It’s a shame the BRIT Awards fall so soon after the Grammys, because it shines an unforgiving light on the disparity in glamour and finesse between the two ceremonies.
The annual British bash might have improved dramatically since its nadir in the late ’80s, when the ceremony was such a shambolic laughing stock it needed Jonathan King (Jonathan King!) to be drafted in as organiser to save it.
But whereas the Grammys, for all its insane long-windedness, always delivers a sense of scale and occasion, the Brits – such a naff word – has never quite shaken off its connotations of gaudy, ‘Now’ compilation rubbishness. The whiff of Sam Fox, if you like.
Then again, perhaps that sense of looming anarchy – the feeling that the whole ceremony could implode at any moment – is part of its charm.
At the Grammys you’d never get Ronnie Wood trading slurred insults with an overweight chancer called Brandon Block over the podium, as happened in 2000. Or Robbie Williams challenging Liam Gallagher to “get in the ring” (also in 2000, as it happens). As a nation of drunken barbarian inadequates, the BRIT Awards is the ceremony we deserve.
Oasis at the 1996 BRIT Awards. Noel Gallagher later called their behaviour that night “Ecstasy abuse on a massive scale”.
The show also encapsulates an important truth about British music, namely that, unlike in America, where big-hitting rock and country acts tend to squeeze out the random element, our charts – so closely entwined with the tabloids – have always been dominated by ephemeral pop: songs that enthral millions one week, and are utterly, contemptibly forgotten the next.
How else to explain the colossal success of The Darkness in 2004 (four million albums sold, three BRIT Awards), a baffling transgression that is now remembered, if at all, in much as the same way as you recall with a shudder something lewd and embarrassing you did while drunk one New Year’s Eve.
For better or worse, the BRIT Awards hold a mirror up to our cynical, amnesiac, trashy, but often exhilarating, pop culture. Here are a few moments you might have forgotten about.
MD Of EMI wins lifetime achievement award (1977)
The BRIT Awards are often slated for being an insular, backslapping orgy of music-biz self-congratulation. Today’s ceremony, however, is a model of restraint and humility compared with the inaugural bash, which climaxed with industry big cheese Leonard G Wood being given the ultimate accolade. He shared it with The Beatles.
Neil from ‘The Young Ones’ wins an award (1985)
‘Hole In My Shoe’, a startlingly unfunny Traffic cover, was a big spin-off hit in 1984, leading BRIT organisers to create the special category of Best Comedy Single, just so Nigel Planer could turn up and collect it. Amazingly, the Best Comedy gong was never again given out. Not even to Avid Merrion’s ‘Proper Crimbo’.
Tory Education Secretary gets booed (1989)
Cabinet minister Kenneth Baker was such a figure of public scorn at the time his ‘Spitting Image’ puppet was a loathsome, oleaginous slug. So when he turned up to give a speech, he was roundly, and understandably, booed. Staggeringly, Cliff Richard then got up on stage and made a public apology to the MP, as if reprimanding an unruly Geography class.
Margaret Thatcher sings ‘How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?’ (1990)
Pre-Cool Britannia, the idea that the PM could convincingly claim to be ‘down’ with pop culture was breathtaking in its naivety. Still, Thatcher had a bash in 1990, submitting to a short interview and singing a burst of her favourite song, to widespread bemusement.
Peter Gabriel wears muscle suit (1993)
The sight of the ex-Genesis man clad in purple velour slacks and giant fake pecs, grinding his hips and singing suggestively about his need for “steam” surely fueled a thousand disturbing sexual nightmares. It’s certainly a striking look, though, and one we’d love to see revived at this year’s bash by, say, Guy Garvey from Elbow.