AFTER the underwhelming ceremony last year, one question most people wondered was “Can we really be bothered with the Brit Awards next year?”
The 2013 ceremony was exceptionally dull, with uninspiring acts collecting the gongs, while – in an insult to music – One Direction received a special award for their commercial success, as nothing says musical legacy quite like your ability to hawk gaudy cheap merchandise to impressionable young girls.
It didn’t help that – barring Muse and probably Ben Howard – the performances lacked the classic fizz and sparkle, while host James Corden was as dull and awful a host as you could possibly imagine. There wasn’t even a classic car-crash moment. It was all as smooth and dull as Heart FM on a weekday night.
Yet, exactly a year on, the Brit Awards 2014 has arrived and very little appears to have changed in the event’s mindsets. Same host, same venue, same categories and the same ruthless desire to reward music commercialism with a hearty backslap.
The organisers sole attempt was, in their words, to get more stars. This is a curious statement given the last ceremony included last year’s performers included big names like Justin Timberlake, Robbie Williams and One Direction, and acts with enormous fanbases such as Taylor Swift, Muse, and Mumford and Sons.
As for the Brit Awards 2014, the ceremony begun the day with the now-traditional social media misjudgement when a Telegraph journalist blew the lid on the attempts of event sponsors MasterCard to make journalists Tweet certain things in exchange for access to the show. This led to a day of relentless mocking of the brand and its promoted hashtag #PricelessSurprises.
The ceremony itself begun with Arctic Monkeys, who performed with their initials cast in fire, and duly set James Corden’s jacket on fire after someone forgot to turn the fire off. Certainly, it was a good justification of the two awards they would leave with, even if singer Alex Turner opted for two part-drunk part-piss-taking part-“do I have to do this?” acceptance speeches that got him a Twitter bollocking.
Predictable failings came shortly after the opening to the show. There was odd logic in getting Prince and his new band to present an award – and pose for a crap selfie with James Corden – but not add this event to his recent London tour, before rewarding the recent “meh” outputs of Ellie Goulding and Bruno Mars either side of an advert break full of references to MasterCard. It all fuelled the notion that this would once again be a slick, inoffensive pop industry jaunt.
As for the performances that did happen Bruno Mars served up a pale imitation of his Superbowl show minus the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while Katy Perry gave Madonna’s Superbowl show of 3 years ago a lurid neon tinge, but – somehow – with worse music. It was telling that Beyonce, who only required turquoise sequences and video screens as a visual aid, managed to feel a more complete performance in spite of the track itself.
There were still more performances after Beyonce. They included puzzling Lorde-Disclosure and Bastille-Rudimental collaborations either side of Ellie Goulding donning a Mary Magdalene outfit and copying Taylor Swift’s country-to-dubstepish-pop move, only with street dancers and miming drummers with burning sticks instead of choruses.
Also being scanned through were awards with predictable destinations. It was doubtful Daft Punk would be overlooked for Haim or Kings of Leon, and equally unsurprising David Bowie beat Jake Bugg, while Lorde winning was hardly a great surprise given the Grammy’s gave her an award.
But for some stupid reason, the ceremony once again gave One Direction a global success award. This once again renders the award ceremony pretence a mask for pure commercialism. They might as well have not bothered with the ceremony and instead had a tot-up of all the money earned, then worship whoever is top of the pile. That might have been a move compelling ceremony, although it probably wouldn’t have included One Direction’s Harry Styles rushing back after misjudging his toilet break.
If you want credibility and to be seen as a legitimate music award ceremony, cutting success-based awards is a great start. This isn’t cynicism about One Direction being successful as we would all like to be millionaire pop stars, but this ceremony feels like worship of commercial music superpowers while pretending to reward the best of music. Though that may just be the point.
In an equally pointless move, the award for Best Music Video was opened to a Twitter vote, and predictably, this was always going to lead to One Direction’s minor army voting in their truckloads.
Couple this to a host who either delivered dull/obvious punchlines or made interviewees awkward – most notably One Direction with lines about Justin Bieber’s Canadian jail time – and it felt like a bit of a grind once again.
It all ended with a final performance from Pharrell Williams, his new hat and Nile Rodgers. Had they coaxed Daft Punk into coming along for a performance of Get Lucky, it might have justified sitting through the ‘sludge’ (in the words of Alex Turner) that preceded it. But it was already clear the Frenchmen who would be robots were not in the building, although the segment of Get Lucky and the ensuing medley did deliver was still good enough, and still better than the anonymous procession beforehand.
Rather than trying to rectify the perceived errors of the 2013 ceremony, the Brit Awards 2014 was content to magnify them to umpteen levels. While some of the awards were harder to dispute this time, it felt like another leaden ceremony drenched in the uninspiring factor. Sadly, it appears as though this time next year, we won’t have learned our lessons and will still tune in complaining.