|The Brit Awards|
[The Mail On Sunday, 2003]
BACK WHEN I was knee-high to a bass player, the music industry was a byword for drug-fuelled tumult. Nowadays it's all focus groups, paedophiles and David Sneddon. Seeking to crank the cog back a notch, I attended the industry's annual pep rally, The Brit Awards, running a temperature in the low 40s and juiced to the gills on the fashionable hallucinogen Day Nurse. This was not a good idea. The Brits are weird enough as it is. So bear with me. If I describe something that didn't happen, that doesn't mean I didn't see it.
For example, at the kick-off, I would swear I witnessed the perky starlet Pink rise out of a twenty-foot taffeta and ermine crown topped with rotating disco balls and flanked by dancing guardsmen. But that could well have been the misfiring of a rogue overmedicated synapse.
Pink, one of the very few American acts to brave the Atlantic crossing, was nominated in the category of Best International Female, alongside Missy Elliott. Pink won, and while there's rarely any point in quibbling over the results of these gongfests, here's where I make an exception. This is akin to giving the male award, had it existed in 1966, to Barry McGuire, while overlooking Bob Dylan. Pink can sing a bit, but the jaw-dropping, revolutionary exuberance, brilliance and daring of Missy's work places it irretrievably out in front of anything we encountered tonight.
It's a perennial problem for The Brits that they are required to salute the biggest earners. No money, no business, no Brits. Certainly, they accommodate innovation and artistry far better than they used to (If memory serves, they once gave Annie Lennox the nod, out of habit, in a year when she hadn't released a record.) Introducing a category for British Urban Act suggests a new-found willingness to bow to the bleeding obvious, particularly when that category includes almost every home-grown performer worth caring about last year. The statuette was presented by Trevor Nelson, the country's most likeable and authoritative music broadcaster, to Ms Dynamite, the new darling of. . . everyone, really.
Ms Dynamite is a young woman of mixed race who has been widely and lavishly praised for disapproving of gunplay, thuggery and misogyny. These are not difficult things to disapprove of, and if Ms Dynamite were a strawberry blonde from Hampshire, her views would not be considered remarkable. Ms Dynamite is treated like a toddler who has precociously learned to tie her own shoelaces. Each compliment contains the implicit insult, “How clever - for a black girl from Archway.” Ms Dynamite is a top-notch pop star: a genuinely smart cookie, cute as a button, and the creator of some delicious music. It's not her fault that she's been adopted as the Reassuring Ethnic Poster Child. But she seems to be enjoying it, so good luck to her.
Ms Dynamite also won British Female Solo Artist, but lost out in the Breakthrough Artist category to gameshow victor Will Young. That'll make a nice story to tell his minicab fares when he's driving them south of the river a couple of years hence.
Over to our hostess for the evening, Davina McCall. More than ever, Davina McCall reminds me of a startled housewife emerging from an explosion at the Rimmel counter in Boots. Her supposedly risqué style is deeply embarrassing, in the way having a schoolfriend's mother wink at you over the tea-tray would be deeply embarrassing. You don't know where to look. The racier she tries to be, the mumsier Davina McCall gets. All the same, she had my sympathy as she battled to stoke up an Earls Court pulsating with the raw excitement of a Mormon quilting bee.
It couldn't help that nobody was drunk. These boozeless Brits had no bonhomie to them, which when you consider the state of the music business is hardly surprising. The industry types needed a drink, if only to forget that for many of them, this bash consisted of little more than tap dancing on the deck of the Titanic - and also that they have plotted their own disastrous course to the iceberg. Never mind the purported effects of “online piracy”; if the music business does perish, it will be a slow, ugly suicide. A third successive British Male award for Robbie Williams merely served to highlight the question, who else is there? It didn't seem to cheer anybody up, least of all Robbie. “See you next year, I suppose,” he said bleakly, via videotape, when evidently he'd sooner see us in hell.
His International counterpart, Eminem, also on tape, looked even less thrilled, accepting his two awards as if being served with yet more arrest warrants. Again, the question, who else is there? Never has a rapper's boast been more justified: “It'd be so empty without me.”
It's hard to imagine Justin Timberlake filling that void. Still, he's turning out to be quite a nifty entertainer, and gave us a welcome blast of the superb Neptunes production Like I Love You. Next he and Brits in-house saucepot-cum-mascot Kylie Minogue covered Blondie's Rapture, which was like watching a Mondrian get a fresh coat from the chap who paints your ceilings.
Coldplay performed, then collected two awards. Coldplay depress me, and not for the obvious reasons. They're good, but once again, they're the only game in town. We live in an era when our biggest, our only major new rock band “never meant to cause you trouble,” and sound like it too. As if to belie this, singer Chris Martin made a feeble attempt at political controversy, pretended to be very pleased with himself (not much of a stretch, that), and issued a now familiar mock-invitation to a fight. If he does that one more time, I'll take him up on it. See you round the back by the bins, indie boy.
Finally, Tom Jones. I know that he's a much beloved trouper, and that criticising him is about as much use as chucking gravel at a Sherman tank, but am I really the only person in Blighty who can't abide him? His Outstanding Contribution To Music consists mostly of ripsnorting kitsch like Delilah and What's New Pussycat - Munich beer hall anthems overlaid with the bellow of a bull walrus in rut - or travesties of once great songs such as Prince's Kiss, a butterfly trampled by rhythmic hobnails. But for signing on as the ironic turn at 1993's Glastonbury festival, he might right now be playing Butlins instead of the Brits.
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