. X Factor-created boyband One Direction won Best Single in a public vote of Capital FM listeners. Lana Del Rey, the US singer whose Thirties Hollywood vamp image and career reinvention prompted much web debate, took the International Breakthrough award. Her haunting "Video Games" single convinced sceptics that there was substance behind the heavily stylised image.

The titans of Britpop, an era when bad behaviour and rivalries held sway, returned to make their mark. Blur closed the show with a five-song, greatest hits set after receiving the Outstanding Contribution to Music prize.

Noel Gallagher, a solo nominee after quitting Oasis, invited Chris Martin, the Coldplay singer, to share the spotlight during his performance. Jessie J, the R&B singer, left empty-handed, despite enjoying huge success both in the UK and abroad, with her Who You Are album and its accompanying singles.

Digital album sales soared by 43 per cent last year to £118m, helping the United Kingdom music industry to offset two-thirds of the continued decline in income from CDs.

Best of British: the full list

Best male Ed Sheeran

Best female Adele

Breakthrough act Ed Sheeran

Best group Coldplay

Best single One Direction/What Makes You Beautiful

Album of the year Adele/21

Best international male Bruno Mars

Best international female Rihanna

Best international group Foo Fighters

International breakthrough act Lana Del Rey

Outstanding contribution to music award Blur

Critics' choice Emeli Sandé

British producer Ethan Johns

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