It was the event the music industry had been longing for. On Tuesday night, the Brit Awards 2021 became the first large-scale live event to be held indoors in the UK since the coronavirus pandemic began in March last year. It was a history-making event in more ways than one, with female artists including Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Arlo Parks among the biggest winners of the night.
The importance of such an event was embodied perhaps most by the international presence of stars such as Swift, The Weeknd, HAIM and Billy Porter, who will have quarantined before being allowed to travel to the O2 Arena in London.
Jack Whitehall, who over the years has become one of the show’s most popular hosts, guided stars and audience members alike through a night that proved surprisingly lively, despite the strict safety measures in place.
Coldplay opened the night with a spectacular performance of their new single, “Higher Power”, on the Thames outside the O2 Arena. They were followed by Dua Lipa, who offered a mash-up of hit singles from her Best Album-winning record, Future Nostalgia.
The first award of the night went to Arlo Parks, who scooped Best Breakthrough artist after making the Top 10 album charts with her debut, Collapsed in Sunbeams. This was promptly followed by a history-making win for Little Mix, who became the first-ever girl band to win Best Group.
The trio – Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall – delivered a powerful acceptance speech that first thanked their former bandmate, Jesy Nelson, who quit the group earlier this year. They then called out the misogyny and racism they have faced over the course of their 10-year career, and championed the girl groups who came before them, including Spice Girls and the Sugababes.
Not unexpectedly, several artists were unable to make the ceremony, including J Hus, who won Best Male Artist, and Billie Eilish, who won Best International Female. Eilish was able to share a video message to the live audience, in which she expressed her hopes of being able to return to the UK for live shows again soon. Harry Styles managed to attend in between filming scenes for My Policeman in Brighton, and accept his award for Best British Single (for “Watermelon Sugar”).
The ceremony marked a big year for female artists, a fact noted by Dua Lipa as she collected her award for Best Female Solo Artist. Three years earlier, she had called out the fact that she was one of the few women honoured at the ceremony. But tonight the show celebrated one of the most diverse rosters of artists in its history, from The Weeknd, Arlo Parks and Little Mix to J Hus, Billie Eilish and HAIM.
Perhaps epitomising this Year of Women was Taylor Swift attending in person to become the first female recipient of the Global Icon award, which has previously gone to the likes of Elton John and David Bowie.
Accepting her award, Swift took to the stage to rapturous applause and a standing ovation.
“Anyone who knows me at all knows that Game of Thrones is my life, so the fact that Maisie… thank you so much for coming to do this,” Swift told Maisie Williams, who presented her award. “That was like a thousand surprise birthday parties,” she added of the video announcing her achievements.
“I’m really proud to be a part of this musical community, especially in a year where we needed music so much,” she continued, adding a special thanks to the NHS and key workers who have supported people during the pandemic. She also extended a message to the hopeful artists who might be cowed by the intimidating and toxic culture of social media, urging them that, if they found themselves under attack from trolls or critics, they were probably doing something right.
Capping an eventful night that was full of political statements, Dua Lipa took home the coveted Best Album prize. She accepted with yet another powerful speech that called on the government to give a Hero Award to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, the 20-year-old who died trying to save a woman from the Thames in London.
It was a bittersweet evening, with audience members and viewers at home in the knowledge that we are not out of the woods yet. But this year, the Brits proved that they are capable of putting on a show that manages to be relevant in every sense of the term.