It might be seen as the little sister of The Grammys, but the annual BRIT Awards in London have always had their fair share of headline-making moments. Be it Amy Winehouse's touching performance in 2008 during her most turbulent time, or Madonna careering backward off a plinth with a sharp tug of her cape, the ceremony's highlights have always traveled further afield than the millions-strong British audience who tune in to watch it every year.
In 2019, as Britain's music scene grows more diverse and forward thinking than ever, the slew of stars who managed to make appearances and pick up accolades aplenty may have felt like a slight step back in the current conversation (For some reason, Ed Sheeran won the Global Success prize for the second year in a row) – but there are nuances there. In a ceremony that often encourages ugly egos out of artists who haven't earned one, there was an inoffensiveness, grace and a trend of using the BRITs platform for change that dominated everybody's acceptance speech. Based on what we saw, the future of British music is in some pretty solid hands.
In case you missed it, here are some key points from the ceremony, from boy bands calling out industry-supported misogyny to musical royalty lifting up actual royalty, that you should catch up on.
The 1975 Calling out Music's Women Haters
Matty Healy of The 1975 is fast becoming a new generation’s heartthrob, so when it was announced that they’d won one of the first awards of the night – Best British Group – beating out pop faves Little Mix, the crowd went wild. But their speech contained one of the most defiant moments of the night: a pointed message to those who continually dismiss industry misogyny. Quoting The Guardian’s Laura Snapes’ op-ed on Ryan Adams and the vitriolic nature of indie music’s patriarchal dominance. “Male misogynist acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of ‘difficult’ artists,” Healy said, unraveling his sheet of paper and delivering the words like a sermon to the back walls and upper tiers of the arena. “... [while] women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art.”
Sam Smith Living His Femme Fantasy
After his weight loss, Sam Smith re-emerged onto the pop scene with a startling new look—even if the laborious, melancholy music remained much the same. The one exception is his disco-tinged collaboration with Calvin Harris ‘Promises’, which he performed as part of a medley alongside our queen Dua Lipa and British warbler Rag n’ Bone Man. The BRITs might have criminally missed out on a show-stopping queer performance by failing to let Years & Years take to the stage, but it was so heartwarming to see Sam Smith—a gay man so often straightwashed by industry bosses—embrace his flamboyant, femme fantasy on stage in front of a millions-strong audience watching at home. Heck, he even got to dance alongside Winnie Harlow, who popped up mid-set in an homage to her appearance in the original song’s music vid.
Jess Glynne and H.E.R. Shedding Their Souls on Stage
Jess Glynne is one of Britain’s biggest and most successful pop stars sales-wise, but she gets a rough ride from the general public for her by-the-numbers brand of songwriting and unwillingness to assimilate into the necessary tropes of pop stardom. Considered boring by so many, expectations were fairly low for her BRITs performance, but she seemed to knock it out the bag. For her performance of ‘Thursday’, a standard pop song about learning to be comfortable in your own skin, she enlisted the legendary Es Devlin, known best for her Watch the Throne tour stage design, to create a spectacle comprised of dozens of women—Glynne included—slowly removing their make-up on stage. Fresh off the back of her Grammy wins, H.E.R. joined Glynne to turn the performance into one glittering display of women in solidarity with each other. It might’ve felt a little like a commercialized Dove commercial to some, but I—along with a lot of folks at the O2 Arena—was won over.
Little Mix Robbed a Bank for ‘Woman like Me’
When Little Mix won their first award tonight for Best British Video, they thanked their fans for sticking by them for seven whole years. It’s a miracle that a girl group – particularly one formed through The X Factor UK—has managed to stay around that long, but it’s a testament to the girl’s ability to resonate with a sea of young women who are desperately seeking admirable role models now that the teenybopper heartthrob has become a thing of the past. For their performance of ‘Woman Like Me’, the girls donned pink overalls staged an elaborate bank robbery with the underrated British rapper Ms. Banks (geddit?) taking over proceedings from an absent Nicki Minaj. A big dollop of sugary pop excellence is what we were sorely lacking up until this moment; the Little Mix girls gave us spade-loads of it.
The Carters Showing Solidarity with Meghan Markle
We might have had our hearts set on BROCKHAMPTON, who’d flown umpteen members over to London from LA, winning this award, but all was forgiven when it went to the next best possible option. Though they weren’t in attendance, The Carters – known better as Bey and Jay – won the prize for Best International Group, and caused a stir by accepting their award in a taped video message in front of a crowned portrait of Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. As tabloid stories about her personal life, father and – on the same evening – a “lavish” baby shower rolled in, the two icons of contemporary culture showed their solidarity with a third, during a time when the honorary Brit was being vilified for the bare minimum by the news media, due in part to both her race and former celebrity status. As The BRITs continue to push buttons and surprise people in 2019, decades after it was first held, who would have thought its most conversation sparking figures wouldn’t even have to be in the room? Either way, their subtle shoutout to Ms. Markle was a real fucking moment.