Some reasons why the Brit Awards are so uncool
After this year’s celebration of Britain’s musical talent Antonia Quirke wonders if anything could be less cool than a Brit
The brevity of the event is uncool. The Grammys bore on all day with endless categories and sub categories - 'special limited edition packaging', 'best remixed recording of a Mexican vocal' - giving the impression that "there is a hell of a lot going on in music right now, so hunker down because we're literally bulging at the seams with talent, I really don't know where we're going to put everybody this year". But the Brits are a perky little bladder-friendly two hours, and most of that feels like padding. This meagre bunch! it seems to be saying. This is Beatrix Potter's inglenook!
• The Kings of Leon. What happened? The singer used to give forth with such painful honesty about adolescent sex it would actually embarrass the delighted listener, and he and his brothers had their hair cut into the kind of too-short fringes usually favoured by girls prepared to go into The Bell Jar-ish detail about their various suicide attempts. They were incredibly cool. Now they play pool and smooch models in their videos, and the latest one even featured that standard slo-mo black and white tracking shot of the band walking from the tour bus directly into a pre-stadium-gig group hug. And this disintegration happened literally over night!
• The pandering to the public vote is completely uncool. Who gives a fuck what the public thinks? It may well afford the recipient the opportunity to get up and say with absolute ease "this award means more to me than anything…". but the hyper-enfranchising of the public is the worst thing in modern life. "Send your tweets in now", "be a part of the debate", "get phoning", "it's your turn to get involved" - the ultimate in dread expressions. The sheer anxiety on the Brits website to reassure us that the awards are not just voted for by 'industry insiders'! Whenever the reach of an award is enlarged to involve you the people, they carry on as though it's the Magna Carta. You, The real members of the public! Yes you too can vote. (But only for Girls Aloud and Elbow.)
• The revoltingly statistic-laden voice-overs they play when the winners walk to the stage. "Elbow have had an impressive year, taking 80 per cent of the profit in the second quarter of the marketing sector! Great to see them getting the recognition they deserve!" We are all professionals now, you see.
Thank god for Take That, who arrived in a spaceship wearing all-in-one suits• What's with this pretence that the Brits are a really surly evening and therefore not safe to broadcast live? It's been a long time since Brandon Black wandered drunk onto the stage after having been misinformed by his friends that he'd won something, or when the singer in Chumbawamba threw iced water in John Prescott's face and refused to apologise ("If he wants to think he looks trendy he can think again.") That's not to say the Brits have ever been cool. This is the ceremony that made up an entire category (Best Selling Live Act) just so that Steps could win after they were upset at having been beaten by Belle and Sebastian. Nothing exciting ever happens at the Brits. The whole ceremony feels like pretending – and everybody knows it. Just like the Baftas feel like pretending, really.
(The only exciting thing to happen at the Baftas ever was when Ross Kemp won for his Gangs series a couple of years ago. Ross Kemp – our very own Rocky. The greatest grafter comeback since Travolta. But apart from that - put it like this: have you ever been inside the Bafta building on Piccadilly? It's like a decommissioned cruise liner. Spilled sugar on the canteen tables and people not laughing too hard for fear of a 'leakage'. No wonder Brangelina didn't hang around for dinner.)
• Thank god for Take That, who came down in a spaceship wearing black all-in-one trouser suits a la Kraftwerk and oblong spectacles of the type Morrissey wore before he threw his arms around Paris and got his eyes lasered. Nice to see them finally dressing as intellectuals.
• Just take a moment to think about the sheer boredom that attends the voting process for all awards. It’s not like the 'industry insiders' place their votes right there at the exit doors of the cinema or gig, dazed with wonder, their fingers numbly texting friends, urging them to join the revolution. Films are sent to the judges homes on DVD, CDs for the music awards, boxes of books for literary awards. Just imagine the piles to get through, the profoundly inconvenienced expressions, the sly fast forwarding, the missing of whole sections of the plot, or songs, when the pizza or curry arrives. Just imagine the piles occasionally falling, like the ruins of Pompeii.
At least with the Oscars some serious consideration goes into itA friend of mine actively dreads the arrival of the annual Bafta voting form - a huge and arduous document. "Best cinematographer…." she sighs, sucking a biro. "Hmmmm…." And I know a literary editor who regularly has to consider 150 books a year for awards, who says he knows within the first five pages whether to bother continuing or not ("How many great books aren't great in the first five pages?") I used to review films, and after several years on the job became convinced I had developed a sixth sense and knew what to say by the end of the opening credits at the very latest.
At least with the Oscars you sense that some serious consideration has gone into this - even if they do get everything wrong. When anyone ever mentions the phrase "Members of the Academy" I always think of very old sound editors high in the Hollywood hills who haven't been seen since the wrap party for Risky Business because they've been stuck in their private screening rooms quibbling over this or that technical achievement. Was there ever a more oleaginous phrase, a phrase more extraordinarily flattering in the whole of the English language, than for your consideration? One can almost imagine it on a little plaque on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
• Bono: "I don't want to talk about the wars between the nations." The most dishonest line in a U2 song to date?
• Usually, musicians are even worse flatterers than film stars when accepting awards - the fawning over this producer or that session musician: everyone behind them an unsung genius. But at the Brits 2009 nobody even had a go at saying anything other than I love you, Mum. Katy Perry actually admitted she only came because she was reassured "something good would happen". And Paul Weller didn't even pretend to be abroad! He accepted his award in what was clearly an English pub. I got the distinct impression he was in Marylebone.
• But at least, because of the general brevity we were spared too much of Elbow at the podium being 'humble'.
• The Brits have never been cool and never will be. Even the word Brit is profoundly uncool - wildly defensive, it eternally conjures Gerry Halliwell sewn into a Union Jack tea towel. It's too nervous an award - not sure of what it stands for. The black artists get siphoned off to the Mobos, the really 'good' people get the Mercury. The feeling persists that to lay one's hands on a Brit is bad luck - put your hand on Britannia and you've sold out. To actually win is worse than to lose. It may help with your sales, but it's naff. It's Richard and Judy's book club. Which is why there is always, always, a little pulse of terror in the air that people might get up to the podium and say "yeah, whatever" - and not be arsed with any of it. ·
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