Britain’s music industry saluted chart-topping talent and departed icons at Wednesday’s Brit Awards, where nominees included Drake, Beyonce and David Bowie.
Bowie, who died in January 2016, was named British male artist of the year and was also nominated in the album of the year category for valedictory release Blackstar.
Bowie’s award was accepted by Michael C. Hall, star of Lazarus, a stage musical based around the late artist’s songs.
“If David Bowie could be here tonight, he probably wouldn’t be here tonight,” Hall said of the famously elusive musician. When Bowie won the same award at the Brits in 2014, he sent supermodel Kate Moss, dressed as his character Ziggy Stardust, to collect it for him.
The flashy show at London’s O2 Arena opened with girl group Little Mix giving a thunderous performance of Shout Out to My Ex.
Soulful chanteuse Emeli Sande was named female British artist of the year, while Manchester indie pop band The 1975 won the trophy for best British band.
Singer Matt Healy noted that the band, whose album I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It has been a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, had had the same lineup since the members were 13.
Injecting a light note of politics into a show that’s often slick and uncontroversial, Healy told entertainers with a platform not to heed advice to “stay in your lane when it comes to social issues.”
He said that “if you have a platform, don’t do that. Please don’t do that.”
The international awards went to global stars — none of whom came to accept them. Drake was named international male solo artist, while Beyonce took the international female prize. A Tribe Called Quest took the trophy for international group.
The show paid tribute to one of the music industry’s many losses of 2016: George Michael, who died on Christmas Day at age 53.
His Wham! bandmate, Andrew Ridgely, said that with Michael’s death, “a supernova in a firmament of shining stars has been extinguished.”
Coldplay singer Chris Martin performed a moving rendition of Michael’s A Different Corner — a duet with a recording of Michael himself.
Other performers included Robbie Williams, Katy Perry, The 1975 and Bruno Mars, as well as grime musician Skepta. He was nominated for British breakthrough artist but lost to big-voiced soul singer Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, whose song Human has had heavy play around the world.
“Oh, my days,” said the singer, whose real name is Rory Graham. “I’m nearly speechless.”
Grime artists Stormzy and Kano were also award contenders, reflecting the growing artistic and commercial clout of the distinctly British rap genre.
Adele, who took four Grammys last week, was not up for many Brits because her album 25 was eligible last year and won four Brits. She won this year’s Global Success award, which recognizes international sales.
The awards, a showcase for British sound and style with a sprinkling of big-name international acts, have been accused of failing to represent the industry’s ethnic diversity.
All last year’s British nominees were white, and protesters rallied under the hashtag #britssowhite.
Organizers responded by expanding the diversity of the voter base of 1,000 music industry figures.
This year’s list was more diverse, with Sande, soul singer Michael Kiwanuka and singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas among non-white British contenders, along with the three grime performers.
La Havas, nominated for best British female artist, said on the red carpet she was glad the London-centric sound of grime was being recognized.
“For me personally, when I hear grime, because I’m from London, it sounds like London to me,” she said. “It does in hindsight feel a bit unusual that it was something that wasn’t promoted as much.
“But I also think now we’ve got some real stars happening in that genre. It makes a lot of sense now.”
Keith Harris, who was appointed to head a diversity task force for the British music industry, said “people feel there might actually be a breakthrough.”
“The question is whether this is going to be long term or short term,” he said. “That’s my concern.”
Most Brits winners are chosen by music industry members, with several selected by public vote — including a best video category decided by social media ballot during the broadcast.
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