Acting 101: wait for the thing you’re reacting to before you react. It’s why actors don’t fall over before they’re punched, scream before the demonic claw reaches out of the mirror or sign for courier deliveries saying, ‘That’s funny – I didn’t order Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box’. It’s why I ruined my own big screen appearance, playing ‘Hapless Journalist’ arriving at a venue to interview Wolf Alice in Michael Winterbottom’s On The Road, when I leapt out of the taxi and immediately marched off in the direction of the band’s tour bus before I was told by ‘Tour Assistant’ that that’s where they were waiting for me.
Now, I’m not saying that Michael Kiwanuka had been pre-warned that Annie Mac was going to surprise him on The One Show with the news that he was the worthy winner of the 2020 Mercury Prize as he arrived at what he thought was a run-of-the-mill Jools Holland interview. When his face lit up on the words “You are the overall winner…” without waiting to hear what he’d won (a phone-in poll on who should’ve replaced Sandi Toksvig on Bake Off? His first 10 pounds free on Foxy Bingo? Some overalls?), perhaps it was a genuine sign that he just loves winning shit.
To be fair, when you’re booked to do a BBC interview at the exact time the Mercury Prize winner is due to be announced, you might have more of an inkling that you’ve won than, say, Sports Team sitting hopefully by the phone in their stagewear hoping that the Beeb are capable of secretly turning their Xbox camera into a remote live feed to the studio. But there was still the danger that Kiwanuka would punch the air shouting “Kiss my arse, Marling!”, only to be told that, for being Jools’s one thousandth interviewee, he’d actually won tickets to an Ian Brown TED talk.
What will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest TV moments of 2020 – against, let’s face it, some of the least stiff competition since Naked Attraction – should also be the long-term future of award ceremonies. The Mercury Prize is rare in that, like the NME Awards, it showcases artists and genres that otherwise don’t get much exposure in mainstream culture – you won’t find Lanterns On The Lake getting invited to do their new single on an X Factor results show. But how much better would the Brits, the Grammys and all the other tedious four-hour backslaps be if they were done by stealth from now on?
Imagine if, rather than parading down carpets in outfits made of silver-spun narwhal whiskers to be applauded by their fellow millionaires for the sheer heft of your streaming numbers alone, stars were surprised in the street by a couple of Little Mix leaping out of a wheelie bin wielding an Ivor Novello like a pair of crazed stalker Eamon Andrews. And with the ovation of their massed superstar peers replaced by Jools Holland giving them two thumbs up from a nearby doorway.
The benefits would be countless. No more nervous James Corden or Jack Whitehall gags curling up and dying in the cold, dry vacuum of an O2 full of artists so chronically Botoxed they’d lose an ear if they risked a laugh. No more insincere scripted banter between award co-presenters who clearly met twelve seconds ago and are hate-grinning their way through the few demeaning minutes on camera until they can sack their agent for putting them on a stage with this other bozo. No more parades of high-priority major label acts padding out the ‘live performance’ bill with painfully average soul songs, which are immediately hailed as “phenomenal” and “this year’s Adele Moment” by Fearne Cotton, who’d be emotionally overwhelmed by a dachshund noisily shitting out a snooker ball if the autocue told her to be.
And no more pre-prepared speeches. At a stealth award ceremony, you’d really get an insight into the true natures of the stars. The diva who might graciously thank God and the academy at a glittery televised event might, revealingly, be more likely to have Dermot O’Leary disembowelled with his own Brit by her security if he came at her with one in an underground car park. The cult rock band, with no time to rehearse their snarled acceptance shrug, might break down and weep like Paltrow in an Oscar factory at the unexpected honour. Acceptance speeches would be so much more candid before any handlers got to censor them, sticking it to thieving ex-managers, telling the other nominees why they’re not fit to de-blue your M&Ms or waving your award straight down the camera and screaming at the ex that the album’s about: “Too ginger for you now, am I, Denise!?”
Kanye West would really have to up his game. It would take him months of planning to isolate the categories he thinks Beyonce should win and then personally trail the other nominees to make sure he’s there to invade the presentation ceremony, wherever and whenever it may occur. It’d be like a really self-important Hunted, and it might even distract him from trying to crush the remaining embers of America beneath his special edition MAGA Yeezys.
Most of music’s award ceremonies have become so formulaic, dreary and smugly ‘establishment’ that the ninja approach necessitated by corona might well be the shake-up they desperately need. Opening an envelope and shouting “Stormzy!” is no longer the dopamine blitzkrieg it once was, so let’s see how pop’s big hitters deal with drive-by honourings, presentations disguised as drug interventions or Michael McIntyre breaking into their house at 3am to award them Best International Male. And, best of all, it might also spare us the depressing bit at the end, as stealth award presenters would only have to list the people that they sadly lost in traffic this year.