'The show has to be about today and tomorrow': David Joseph on the big BRITs revamp

David Joseph

When Music Week broke the news of big changes at the BRIT Awards in our print edition on Monday, it instantly became a huge talking point across the music industry (alongside our Taylor Swift cover story).

After all, the BRITs remains UK music’s biggest showcase, a huge draw for domestic and international artists alike, and one of the guaranteed tentpoles in the year when music will dominate the cultural agenda.

Which is not to say it doesn’t have its challenges. Big TV awards ceremonies have faced falling ratings across the board, although digital and social media engagement has increased. The 2017-2019 BRITs chairman, Sony Music UK boss Jason Iley, told Music Week the show needed a “reboot” at the end of his three-year shift.

Now David Joseph, chairman/CEO of Universal Music UK & Ireland and incoming BRITs chairman, is here to deliver that reboot. Joseph was the architect of the modern BRITs in a three-year stint as chairman from 2011 to 2013 that moved the ceremony from Earl’s Court to The O2 and put greater emphasis on musical performances rather than controversial antics. He will now work with executive producer Sally Wood, production designer Misty Buckley and returning director Hamish Hamilton, alongside the BPI and ITV, on a reboot that could be just as radical as his earlier stint in charge.

Joseph has yet to confirm whether he will serve the traditional three-year term but is clearly hitting the ground running with a string of changes for 2020, as detailed in another much-talked-about Music Week story from earlier this week.

And with the February 18 ceremony coming up fast, Joseph sat down to exclusively talk Music Week through the plans…

Some people in the industry might be surprised to see you return as BRITs chairman…
“I had an initial hesitance because I’ve done it before and I was really engaged in it, but I was questioning a couple of things. One, should a head of a record company do this stuff, is it time for change? And actually the second one was, I had fallen out of love with the show. [In my first stint] I’d felt like that Earl’s Court show wasn’t representative of what the industry was becoming, which was thoughtful, artist-first. I was very clear about how to move it to The O2 and [get] James Corden on board. And, actually, looking back on it, it was a very special time and I think the awards worked for the artists. We took some chances, the artists delivered and I was very happy with it. So I came to the end of that three-year term and thought I’d done that.”

What made you want to come back?
“It was clear that the BPI and ITV would like me to do it, so what I said was, ‘Can I have a minute and try and reinvent the show, in the same way that we’d done from Earl’s Court to The O2?’ That took a minute and then one day the penny dropped; the show had to be about today and tomorrow. So I ran those ideas by ITV and they were very, very supportive because it involves taking more creative chances in a broadcast medium which is challenged. If it’s just judged on ratings then who wants to take that job? But [in recent years] the BRITs hadn’t launched careers, and it hadn’t created online moments as a result of it. So I thought, ‘Actually OK, if we can do this, I’ll do it’.”

What’s the thinking behind handing creative control to the artists?
“The main issue to me became, if you have an artist doing the same song that they’ve done on 14 other televisions, how can that moment exist online? Why are you taking artists who have headlined Coachella and Glastonbury and saying you’ve only got three-and-a-half minutes, it’s like the wrong question’s being asked. So I spoke to some managers and artists prior to commitment and said, ‘How would you feel about this? Because it’s effectively handing the stage over to you’. Now, that’s not to say you have to do a certain amount of minutes and, if you want to do three, you can do three. But, if you want to do double that and a bit more, the stage is yours. It’s a lot more work for them because they’re going to have time to create something bespoke, but it also creates an online moment where you haven’t seen something before.”

How does the broadcaster feel about that?
“ITV was willing to take that chance because it does blow up the formula a bit. It will push an audience to certain areas they haven’t been to before, which I wanted to do. I want it to be very artist-focused, create moments and then hopefully it be judged beyond just television ratings. So that’s the whole premise of it; more performance time, although we’re not committing yet to exactly how many performances. We’re going to reduce the amount of awards, there are too many, and also there are too many breaks in the show. People become tired in the room, it moves from the audience being hugely attentive at the start to wandering around and socialising. I adore socializing but I didn’t feel it was necessarily respectful to the artists that halfway through the show people are standing up and going to tables. We want people to enjoy themselves but…”

Any other changes?
"The BPI have agreed to more performance stages. So we’re definitely going to have two stages, fewer tables and that’s going to be an interesting thing to deal with, but the view from the artists is they would like more performance space and we’ll be asking everyone to understand why. I want all the nominated artists to be there, I want their family and friends to be there in support and we’re considering where fans fit in to the surroundings at the moment. It’s a question we’re asking, as opposed to have answered. The artists that we have booked will be given more creative space. If they want to collaborate, it’s completely up to them. What was happening before weren’t necessarily natural collaborations, they were like, ‘How do we get as many artists on the show as possible so that everyone is represented?’ But that’s not the way music is made. Music is made in the studio by artists who want to naturally collaborate.”

* To read the full story of the BRITs reboot, see the current print edition of Music Week, available now. For full details of the changes, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.


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