We should’ve been watching the Grammys last week, but thanks to the Omicron variant, the biggest American music awards show was postponed to April. So in the meantime, why not cross the pond to get our fill of big performances and touching speeches? The Brit Awards returned to its usual February date this year, with an audience to boot, following last year’s mid-pandemic show. And along with the requisite big English names like Dave and Sam Fender, the show featured appearances from some of the biggest artists, period, including Adele, Olivia Rodrigo, and Ed Sheeran. It wasn’t quite the Grammys, but it was enough to hold us over. Here are the highs, lows, and whoas of the night.
HIGH: Mo Gilligan’s big hosting entrance.
Comedian Mo Gilligan had big shoes to fill in his first outing as Brits host, following up the beloved Jack Whitehall’s four-year run. He opened the show with a hilarious routine about planning his literal entrance, in which he found out he couldn’t get a boat or a car because the show was cutting back its carbon footprint and did a wonderful Jason Statham impression. It was a good tease of what to expect from Gilligan: a host who loves a joke and isn’t afraid to be silly. That was on display throughout the night, from his Liam Gallagher impression to introduce the man himself to a well-timed callout of Prime Minister Boris Johnson after discussing the party-like atmosphere in the O2. Gilligan’s own hosting streak may have begun tonight.
HIGH: The audience size.
The most immediately noticeable difference from this year’s Brits and recent U.S. awards shows? The full live audience at the O2 Arena. At the end of January, England rolled back its COVID passport requirements and mask mandates, as the country’s Omicron wave crested. That meant one of the livelier shows of the past two years, thanks to the extremely loud crowd. The pandemic didn’t get much mention during the show, either, but it wasn’t totally absent — days before, Doja Cat announced she couldn’t make it due to a positive test in her crew.
WHOA: Ed Sheeran and Bring Me the Horizon … kind of works?
The Grammys wish they came up with this demented combination. Ed Sheeran kicked off the show with a genuinely surprising guest: Bring Me the Horizon. And as weird as that sounds on paper, it kind of went off? “Bad Habits” is a boring song as-is, but Bring Me the Horizon actually brought something to it — a lot of things, in fact, from guitar shreds to screams to flying dancers. We’ll take it!
Many of the names at the Brit Awards aren’t too familiar to U.S. audiences, but aren’t totally foreign to music fans either — artists like Dave, Sam Fender, and Holly Humberstone, all of whom had big showings tonight. That said: Who is Anne-Marie? The singer took the stage early for a medley alongside, uh, YouTuber-turned-rapper KSI and a producer named Digital Farm Animals who wears a pig helmet. She also turned in the most lackluster performance of the night, fated from the moment she fell early in the set.
WHOA: Little Simz brings a full show.
Nearly two years into a pandemic that made our worlds feel a bit smaller, the Brits went big, with nearly every artist bringing out dancers and set pieces. But no one did so better than Little Simz, the British rapper who broke out globally with her 2021 album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Simz performed a medley of her songs “Introvert” and “Woman” with two completely different stagings: dancers in red robes throughout the audience for the first song, women in chic suits for the second, with an ever-elegant Emma Corrin performing one of her album interludes to tie the two together. It was the best kind of awards-show spectacle.
HIGH: Best Dance Act returns!
Yes, it’s a year after Jessie Ware deserved to win for What’s Your Pleasure?, but better late than never. The Brits gave out a trophy for Best Dance Act for the first time since 2004, presenting the award to a fittingly emotional Becky Hill. “I have never been so heartwarmed — I don’t even know if that’s a word — but so touched by all of my fans,” she said.
WHOA: Liam Gallagher’s bigger entrance.
Gilligan may not have gotten his boat or car entrance, but chalk that up to the Brits saving the big guns for Britpop royalty. Liam Gallagher arrived at the venue via helicopter, before a performance of his new single “Everything’s Electric” (which lived up to its name with some awesome guitar tones!).
LOW: Too much bar talk.
Here’s a line you don’t hear too often: Can we get away from the bar? The back half of the show started to drag, thanks in large part to Gilligan and Maya Jama’s filler interviews at the bar. And on top of it all, they didn’t even offer Olivia Rodrigo a shot??
WHOA: Little Simz wins Best New Artist?
Guess some problems really do cross borders. The Grammys have caught heat over the past few years for nominating far-from-new musicians for Best New Artist, from Bon Iver to Phoebe Bridgers. The Brits jumped on that train this year, giving the trophy to Simz for her fourth album (even though her last, 2019’s Grey Area, topped the U.K. Hip Hop and R&B Albums Chart). But that’s not to say it wasn’t a deserved moment for Simz, who dedicated the trophy to “all the kids dreamin’” — or her emotional mother, for that matter, who joined her on stage to accept.
WHOA: Adele’s low-key return.
Before it fell apart, Adele was prepping a Las Vegas residency that was reportedly set to be the most over-the-top performance she’d ever done. Would she take some of that energy over to the Brits for her first appearance since 2016? The answer turned out to be no, as Adele performed a decidedly casual — yet every bit as impressive — rendition of “I Drink Wine.” The powerhouse was still a vision of glamor, belting notes while sitting on a piano and wearing a shimmering gold dress. (There was also a disco ball, in a possible first for an Adele performance.) We’d say that was well worth a toast.
HIGH: Adele adds to the trophy case.
The British icon won the trifecta of the night’s top awards: Best British Song for “Easy on Me,” British Album of the Year for 30, and British Artist of the Year, in its first year as a gender-neutral category. And she remained humble as ever on stage. “I cannot believe that a piano ballad won up against that many bangers,” she said as she accepted her song award. Later, accepting Artist of the Year, she remarked on the category’s change. “I understand why the name of this award has changed, but I really love being a woman and being a female artist, I do!” she said. “I do, I’m really proud of us.” Us too, Adele.
LOW: More Ed Sheeran?!
Whatever cool points Sheeran earned with that Bring Me the Horizon team-up, he lost them when he returned to the stage after winning Songwriter of the Year for a snoozy performance of “The Joker and the Queen.” It’s Awards Show Planning 101: Don’t make an orchestra-backed rendition of a wife guy love song the second-to-last performance of the night!
WHOA: Dave burns up the finale.
After he made headlines with his powerful 2020 Brits performance of “Black,” all eyes were on Dave’s return to the show. He closed out the night with one of its best performances: an equally powerful take on his song “In the Fire,” alongside fellow rappers Fredo, Ghetz, Meeks, and Giggs, along with a full choir. And if that’s not enough, the man finished things off by playing a solo on a flame-shooting guitar! When’s the last time we got that on a U.S. awards show?