Westwood redesigns Brits for a new era

The Brit Awards – those bronze, helmeted female statuettes that have served as the Oscars of the British music industry for more than three decades – are to be given a makeover by the high priestess of punk, Vivienne Westwood.

The Brits have decorated the mantelpieces of music royalty since 1977, but organisers are concerned that the show has become too much of an exercise in industry back-slapping, with music executives clustered at tables close to the stage, holding drink-fuelled conversations during performances.

In a deliberate shake-up of the entire ceremony, the "outstanding contribution" award, traditionally an exercise in paleontology that involves the celebration of a randomly selected rock dinosaur (Sir Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, Oasis ... ), is being scrapped.

Instead, the album of the year award will be the blue riband category, with the five nominations trailed in video-clips throughout the evening in an effort to replicate the suspense experienced at Hollywood's Oscars.

The Brits' voting academy is being revamped to incorporate music artists for the first time. The ceremony itself is upping sticks from its traditional home in Earl's Court, west London, crossing town to the O2 centre, which has a larger capacity that will allow more young fans to join the audience.

Westwood has given a punk twist to the award, taking a "blank canvas" white resin version of the award and giving it a red gown, with hints of blue and white and a smudge of yellow for the helmet – recognisable as Britannia. It gives the no-doubt false impression of having been done in five seconds, but that's fashion designers for you. In future years other figures from the arts and design world will be invited to revamp the same blank canvas.

The changes were driven by David Joseph, the Brits' new chairman and, as chairman and chief executive of Universal Music UK, one of the British music industry's most powerful figures. "Vivienne stands for all the things we want to inspire in tomorrow's generation of artists," he said. "She remains unique, innovative and not to mention massively inspired by music and vice versa."

Joseph said that the inclusion of music artists in the judging process would give the awards a greater credibility. "Considering that artists are the single most valuable part of our industry, inviting them to join the voting academy is an obvious step to make. For an artist to know that their work is also appreciated and respected by other artists will add another unique dimension to winning a Brit Award."

The first Brits were staged in 1977 at the Wembley Conference Centre, north London, and were called "the music industry's way of marking the Queen's Silver Jubilee". Around that time, Westwood and her boyfriend, the Sex Pistols' manager, Malcolm McLaren, marked the jubilee in a different fashion.

The Brits ceremony did not happen again until 1982, when it moved to the Grosvenor House Hotel in London's Mayfair, where music execs forked out £50 each for a ticket, a meal and wine, and watched a show hosted by David Jacobs. Awards were given to Adam Ant, Human League and Soft Cell.

Last year's event was the 30th, hosted by the comedian Peter Kay. Winners included Lily Allen (best female), Dizzee Rascal (best male), Lady Gaga (best international female) and Jay-Z (best international male). Robbie Williams collected what turned out to be the last Outstanding Contribution award. It was his 16th Brit, including the four he won with Take That. Nominations for next year's Brits will be announced at a ceremony at IndigO2, east London, on 13 January.

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