You've got to hand it to the Brits, they're doing their best to reinvent themselves. With a new venue (the O2), a new statue (the Vivienne Westwood-designed monstrosity, now with added climate change message - what next, a recyclable Oscar?), and a new presenter (James Corden, who's reportedly signed up to three years on the show, a crushingly depressing prospect), they're looking to shake off their dodgy image.
And judging by the nominations revealed yesterday, they're off to a pretty decent start. They're the most exciting we've seen in years.
For a start, rock and indie get a great showing, which flies against the recent hand-wringing over the future of the genre. Kings Of Leon, Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Biffy Clyro, Gorillaz, The xx, Vampire Weekend and Florence all feature. And yes, Florence does count as rock (or at least in that ongoing debate about the decline of the genre she does). Mumford have three nods, while Arcade Fire bagged two. British Group sees only one pop act (Take That) in a shortlist of NME heavyweights including Biffy Clyro, Gorillaz, Mumford & Sons and The xx. A similar thing occurs in the British Album category. Whether any of these can actually trump the all-conquering manband remains to be seen, but the odds look good.
Best Male? I wouldn't be too disappointed if any of them won. Mark Ronson, Paul Weller, Plan B, and Tinie Tempah face off against Robert Plant in his first ever nod. It's a far cry from last year, when Mika, Calvin Harris, Paolo Nutini and Robbie Williams were beaten off by Dizzee 'Bonkers' Rascal, or the year before when James Morrison and Will Young dusted down the suits and turned up all hopeful.
Of course, it's not gone completely cred. Hard-nosed (or is it just crooked-nosed) interviewer Fearne Cotton did the announcing last night while manufactured boyband and faces of the new milk adverts The Wanted feature in a line-up that also includes X Factor bawler and notorious mime artist Cheryl Cole and Scouting For Fucking Girls (will they ever be laid to rest?). Best Female will undoubtedly go to Cole above Laura Marling and British Single is a shit shower, peppered with Matt Cardles, Alexandra Burkes and Olly Murses - but the shortlist for that is based on a mixture of radio airplay and actual sales, so the public only has themselves to blame.
And there's the perennial argument that it's all a bit too bizarrely eclectic. How do you choose between Bruno Mars, The Glee Cast, Justin Bieber, The National, and The Temper Trap (for International Breakthrough)? The occasional oddity aside, though, this year's list feels somehow more coherent overall, reflecting music's diversity without disappearing too far into the rabbit hole, and the pop and urban that is flagged up is of a better standard than usual. Tinie Tempah deserves (at least some of) his four nominations, and any open-minded music fan could justify the inclusion of Rihanna, Robyn, Ellie Goulding and even at a push Rumer. They're all more credible than JLS (who are refreshingly AWOL this year).
The addition of a new British Producer award shows how far the ceremony's come in recent years. While as recently as 2006 they were celebrating Best Pop Act, this year they've nominated five key behind-the-scenes peeps in an attempt to show they're all about real music. John Leckie, who produced 'The Stone Roses' and 'The Bends' and more recently The Coral's 'Butterfly House' is nominated, alongside Laura Marling and The Boxer Rebellion's knob-twiddler Ethan Johns. Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Coldplay), Stuart Price (Take That, Brandon Flowers, Kylie) and Mike Pela (er, Sade) complete the line-up. And of course their Critics Choice shortlist of James Blake, The Vaccines and eventual winner Jessie J was as zeitgeisty as you like.
I know it's de rigeur to hate on these awards, but as someone who's sat through the last four live at the venue, I for one am more excited than usual (even if The Daily Mash has predicted they'll be clinically unwatchable). Here's hoping they can step up from last year's fiasco and put on a proper show. There's enough bands around this time to help out.
And you know what the best thing of all about this year's Brits is? There's NO LADY GAGA.
Why The Brits Nominations Make No Sense At All - our blog on last year's announcement
All the latest on the Brats - aka the Shockwaves NME Awards 2010