Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cliché’s, Cut-off’s & Controversy: The BRIT Awards Are Back


February is one of the UK’s stand-out months in the British music calendar. Regardless of whether you look forward to it like a day at the theme park, or long equally for it as much as you do a dentist check-up, the BRIT Awards - our country’s most prestigious, most lavish, most critically-examined music awards ceremony - are always something many a British music listener, in whatever degree of taste and decency, look forward to. February sees the record labels of the World (all four of them amid their subsidized masquerading of independence) come together and relish in the near-three-hour celebration showing to the World what it is that puts the Great in Great Britain, and too celebrates just-as-equally the growing appreciation for World music and Britain's clear fondness for it. At least...that’s what the PR’s and the Phonographic Industry want you to think. What it actually stands for, is a near-three-hour comedy-drama spectacle so profound and unpredictable even M. Night Shyamalan would look at it and goChrist, didn’t see that one coming’.

Introductory joking aside, the BRIT Awards are, unfortunately, just that: a joke; a farce, an established set of norms masquerading as the best that music has to offer. But truth be told - for the umpteenth time in musical debate - the commercially selling ≠ the best. Not that this is a stand-alone issue; our friends over the pond aren’t exactly immune to the whole giving an award because it’s popular spectacle. If I remember correct, good old Amy Winehouse (you remember her?) won five Grammy’s for an album that was already two years old at the time of its release, Winehouse herself still made herself news for all the wrong reasons. But that didn't stop the British press meanwhile from making out that this success will spark a revival, a return, a highly-praised third album...bla bla bla. And look what happened in that little spin of hype and hysterics. But I’m blowing off-course here. Getting back to my own native British Isles, the BRITs’ problems resides in two areas: its view on what it is that is ‘the best’, and second, its actual infrastructure as an awards ceremony alone.

First off, we have the nominees. Now don’t get me wrong, not every one of the five nominees in each of the categories is a complete head-scratcher. Jarvis Cocker, Thom Yorke, PJ Harvey - individual artists have all had at least some recognition that, yes, they exist...and yes, their efforts do deserve praise. But it all comes down to the category title, that one word that pulls back on the tin of many a can of worms and splits debates. Best. British male, British female, British group, British album, American...errr I mean International Group, they all begin with it. But best at what? Selling more records than everyone else? Being in the main articles of the physical music press? Reaching #1 on the album/single chart? It remains subjective and ambiguous, but what the BRITs’ own definition of the word isn't so foggy. And it does suggest that the Best refers to anything but the music. Sure, I don’t expect the BPI or the public (oh that’s rich) to follow every possible release of any given calendar year - especially those that aren’t played/promoted on shows like The X Factor or The Voice, but still generate buzz in the online music circles - but when you see the likes of Manufactured Boy Band #743E win Best New Single (and even get the name of the radio station that offered public voting, wrong), there’s a distressing, stomach-churning sickly feeling appearing that suggests the mainstream market continues to lessen in its diversity and variance of musical talent.

That leads me quite neatly onto the second of BRITs laughable failings: the show itself. The BRIT Awards have become a kind of staple talking-point in British culture for reasons other than who’s won and who hasn’t. To put it bluntly, when critics, viewers and artists come away talking more about how dysfunctional and shoddy it was structured, or how wrong it was to cut someone off because it was running a few minutes over-schedule (football matches can run as far as forty-five minutes past their expected end), it’s not pleasant reading. And despite what organized re-branding the ceremony received two years ago, or that it’s come to the point where even the organizers need to promise everything will run accordingly beforehand, the fact that the ceremony still fucks up or goes wrong, goes to show just how laughable this awards show has come. But there’s nothing wrong with a giggle here and there. Hell, some of the highlights of BRIT history have been those that have ran out of the controllers’ hand. It’s never a dull moment when I do a search on YouTube for Jarvis Cocker showing his disgust at Jacko’s belief he was the second-coming, or Chumbawumba giving John Prescott the cold shoulder, literally, or even a drunk Vic Reeves presenting an award even the auto-cue had no idea of more recently in 2008 - Sharon Osbourne knowing not of her lack of verbal decency. True, these were in a time when the after-show party bled far too early into the actual ceremony, and alcohol itself had no limitation, but given how lavish and extravagant the press made the awards out to be, there was still a underlining hope for manner and control. I mean, come on, it’s a [few seconds off] live awards show watched by several millions.
 
 
Unfortunately, that’s where the current present-day (rebranded) BRITs has its new problems. As much as I like to see order and control in any manner of speech, presentation, or even just in a place where there are countless many a human being, it’s this over-emphasis on control that feels slightly uncomfortable as someone watching the event unfolding. And I’m not even in London. It’s a tale, more saddening, of contemporary light-entertainment in this country in the noughties. I don’t watch much TV nowadays - aside from the occasional decent documentary here and there - but when I sit down and see it for what it is, Saturday nights (or any night for that matter) no longer have that buzz and excitement they had in the 90’s. Everything feels somewhat lifeless, devoid of any real humanity or emotion. Lights, camera, action, scripts, smiling faces; everything else is unneeded. The same can be said for the BRITs. Corporate back-patting and bitter scheduling at its most filtered state, it’s a televised two-hour filler that is administered, controlled and organized to the point where actions and moments are timed to the exact second. I refer again to every young girl’s young crush (at least for now) and flavour of the month last year in the Best New Single category; viewers can quite clearly see the moment presenter James Cordon gets the ‘OK, that’s enough - we’re running seconds over schedule here’ call in his ear-piece. And we all know what happened when that decision to cut an acceptance speech went beyond vaguely disguised.
 
 
Yes, I’m not the biggest fan of Adele or manufactured pop, but I still give both acts a glimmer of respect in that, above all, they are [still] human, and are genuinely grateful for being loved/adored/sexualized by their fans. Regardless of whether you cut someone’s speech short, usher them off the stage, or whatever, it all boils down to the fact that the program organizers have only one set goal on their mind: wrap this up before the news comes on...oh, and NO, we don’t condole acts that go against our planned set-list. But this is where I make my point in how I think the ceremony can be improved upon. What the likes of Jarvis Cocker or The KLF have shown is that even musicians and artists are disgusted, or perhaps to put it more lightly, are disagreeing over what the BRITs had, and still is standing for. Despite their hilarity and their one-in-a-lifetime memory, is that deep down, it casts a glaring light on what the BRIT Awards have become: purely popularity-driven; all hype and sale statistics. It’s a front for the big four labels to project their overblown egos on the British public and to strengthen even further what strangle-hold they have on the majority of the country’s listening habits - equally saturating it with even less diverse sounds as much as they’re narrowing what is the standard for musical trends on this tiny little isle off the coast of continental Europe. You can see why the UK is  such an important business venture; the UK’s musical consumption is the World's third biggest. Only the US and Japan have a greater expenditure.

It’s not all business - and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’ve already entered POLITIC MODE on this subject - but above all, my point (and so too my worries) lies with what it is I see the BRITs offering beneficially in today’s music culture. This is no longer an age of  C60 cassettes and vinyl-only sales. It’s 2013, and the World is increasingly more networked and integrated into technology’s way in the World. As far as music goes, it’s an age of wireless streaming, downloading (both legal and illegal) and artists who know the power of the net and thrive because of it. The day of multiple [physical] million-selling albums is long gone, and people don’t have the financial support to invest in their listening habits. It’s clear the big cheese of the industry haven’t woken up and smelt the coffee, but have the BRITs? Though technology continues to grow and advance, I feel award ceremonies feel anything but - rather, it comes across as shrinking and devolving into nothing more than a literal nodding of the head; giving awards for the sake of giving awards and holding no real credible justification behind it other than sales, sales, sales! Ending on a high note, it’s pleasing to see the likes of Jessie Ware and Alt-J among the nominees this year - both of which MRD have become respected fans of because of their 2012 offerings. And while the likelihood of them winning is on par with winning the lottery or the economy stabilizing, it’s at least comforting to see the BRITs finally coming to terms with the fact that, yes, sales ≠ best. Talent = best. So I will watch, I will analyze, and I will submit what I have witnessed - sat through - in an upcoming follow-up. But above all, I will remain with the exact same ideology and state of mind over Great Britain’s take on a music awards ceremony. Whatever happens, it’s going to be memorable...one way or another.
~Jordan

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