ON MONDAY, the Brit award nominations were announced (lots for the Prodigy and The Verve; none, scandalously, for Annie Lennox). But the year's first anti-Brits rumour was doing the rounds days beforehand: Radiohead were boycotting the ceremony, having condemned it as a cheap marketing ploy. In fact, Radiohead won't be attending because they'll be on tour in Australia, but, notes their spokeswoman, drily, "that's not as good a story as Grumpy Gits Blow Out the Brits".

There are a few stories along those lines every year. Each time the Brits come around, there are articles muttering that the event has more to do with commerce than music, or that it tends to honour achievement in the Seventies, not the Nineties, or that the BMX Bandits have been overlooked yet again. And these criticisms are all absolutely valid.

They're also, however, strangely pointless, for the simple reason that no one ever argues with them. No one ever declared the Brits to be a pure expression of gratitude to the makers of beautiful music in the first place. Just look at the Facts & Figures sheet in the press-pack given out at Monday's launch. Nowhere does it say "There are some ace tracks on the Cornershop album, aren't there?" Instead the sheet tells us that "Annual retail spending in the UK on recorded music has reached pounds 1.7 billion [and] the UK music market has grown by 41 per cent in real terms since 1992." The Brits are about units shifted - and they don't go to particularly great lengths to disguise the fact.

Yes, they're a tool to boost the sales of the records nominated - but so are rock concerts. Yes, they publicise the awards' sponsors - but the Mercury Music Prize, the MTV Awards, the Q Magazine Awards, and, almost parodically, next week's Miller Genuine Draft Awards (the gongs formerly known as the Brats) are hardly innocent in this respect, either.

And yes, the people who vote for the Brits are a clique of industry insiders, but it is a clique of 600, including media folk, and a few lucky shop assistants. All awards ceremonies rely on the opinion of a limited demographic, anyway. If you want a relatively democratic, relatively unbiased gauge of the nation's favourite bands, that's what the charts are for.

Remember, this is the music business we're talking about. Any complaints about the integrity of its annual shindig are worth making only as long as you assume that everyone employed by a record company strives nobly towards the promotion of creative excellence throughout the rest of the year. They don't, and if a big-budget reminder of this upsets people, they should turn off the Brits and watch an athletics final instead.

Three years ago I interviewed Rob Dickins, head of Warner Music UK, and, at that time, the chairman of the Brits. For him, the ceremony's primary raison d'etre was as a television special, and all the people who grumble about the event might be advised to think of it in the same way. The Brits are, at bottom, a pretty decent couple of hours' entertainment, especially when the producers have the courage to include Jarvis Cocker's stage invasion and Oasis's swearing in the broadcast version. And for the people who attend the bash itself, it's a fine opportunity to guzzle as much food and drink as they can. Which reminds me, I'm still waiting for my invitation ...