The 10 Best Politically-Charged Tracks, according to Orbital
The idea of the BRIT Awards being a true representation of the best in British music is pretty laughable. Everyone knows that. Every year, a Voting Academy of music industry professionals and nominated artists from the previous ceremony are tasked with deciding the best British music from a list of the 1000 highest selling singles and the 500 or so albums released in the eligibility period, the data provided by the Official Charts Company.
Linking the judging process with the charts so closely is the obvious problem when people are increasingly consuming music in many different ways but, far from considering changes in the way the system is set up, the BRITs seem to have responded by pushing their focus even further to the middle, guiding decisions by what they would like British pop music to be, rather than what is actually is. Their most cynical move recently has been their effective patronisation of Tom Odell, a mildly popular piano singer who has managed to upgrade a Critic's Choice win in 2013 to nominations for both Best British Breakthrough and Best British Male this year. The BRITs: we see what you're trying to do, and we're not having it.
Besides playing it safe with the whole production and the gifting of nominations and awards, the BRIT organisation's new chairman Christian Tattersfield has also described past ceremonies as a "shambles", describing the updated BRITS as "an important event of gravitas, rather than just a shoddy knees-up." As much as we like our television slick and professional – and appreciate the efforts of the whole production crew – we will miss the slightly shambolic feel of older shows, and definitely hope that an "important event of gravitas" isn't just another way of saying "a round of backslapping award presentations and lacklustre performances."
Half-looking forward to this years event, we've dug into the archives and picked ten things we would like to see happen again at the UK's premier music award show. This isn't an alternative list of artists we'd like to see winning at the BRITs in a perfect world or a run-through of well-worn stories, but a simple plea for a little entertainment when we tune in tomorrow at 8pm, with most of the clips pulled from their official YouTube channel.
Note: this is the only time Jarvis Cocker's stage invasion during that Michael Jackson performance in 1996 will be mentioned here.
- ENTERTAINING HOSTS
James Corden will host this year's BRITs, for the fourth time in as many years. He is a perfectly competent try-hard – his only minor controversies so far have been some awkward moments with Justin Bieber in 2011 and some timing issues when Adele's speech was cut off in 2012 – but some viewers who enjoy a bit of chaos will look back fondly at past shows, particularly Samantha Fox and Mick Fleetwood's stewardship of the 1989 ceremony.
A traditionally funny "little and large" comedic duo, their act was compounded by technical difficulties and shared inexperience, painfully detailed in this clip of them introducing the International Male award. With stilted back-and-forth banter and a video clip that failed to show on command, even some impromptu doo-wop by The Four Tops wasn't enough to save them.
- ODD BLIPS
The major Brit categories now seem like a sad carousel of industry-approved acts, with very little room for geniune surprises, good or bad. Aside from the huge names most likely to win the Best Male and Best Female awards (your David Bowies, Jake Buggs, Jessie Js, and Ellie Gouldings) and the designated "indie" choices (your Odells, John Newmans, Birdys and Laura Marlings), the remaining two alternatives (Laura Mvula and James Blake) are decidedly safe leftfield picks, worryingly suggesting that the Mercury Awards are becoming nothing but a feeder club for the BRITs.
Say what you want about Kate Nash's brand of twee, but it did capture hearts and was a thing that she managed to translate from Myspace fame to real fame with her first album – so much so that she nabbed the British Female BRIT in 2008 while up against acts with far more experience and discernible talent. Triumphing against PJ Harvey, Leona Lewis and Bat for Lashes on that night was a remarkable high point in her career. Her speech was good as well, so fair play to her.
- ACTUAL BRITISH BREAKTHROUGHS
This clip of the So Solid Crew taking the stage at the 2002 ceremony is actually for Best Video, but the wider relevance of the award is clear. While the crew probably sold at least as many copies of their records out the back of their cars as they did in the shops, their sole BRIT was a formal, if begrudging and long overdue, recognition of their importance of this country's music scene.
Belle and Sebastian notably won the actual British Newcomer award in 1999 (albeit under accusations of unfair vote manipulation by the band's large student following – that year's award was decided by Radio 1 listeners) but only two of them showed up to the ceremony, and they didn't bring boxes of Cristal with them.
- FUN INTERNATIONAL AWARDS
The international awards are often a pretty predictable nod to American superstars (or Kylie), but Bjork has had a surprisingly good run in the standing, first winning International Breakthrough in 1994, going on to win International Female in 1996 and 1998, and being nominated again in 2006. Here she is being surprised with her '96 award by then-boyfriend Goldie, live on stage in Hong Kong.
This year, past winners Katy Perry and Lady Gaga (alongside Pink, who has been nominated multiple times but has never won) are poised to grab the Philip Treacy-designed trophy, though fans of the underdog will be hoping Janelle Monae or Lorde may spring another surprise.
- LEGIT RAP PERFORMANCES
Kanye West was the last rapper to perform at a BRIT awards ceremony, and that was back in 2006. If the institution have had a tough time keeping up with pop music in general in recent years, then they've completely lost their grip on hip hop – a product of America's major label rap infrastructure falling apart. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Eminem, and Drake are the only rappers up for awards this year – for International Group and International Males respectively – and it is doubtful that any will turn up, let alone perform.
Look back at these videos of Eminem's horror-themed performance of I'm Back and The Real Slim Shady from 2001, and his Shady/Aftermath Entertainment protege 50 Cent's cinematic show with G-Unit three years later, and think back on healthier times for hip hop. R.I.P. Proof.
- INFAMOUS PERFORMANCES IN GENERAL
But no, the most infamous BRITs live performance actually came from a local bad boy: Mark Morrison. The official history will tell you that the 1997 show was important because the Spice Girls did Who Do You Think You Are and Geri Halliwell wore the Union Jack dress, but the show featured a truly incredible performance of Return Of The Mack by a fresh-out-on-bail Morrison, flanked by dancers dressed as policewomen.
Admire the way he drops his white fur to the floor to reveal a turtleneck sweater emblazoned with "Only God Can Judge Me" on the front and "Not Guilty" on the back, and be astounded at the way he casually tosses the mic from one hand to the other to sing the final part of the song while being carried away by the audience.
- SPECIFIC GENRE CATEGORIES
The last BRITs for Best Pop, Best Rock and Best Urban Acts were given out in 2006, with the Best Dance Act scrapped two years previously. The classification and judging for these awards were far from perfect (rock was synonymous with best group, pop meant everything and nothing, and the 2005 urban award was won by Ashill, Devon's own Joss Stone), but they did occasionally give more marginal and unusual acts space to shine.
For example, the dance section was usually dominated by M People, Basement Jaxx and The Chemical Brothers, but it did throw up a nod to Massive Attack in 1996. Ironic, in the words of Robert Del Naja, because none of the collective could dance. With the boom in deep house over the past year – Duke Dumont's number one hit Need U (100%) with A*M*E, absent in any category this year, immediately springs to mind – this award could've given the Brits the chance to celebrate music people have been dancing to in clubs all over the country.
- RELEVANT PRODUCERS
The BRITs have had a clear problem with deciding the Best Producer in recent years, presumably due to the producer's role moving more towards a beatmaker with the growth of electronic music. This might be the biggest misstep the awards have made this year, failing to make the most out of the independent hybrid electronic acts like Rudimental and Clean Bandit who dominated the charts in 2013 and who look set to continue into 2014, instead nominating the former in major categories against the most popular (One Direction) and most established (David Bowie) names.
This year's uninspiring award has already been given to veteran rock producer's Flood and Alan Moulder – beating Paul Epworth and Ethan Jones – so you can just ignore that and watch this clip of Trevor Horn winning the 1992 edition while up against the likes of Stock, Aitken and Waterman, Mark Knopfler, and Youth.
- STANDOUT MOMENTS FROM YOUNG BRITISH TALENT
A rare win for the awards in general in recent BRITs history is Adele's performance of Someone Like You at the 2011 ceremony. While she was already number one around the world with Rolling In The Deep, this stunning performance pushed her second single 46 places up the chart to earn her her first UK number one by the end of that week. It's impossible to predict if the stars will align for another act like they did for her that night, but here's hoping.
- POLITICIANS CLAMBERING FOR COOL POINTS
OK, so this isn't something we'd exactly like to see again, but it is intriguing. In 1996, when he was still only Leader of the Opposition, the “foot-tappin', pop-lovin', he's got nice hair” Tony Blair was given the opportunity to introduce David Bowie's Outstanding Contribution to Music award. It seems inconcievable that any major British politician will be given the opportunity to do this again anytime soon, and current Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband's recent appearance on Desert Island Discs shows a man almost laudably out of touch with popular music. Surely Blair's reign soberly reminded us that having played an electric guitar and being into Oasis doesn't equal a great Prime Minister.
The 2014 BRIT Awards takes place on Wednesday February 19th 2014.