Brits 2021: a proper overdue knees-up

Photography John Marshall

With performances from Arlo Parks, Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo, it even had a (currently bleary–eyed) TJ Sidhu forgiving the one-too-many video performances...

London’s O2 was finally prodded upright last night from its 15 month snooze with the Brit Awards.

Hosted by Jack Whitehall, who returned for the fourth time, the event featured less than half of its usual attendees, with much of the 4000-strong audience made up of key workers – a nod to the pandemic, which saw it delayed from its usual February time slot.

With no social distancing or masks, the ceremony was being used as one of the government’s Covid event trials. And after about five minutes of feeling weird – journos and the chatty showbiz lot were crammed in booths necking free booze after a year of pandemic-enforced No Freeloading – it was a welcome return to normality. Or something close to it.

Looking out over the stands, where the famous Brits attendees would usually sit on large round tables accompanied by their mums, PRs, managers and mates, there were still notable reminders that we aren’t queuing up for the club just yet. The tables, small and square, lined with some sort of glittery cloth, were hilariously empty – and sparse.

Opening the night was your dad’s favourite, Coldplay. Except they weren’t actually there. In-keeping with the year’s digital festivities, they performed (what was that track again?) via a live-stream video from a barge on the Thames. Not quite the opening bang, after a year of watching bloody everything through a screen.

But Dua Lipa, dressed in a Vivienne Westwood skirt with nods to Geri’s Union Jack moment” from 97, was the pure pop respite to this pretty shit year.

Performing a Future Nostalgia medley, Lipa went on to sweep the British Female Solo Artist and British Album awards later on in the night. While picking up the award, she addressed the 2500 key workers in attendance, saying: It’s very good to clap for [frontline NHS staff], but we need to pay them,” before dedicating her additional award to Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, a nurse and healthcare pioneer.

Last year’s controversies over the lack of female winners – only Billie Eilish, Mabel and Celeste picked up gongs – was flip-reversed this year, with women dominating the wins. Arlo Parks, who made a stellar Brits debut with a performance of Hope, won Breakthrough Artist, Haim picked up International Group, Taylor Swift won Global Icon (past winners include David Bowie, Robbie Williams and Elton John) and Eilish with International Female.

Little Mix became the first all-female group in Brits history to win British Group – a head-spinning feat given the awards’ 43-year history. In their speech, they thanked their girlband predecessors: Spice Girls, All Saints, Sugababes and Girls Aloud.

God was thanked by Rising Star Award-winner Griff, who also performed her tender track, Black Hole. And, in a surprise appearance, actual Michelle Obama appeared on-screen to present The Weeknd with the International Male award.

In a nod to last year’s acclaimed Channel 4 series, It’s a Sin, Olly Alexander performed, obviously, It’s a Sin, alongside Elton John. Accompanied by drag queens, writhing and giving some straight-through-the-soul stares, it was all-out camp. Like a penis-strawed hen night somewhere on the coast…

All in all, it was a proper, long overdue knees-up. And looking from the inside, 21st June – when absolute freedom is allegedly ours again – might not seem so out of reach after all. Wahey.

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