It started in fairly impressive fashion and continued that way for most of the night; Justin Timberlake bounding onto perform one of the more upbeat tracks from his latest album Man of the Woods (after an introduction from host Jack Whitehall); while melded into one of the album standouts: “Say Something” featuring a surprise appearance from the legendary country artist Chris Stapleton.
From there the Brit Awards seemed determined to recover from last year’s series of epic disappointments; bringing out a stunning duet from 2017 Critics’ Choice winner Rag’N’Bone Man and 2018 Critics’ Choice pick Jorja Smith for “Skin”, which host Whitehall followed with some actually-not-awful interactions with Liam Payne and Cheryl about their bedroom antics.
Awards seemed to go out to the most deserving, rather than the most commercially successful: Stormzy took home Best Male after being snubbed the year before, while Dua Lipa, one of the most intriguing and exciting pop stars to emerge in the past few years, scored Best Female. Foo Fighters seemed like a predictable bet for Best International Group but made for an entertaining acceptance speech, and proceeded a hypnotising performance of “New Rules” by Dua Lipa that brought on a huge troupe of female dancers.
Everyone politely ignored a bland rendition of “Supermarket Flowers” from Ed Sheeran, who apparently wanted to annoy everyone by refusing to play his biggest hit “Shape of You”.
Kendrick Lamar scooped a deserved nod for Best International Male and gave a genuinely heartfelt speech: “I'd just like to thank y'all for holding me down for so long.
”I'm on tour, it's been some of the most amazing fans riding wit' me,” he continued. “So forever, I really appreciate this moment, I love y'all, I will be back.”
Dua Lipa scooped another award early on in the night for British Breakthrough Act, which felt like a slight snub to J Hus, but well-deserved nonetheless. Lorde took home the prize for International Female Solo Artist which felt like a thoughtful choice considering she missed out on any of the top prizes at this year’s Grammy Awards.
Liam Gallagher filled in for Ariana Grande - who was set to pay tribute to the victims of the Manchester Arena attack but was forced to pull out due to illness - and performed a simple, affecting version of the Oasis classic “Live Forever”.
Winning Best British Band, Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn had “one thing to say”.
“It's a lovely place, it's part of a beautiful world, but... don't let it become isolated,” he said, addressing the audience. “Don't let yourselves become cut off. Considering our size, we do incredible things in music, we've got a real spirit and a real soul. Don't let politics get in the way of all that shit.”
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“… I think that was about Brexit,” Whitehall whispered as they exited the stage, before introducing Sam Smith for a far less perturbing performance than his “Pray” show at the Grammys. Singing “Too Good At Goodbyes” with a gorgeous gospel choir by his side he appeared to brush off failing to score any nominations at this year’s ceremony, and looked rather wonderfully cheerful considering the fact.
A doddering Ronnie Wood handed over the “Global Success” prize to Ed Sheeran - like it was going to anyone else - before Kendrick Lamar blew everyone away: crouching tiger on a glass cage holding a blood-orange Lamborghini, quite simply unmatched.
No envy for anyone tasked with following Lamar with their own performance, but Rita Ora made a stellar effort with her performance of “Your Song” segued into “Anywhere”, before Liam Payne joined her for their Fifty Shades Freed collaboration “For You”.
This writer was just one person who left the ceremony feeling like they’d been tricked in 2017. A piece on why Skepta deserved to win Best British Male over the late David Bowie - published before the awards - was swiftly followed by another, on how increasingly irrelevant the Brit Awards had become. Despite nominations for Kano, Skepta, Stormzy, Michael Kiwanuka, NAO, Craig David and Anohni, too much talent went home empty-handed. “Brit awards 2017 was like watching some of the UK’s most exciting artists finally being offered a seat at the table,” we wrote, “only to be passed over when dinner was served.”
The winners were still mainstream - Stormzy, Dua Lipa, Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran, Lorde… but the male: female ratio was more evenly spread, as was the range of music recognised: grime, pop, rock, hip hop… Whitehall was, surprisingly, a fantastic host who didn’t attempt to steal the spotlight for himself, but jumped in to lighten the mood when needed. And by awarding Stormzy the top prize, for British Album of the year, in 2018, it felt as though the organisers of the Brits paid a little more attention to British music. Closing the night with a blistering freestyle ahead of "Big For Your Boots" where he dropped disses to the likes of Theresa May over the Grenfell Tragedy, and the Daily Mail - this was a night music fans deserved.
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