So there was The Brits 2019, the annual celebration of the British music industry, a thermometer-in-the-bum of the last great industrial export of Brexit Island as we hurtle towards a No Deal outcome with nothing but Jacob Rees-Mogg’s dreams of empire to propel us through the rat-eating, sewer-living, barter-economy future awaiting us in just 37 days.
And what a weird one it was, a summation of broken Britain’s bizarre self-loathing, played out at The O2 before an audience of disinterested industry types, Mastercard employees, Brit School students and paying punters squinting in the nosebleeds to get a better look at what Jesy from Little Mix has done to her face.
We opened with the man who has destroyed everything good about music
Yep, that was Hugh Jackman opening up the show, celebrating the runaway success of The Greatest Showman soundtrack, an album that’s systematically held great British albums off the top of the charts for over a year thanks to its habit of tumbling into yr da’s shopping trolley at Morrison’s. That soundtrack is the LP equivalent of a Dr. Oetker pizza, a thing that looks sort of right but lacks the fundamental qualities we might expect from said product. But sure, come and open The Brits, Jackman, Australian man making a mockery of 50 years of British music with a shit song from a shit film to promote your tour, because there’s nothing more British than self-flagellation.
It was a celebration of sheer mediocrity
Host Jack Whitehall, in his second year, was better than James Corden and Ant and Dec combined, and less pissed than at least one of them. But Whitehall had golden material handed to him on a plate considering most of his jokes were about how bland George Ezra is. George Ezra is an artist who has made a virtue of sheer mediocrity. He’s turned being vanilla-flavoured into a USP. He’s your one friend who orders an omelette and chips at the curry house. He’s a man who makes records that Ken Bruce enjoys. He’s milder than a Babybel on a Water Biscuit. He’s The Radio Times. He’s a chap who performed a hit about riding in the passenger seat of a car because he doesn’t drive. If said track were to soundtrack a film about driving, that film would be called 2 Slow, 2 Genial. When Jack White interviewed him at his table it was like overhearing a big boy bullying a smaller boy in the tuck shop at Harrow. He won British Male Solo Artist, which is fine because there is nothing more British than celebrating that things are passably rubbish as if they were not shit, even though they are.
Ed Sheeran won a thing and sent a recorded message from the business suite of a Best Western just off the A1
There was a man winning Best Breakthrough Act who works at your local craft beer pub
His name is, I think, Tom Walker, or Tom Watson or Roy Walker. One of those people is the man who used to do Catchphrase and another is the deputy leader of the Labour Party and the other is the person who seemed as incredulous about his win as we all were, an earnest singer-songwriter of the kind who sounds like they’re having a difficult, firm poo in a neighbouring cubicle while boring you with the intricate details of a failed relationship, which you struggle to empathise with because you suspect they’ve never felt real love anyway. No one needs another one of these men (see also: Jack Garrett, Rag And Bone Man, Tom Grennan), but there he was, winning a prize, leaving you drifting off into thoughts about who’s going to collect your bins this week because it is bin day and the man who usually does it seems to be picking up a statue from two non-celebrities on stage at The O2. And there is nothing more British than worrying about your bins.
Very few international people bothered coming
Jay Z, Beyonce, Drake and Arianna Grande all sent pre-recorded acceptance messages, which is sad because Drake went to the Grammys the other week and they’re boring AF. After Brexit, it will be standard for all overseas winners to phone their speeches in (depending on roaming charges) and can we really blame foreigners for not wanting to come here? Because there’s nothing more British than not liking foreigners while secretly feeling like they’re better than us.
Little Mix did Stomp The Musical
Little Mix used to know a thing or two about a pop song. Now, they’ve replaced the outmoded concepts of melody and choruses with the kind of silence-punctuated beats that street dancers ply their trade to on Britain’s Got Talent or Covent Garden’s Got Buskers. They did their thing around a pink table, apparently summoning Ms Banks in a seance, only for her to totally upstage them. The song is called ‘Woman Like Me’. Hum it, I dare you. But that’s OK because we’re British and we don’t deserve nice things and there’s nothing more British than slowly tailing off into crapness.
Jack Whitehall borrowed Bernard Manning’s jokebook for a bit
After Little Mix’s performance, Whitehall told an off-colour joke about “dads” at home reaching for cushions. You know, to hide their dad boners. The internet didn’t really like it, emphasising that awards show snark is a difficult tightrope to walk in the current climate. Remember, though, we tried the alternative and it was James Corden, whose demeanour around pop stars was like that of Nick Clegg around David Cameron during their time in office: slightly awed, slightly scared, slightly aroused. Anyway, we exiled Corden to America, and we expect Sajid Javid to strip him of his citizenship any day soon. Worse, for the people in the arena, was the hype man charged with warming up the crowd shouting, “fellas suck ’em in, ladies stick ’em out”. Yuck. But it’s all fine because there’s nothing more British than the Great British Sense Of Humour.
Calvin Harris did a good thing but you couldn’t really see him
OK, so this was one of the better moments: there was a fake river on stage, with dancers representing water and Dua Lipa singing on a sort of mountain top, like a big Tracy Island Art Attack. Rag And Bone Man and Sam Smith tag-teamed their bits too, but they kept them away from the river, and sadly it’s impossible to drown in a river of RADA alumni. The message here is it takes three pop stars to make up for Harris’s vacuum of star power; the producer himself mostly hid behind a load of outdated musical technology looking busy. But that’s fine because he’s British and there’s nothing more British than not wanting to show off.
Jess Glynne had a message
It was really subtle though, so watch the clip below and see if you can spot the empowering subtext in this clever performance.
Jorja Smith tried to have an ‘Adele moment’ but didn’t quite do it
Jorja Smith was the Critics’ Choice last year and so, inevitably, returned to pick up British Female Solo Artist this year, completing the self-fulfilling Brits prophecy as written in ye texts of olde. She also performed a song so lacking in any notable qualities that it could be used to erase memories of the three minutes it occupied, like Will Smith’s special flashlight in Men In Black. It was a spotlighted, stripped-back attempt at an ‘Adele moment’ (no fuss, much tears) but didn’t quite work because it was too cynical and the song is bobbins, but that’s OK because it’s Britain and there’s nothing more British than acknowledging that all the best things happened in the past.
P!nk compared herself to David Bowie and The Beatles
Yet David Bowie never lived to duet with Bastille, did he! And that’s OK because it’s Britain and David Bowie moved away because it’s a bit shit here isn’t it.
Some good stuff happened too, like The 1975 using their platform to open up a conversation about misogyny, and the Outstanding Contribution To Music award going to a woman for the first time ever, but nothing interrupts the flow of a rant like balance.