After performing with Ed Sheeran at the 2017 BRIT Awards ceremony, Stormzy returned to steal the headlines this year by winning two awards and preventing the widely-anticipated triumph for the man he shared the stage with 12 months ago.
It ensured this year's BRIT Awards, staged at the O2 Arena, was a far from predictable night for the biz. Despite BPI and BRIT Awards chief executive Geoff Taylor’s claim that new host Jack Whitehall would be respectful to the artists, the comedian was quickly poking fun and suggested that quadruple nominee Ed Sheeran was “invited tonight on the strict condition that he didn’t do Galway Girl”. It’s not an easy gig but Whitehall was in his element as he got some comedy saucy banter out of Liam Payne and Cheryl. There was even a crack about Spotify's royalties rate - a bit rich given that the BRITs official global streaming partner is YouTube.
After opening with a Man’s Not Hot comedy routine with Biq Shaq and Whitehall, the show kicked off with a reliable superstar, Justin Timberlake, who was joined by Chris Stapleton and a choir on Say Something.
With OCC sales to date of 2,837,484, Sheeran’s ÷ was seen as a shoo-in for the Mastercard British Album Of The Year, but Stormzy’s debut Gang Signs & Prayer was the choice of the voting academy. The album is very nearly platinum status (297,810 OCC sales to date) and should now comfortably hit label services company ADA’s target of 500,000 sales.
Stormzy also edged out Sheeran in the British Male Solo Artist category. A rousing and watery rendition of Blinded By Your Grace (Part 2) and Big For Your Boots at the end of the show is set to give the grime star a huge boost and the ceremony signified the urban genre’s increasingly mainstream appeal.
But Stormzy wasn’t the only big winner on the night: Dua Lipa also picked up two awards (British Breakthrough, British Female Solo) and her celebratory performance of New Rules was one of the standout moments. Following her 1 billion YouTube hits for the single, the BRITs now sets her up for a big year with plenty of scope for a platinum debut album (the self-titled LP has OCC sales to date of 175,512).
Dua Lipa won the first award (British Female Solo) of the night and her speech touched on the issue of gender representation that the Grammys failed to address. “Here’s to more women on these stages, more women winning these awards and more women taking over the world,” she said. Awards presenters including Ellie Goulding brought a white rose on stage in recognition of the Time's Up campaign.
Sheeran, who performed Supermarket Flowers, had to make do with the Global Success Award – deserving recognition but not perhaps the night he was hoping for after being snubbed in the Grammy nominations.
Rag’N’Bone Man, winner of last year’s British Breakthrough BRIT, picked up the British Single award this time for Human and he performed Skin alongside Critics' Choice winner Jorja Smith. Human, which peaked at No.2, has OCC sales to date of 1,446,403 and the album of the same name gave Columbia the biggest debut of 2017.
But there was no repeat of the Sony Music rout from last year’s ceremony, when they took home nine awards. Foo Fighters (also on Columbia) – who performed for the first time and brought some slightly incongruous rock to this year’s show – did win International Group for the fourth time. And Columbia made it three with Harry Styles getting British Artist Video. However, fellow Sony artists J Hus (three nominations), Calvin Harris (two nominations), Little Mix (two nominations) and London Grammar all lost out.
Sony Music UK & Ireland CEO/chairman Jason Iley can take credit for a packed and entertaining show in his role as BRITs chairman. There were none of the surprises or controversial moments you sometimes get at the BRITs - unless you count an f-bomb right on the 9pm watershed from Rag'N'Bone Man, the unlikely pairing of Harry Kane and Camila Cabello and a literally smashing performance from "world's greatest rapper" Kendrick Lamar.
A bearded Liam Gallagher was a fitting choice to pay tribute to the victims of the Manchester terrorist attack and the One Love concert with an acoustic rendition of Live Forever.
It was perhaps a slightly bittersweet night for Warner Music with Sheeran failing to triumph as expected, but the major was still the big winner thanks to Dua Lipa (Warner Bros) and Stormzy (released by Merky, distributed by Warner’s ADA), who's newly signed to Atlantic. Parlophone’s Gorillaz also picked up the Best Group award – their first BRIT after nine attempts. They were nominated in the same category way back in 2002 so probably weren't expecting this one. At least the win should give their critically-acclaimed Humanz album (103,070 OCC sales to date) a boost. Damon Albarn's Brexit-themed speech initially threatened to be a political rant but ended up as celebration of British music.
Universal Music had to make do with awards in the international categories, though they were well-received wins for Lorde (International Female Solo Artist, which she won in 2014) and Kendrick Lamar (International Male Solo Artist).
The full list of winners is below:
Mastercard British Album Of The Year
Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
British Artist Video
Harry Styles – Sign Of The Times
British Female Solo Artist
British Male Solo Artist
Rag’N’Bone Man – Human
International Female Solo Artist
International Male Solo Artist
BRITs Global Success Award