Tears, tumbles and a guitar solo that literally went up flames were among the highlights as the Brit Awards touched down at London’s O2 Arena for a night of historic firsts. History was made as the ceremony introduced gender-neutral categories while new host Mo Gilligan was the first Black British presenter of the awards.
The ceremony, held in front of a capacity audience for the first time since 2020, had its share of drama too. Adele shed a tear as she accepted the Album of the Year accolade for 30 and dedicated the award to her son, Angelo and ex-husband, Simon Konecki (their break-up is the theme running through the record).
Earlier Annie-Marie had bravely carried on after slipping at the start of her duet with KSI.
A great gasp went up on social media as she took a wobble – but there was no repeat of Madonna’s 2015 tottering over and the “Kiss My (Uh Oh)” singer regained her balance and delivered a knock-out performance.
Sparks of a different sort flew as Dave brought down the curtains with an epic rendition of “In The Fire”, featuring guest turns by Fredo, Ghetts, Meekz, Giggs and a gospel choir. And then came the big payoff, as Dave closed with a scorching guitar solo only to reveal that his instrument had a flame thrower attached to the top.
He and his bassist sent spumes of fire into the sky. It was a genuine spectacle and thoroughly stole the thunder of Adele, whose staging of “I Drink Wine” was comparatively understated. Fresh from the controversial postponement of her Las Vegas residency, the Londoner kept it simple perhaps to a fault as she sat on a piano dressed in a golden dress that twinkled like an oversized sweet-wrapper.
The Brits are where the mainstream British music industry comes to let its hair down and celebrate its achievements and so is not usually night for under the radar artists. But while Adele swept the boards with wins for album, artist and song of the year (“Easy On Me”) this was in other ways the night of the underdog. Indie band Wolf Alice saw off Little Mix to claim Best Group. And if the evening had an emotive high it was the extraordinary performance by Little Simz, an artist who defies genre and who conquered the Brits with her determination and her charisma.
She also walked home with the award for Best New Artist (despite having released her fourth album last year). Inviting her mum up to share the award, Simz – real name Simbiatu Ajikawo radiated underdog charm. “I’m an independent artist and to be here tonight, receiving this award, is such a blessing,” she said. “I wanna say to anyone who is watching this at home, I am living proof that if you work hard at something, no matter where you come from, your background, your race – you can be something extraordinary.”
Little Simz is an acclaimed songwriter with a successful parallel career in acting (she was outstanding in the last season of Top Boy) and so is hardly a struggling unknown. But it was nonetheless encouraging to see the Brits come to a standstill to acclaim a talent whose name didn’t feature the words “Adele” or “Ed”.
Because elsewhere this was a victory lap for the two biggest forces in British pop. Adele seemed to spend half the night running up and down to accept gongs. And Sheeran started the show belting out Bad Habits with the help of goth metallers Bring Me The Horizon.
This was an uncanny mash-up of Ed Sheeran being Ed Sheeran while in the background half a dozen scary-looking men ran around wearing bin-liner and eye-shadow. The ridiculous gave way to the treacly as Sheeran later crooned his way through torch-song the “Joker and the Queen” and was awarded Songwriter of the Year by Brian Cox, aka terrifying Logan Roy from Succession.
As host, Mo Gilligan put in a two-footed lunge early on with a dig at 10 Downing Street. “Boris, I know you’re watching. I know you love a party. Come down, man,” he said. But as the night went on his enthusiasm sometimes took on a slightly forced air and gags about all the celebrities getting sozzled wore a little thin.
His mixed bag performance summed up the 2022 Brits perfectly. It was hard to pick out a theme from the evening – other than the fact that Adele remains a mega-star and that Little Simz deserves to be one.
But then an element of chaos has always been a Brits trademark. And if this year’s event told us little about British music that we didn’t already, it at least did so in an entertaining fashion. And it’s hard to criticise an award ceremony that finishes with an overwrought guitar solo wrenched from a tricked-out flame thrower. The Brits will never be as credible as awards such as the Mercury – and yet when it comes to getting hot and bothered, it remains in a category all its own.
Brit Awards 2022 winners
Album of the Year – Adele: 30
Artist of the Year– Adele
Best Group – Wolf Alice
Song – Adele: “Easy On Me”
New Artist – Little Simz
International Artist – Billie Eilish
International Group – Silk Sonic
International Song – Olivia Rodrigo: “Good 4U”
Brits Rising Star – Holly Humberstone
Dance – Becky Hill
Rock/Alternative – Sam Fender
Pop/R&B – Dua Lipa
Hip-hop/Grime/Rap – Dave
Producer – Inflo
Songwriter of the Year – Ed Sheeran