The BRITs is back at The O2 this week with an audience of 4,000 frontline and key workers who won’t be subject to social distancing measures or masks. The London venue’s first show in over a year is part of the government’s Event Research Programme.
As well being a huge night for the music industry and the nominated artists, the BRITs will play a crucial role in providing the scientific evidence to bring back live music after a year without gigs because of Covid restrictions. A later date in the calendar than the usual February slot has opened up the possibility of a live show, so expect some impactful performances from artists who have been itching to play their hits in front of a crowd for the last year.
As revealed in Music Week’s exclusive digital cover feature with showrunners Rebecca Allen and Selina Webb, it’s been a huge effort from the BRITs team to get everything set for 8pm on Tuesday (May 11).
As usual, the BRITs airs on ITV and will again be hosted by Jack Whitehall. The show will feature a line-up of artists including Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo, Coldplay, The Weeknd, Headie One, Griff, and Rag’N’Bone Man & Pink with the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust Choir. You can catch up with all the nominations here, including three each for Dua Lipa, Celeste, Arlo Parks, Young T & Bugsey and Joel Corry.
“We’re getting ready to go – we’re excited,” said Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI & BRIT Awards. While many awards shows in the past year have relied on pre-recorded material, BRITs viewers and audience members can expect full live performances in the O2 Arena.
Here, Geoff Taylor sets the scene, discusses the challenges involved this year and looks ahead to the impact this unique BRITs can have for artists and labels…
How are you working with the government on the research for this live event with an audience?
“That's a very important driver for us. When the government announced the Events Research Programme, we saw it as an opportunity to support the return of live music through a scientific experiment, which will provide absolutely essential data for the government to reopen live music. But it’s also an opportunity to thank the people who have helped us through lockdown. It has been complex. I think we probably underestimated how much additional work and planning would be required in order to make a BRITs show, which is already a complex thing, and then layer on top all of the science and monitoring that’s necessary as part of the Events Research Programme.
“But I’m really pleased we’re doing it. It will provide a really special atmosphere on the night to have those key workers there, hopefully enjoying themselves and getting a bit of a reward for what they’ve done. It should provide for an amazing atmosphere and, hopefully, some data that will demonstrate to government that having crowds of people enjoying live music is safe, as long as there are sensible precautions in place.”
What conditions will be in place?
“Everyone who’s coming to the show will have to demonstrate a negative test result in the previous 36 hours. There will be masks worn when people aren’t at their seats, there will be comprehensive monitoring of airflows and people’s movement around the venue. That should provide government with a really important data set for indoor performances that, hopefully, will allow us to get back to live music.”
The BRITs should provide government with a really important data set that will allow us to get back to live music
Is there a big investment this year in terms of the TV production?
“It’s huge. It's always a massive investment, and obviously more challenging this year because we're not selling tickets in the usual way. So the labels are supporting the costs of giving away the tickets to key workers. It’s a multi-million pound staging venture. The whole point of the BRITs is to have the highest production values of any show on TV. And I can tell you that with the performances that we've got lined up, it's going to be truly spectacular.”
How important are the social media partnerships?
“TikTok will be livestreaming the red carpet, as will YouTube and others, so that will be widely available on socials. Our approach to socials is to have as many partnerships in place as we can. We want the BRITs to be accessible everywhere. We see the impact that it has as a global trend on Twitter, it always gets tremendous engagement on Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms. So we are optimistic that that will happen again. We think there will be some big stories on the night. All we can do is just make the strongest show we possibly can, and hope people come to it and enjoy it.”
Olivia Rodrigo is a big new US artist as part of the line-up. Is that a big deal for the BRITs this year?
“To have a US artist to come over to the UK to perform at the moment is fantastic, because there are obviously some travel restrictions and some nervousness for many artists to travel. So getting Olivia Rodrigo over here is a coup, we're really excited about her performance. The fact that US artists value the BRITs, I think does speak to its global significance. Everybody always keeps a close eye on the Grammys, but the BRITs is up in that company. US artists wants to get involved in it. In recent years, Lizzo and Billie Eilish showed the pull that we have, and that the UK audience is really important to US artists. They regard it as a home from home.”
And former BRITs winner Dua Lupa returns this year as a global star…
“She is an absolute global superstar, who made an absolutely outstanding record that helped us all through lockdown. I'm sure she will put on an amazing performance. I can tell you it's going to be truly epic in scale, Dua Lipa’s performance. I'm really excited about it. It’s definitely worth tuning in to see, she's really going for it. And I think that's what you hope for from the BRITs. She’s an absolutely fantastic, global icon now and she’s a big booking for the show.”
Are you now confident that the BRITs voting academy is delivering a diverse and representative line-up of nominees, alongside the performers?
“Well, of course, we want the industry to be diverse and inclusive, and the BRITs has its role to play in that. When we're making bookings, we want to create a balanced show across different genres that reflects the past year of music, but that also reflects the diversity that there is in the music business. So, absolutely, that's a consideration. There are always opportunities to feature talent from different genres of music, different ages, etc, to create, hopefully a show, which is entertaining for everyone who watches it and which feels relevant to everyone who watches it. So, those are considerations that we have in mind. Rebecca Allen and Selina Webb, who are chairing, have done an outstanding job bringing the show together and helping the committee to steer through the booking process. And the fact that we've got a very diverse Academy means that we now tend to get a diverse and inclusive set of nominations.”
Dua Lipa’s performance is going to be truly epic
It’s a different date and different kind of BRITs this year. Can it have the same impact?
“It's obviously an experiment having it at a different time of year. But we saw a really good impact last year, in terms of chart positions and views of all the clips – we've had tens of millions of views of all the performances. So we're hoping for the same. People have been denied live entertainment, and certainly a live audience, for such a long time, that we really hope everyone's excited. We hope it will be a bit of a moment. We’re trying to make a BRITs show that reflects the past year, that celebrates all the wonderful people that helped get us through the last year, and that also just provides incredible musical entertainment. We're thrilled with the line-up, and the staging allows us this year to go bigger. We're set up, hopefully, for a show that will really have an impact.”
Can the show provide a significant boost for artists at the BRITs?
“Obviously, we hope for that. But I think you have to look at the impact in the longer term, and you have to look at it on a broader basis than simply the immediate chart position. Performing on the BRITs, and particularly winning a BRIT, is something that stays with an artist for a long period. We’ve seen the impact that it has in terms of both the reach of the artists who really cut through, and the prestige that accompanies it. That's our job, to create a platform that allows the artist to perform at their very best and to be celebrated for the incredible work they've done. That's what we hope for – the impact is cultural, as well as in the numbers. We think that the BRITs plays an important role in boosting awareness and appreciation of artists, and that's what we hope to achieve.”
Subscribers can click here to read our exclusive digital cover feature with BRITs 2021 showrunners Selina Webb and Rebecca Allen.