Britz and glamour

uncovers what’s behind the dazzling scenes and big personalities of the BRIT Awards

Image: Dua Lipa

Millions of viewers tune in to the BRIT Awards every year, and thousands more watch from the O2 Arena. These two experiences are interesting to compare, with far more going on behind the scenes than we may realise. At the periphery of these stunning musical performances, glamorous outfits, and the award-giving, there is so much more going on. The organisation and precision needed to pull off an event as monumental as the BRIT Awards means that everything has to move like clock-work.

One of the most important cogs was this year’s presenter, Jack Whitehall. The comedian’s quick wit and cheeky humour worked brilliantly: in moments of unplanned faux pas his spontaneous, unscripted comments brought everything back on track. From dubbing Damon Albarn’s rather incomprehensible Brexit ramblings an “Adele moment”, to the Foo Fighters’ impromptu disappearing act just before an interview, Jack joked his way through the show’s minor blunders in a way that allowed not only his personality to shine through, but the character of the show to be made known without jeopardising its professionalism. Alex Baker, a guest at the BRITs, commented: “I thought he did a great job. It’s always fun to have someone with personality who can make fun of the acts a little.”

The live audience had the pleasure of experiencing the presenter-esque crowd manager during the off-air moments. He was nameless and faceless, never appearing on the arena screens, but his miniature figure drew everyone’s attention and his voice arrested everyone’s ears. We were kept entertained during the advert breaks, as though attending some kind of meta-concert during the show. The crowd manager made the audience aware of the important role they played, insisting that we practice applauding, cheering, dancing and lighting up the arena with our phone torches in preparation for certain acts. By taking on the identity of one crowd, these little actions became powerful contributions to the atmosphere and ambience; the visual effect of so many specks of white light from phone torches in the air was stunning.

In addition to the audience’s contributions to the atmosphere, the arena itself was something to behold. The backdrop to the stage was composed of what looked like shards of rose-gold and red glass, which had the appearance of being constantly in motion, and some sections doubled as screens for the arena audience at times. The rose gold lighting filtered over to the pit too, revealing the circular tables of the nominees and other celebrities. From the view of a spectator in the arena seats, watching these swarming celebrities is like watching some rare, exotic insects. They are at once entirely separate from the live audience, yet also oddly humbled to the level of a regular spectator.

Distance is necessary to experience the full effect of some of the performance’s dynamic productions

Lighting was used skillfully and effectively throughout the show; something for which Kendrick Lamar’s eye-catching performance was particularly memorable. From sharp laser beams shooting down from an unknown source, to blinding flashes of light that turned the entire stadium white for a moment, the performance was dazzling.

Meanwhile in the performance of Rag’n’Bone Man and Jorja Smith, the use of lighting and fire alongside the stunning vocals created an experience that was both visually and acoustically spectacular. Alone on the dark stage, Rag’n’Bone Man began ‘Skin’ acapella, a single beam of light obscuring his face and contributing to the song’s rawness and simplicity. He was gradually joined by a piano accompaniment, then by Jorja Smith, and soon after by bursts of fire which framed them as their voices blended together in flawless, velvety harmonies. The flames complemented the fiery vocal performance of ‘Skin’ brilliantly. These aesthetics were key to the vibrancy and ambience of the arena.

Image: Stormzy

The stage was in a constant state of metamorphosis. For every performance a wildly different structure was brought out to match the theme of each artist’s song. Again, it worked like clock-work: during nominations and advert breaks, the last performance’s structures are deconstructed and disappear behind the stage, and new ones are brought out. It’s fascinating to watch them being constructed and deconstructed off-camera, since it goes completely unseen at home and is taken for granted; and the speed at which it happens is astonishing. The sheer size of these structures was incredible and where they came from and where they went was a mystery. They simply appeared and disappeared through one of the shards in the stage backdrop, which apparently doubled as a door.

Sam Smith’s performance of ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’ shone out as an act with particularly impressive staging. He was stood inside what appeared to be the spotlight of a giant torch – yet the beam of ‘light’ was made of a solid golden cylinder, vaguely reminiscent of honeycomb, strategically formed so he seemed to be inside it without it obscuring him. From a distance, the spotlight looked magnificent, cutting through the darkness boldly, giving the performance an air of elegant self-assurance.

Distance is necessary to experience the full effect of some of the performance’s dynamic productions. For example, Justin Timberlake’s opening performance could be best appreciated from an elevated position: two long chains of dancers dressed in white filtered in through the side doors and cut straight through the celebrity tables in the pit , all the way up to the front stage. From a bird’s eye view it looked stunning, but this wasn’t captured on the recording that people saw at home as well, as the focus was solely on Justin as the performer.

Being at liberty to watch the screen that shows the broadcast version of the show when desired, but having the entire arena to gaze at too, meant the arena audience were able to appreciate the full effect. The sound was also intense, and the arena audience are able to feel every vibration transmitted from the voices and instruments. This was especially electrifying throughout choir performances, such as during Ed Sheeran’s ‘Supermarket Flowers’.

Being part of the live audience means you are on the opposite end of the camera to the viewers at home. It’s captivating to watch the cameramen and women chasing around the stage to get the perfect shots of the performances without getting caught in someone else’s shot. There are also myriad mobile cameras that zoom about over the pit on little zip wires, hovering above the celebrities. Cameras are everywhere, and there is always someone poised and ready to capture the moment when a musician wins an award. Watching the camerawork during the performances is interesting; while they often film from a distance, some of the cinematography required very close proximity. For example, the beginning of Rita Ora’s performance involved a cameraman standing right in front of her, momentarily almost completely blocking her from the live audience. As she walked forwards, the cameraman walked backwards. It is simple interactions like these which expose the performers and presenters for what they are: ordinary people using their extraordinary talent to entertain.

Image: Rita Ora

Just as the live audience is on the filming side of the camera, they are also on the presenters’ side of the prompt screens. Through-out the nomination announcements and introductions to performances, the live audience can preemptively see every word that will come from presenters’ mouths by looking at the teleprompter. For a home audience, this is usually concealed well. However, there was one moment during the show when this wall of professionalism came down for a moment, and the home audience were made comically aware of the prompting system. For Nile Rodgers, reading the teleprompter was an almost impossible task, and he was visibly leaning forwards and squinting in an attempt to make out the too-small font before laughing, “I’m getting old,” to explain his trouble reading the script. Here was a moment when the home audience’s experience and the live audience’s collided.

The hidden interactions between celebrities, presenters and show management staff are also interesting. Some of the celebrities who introduced the nomination categories were clearly thrilled to be there, with this attitude being evident even once the cameras moved away. Millie Bobbie Brown and Kylie Minogue engaged in a friendly hug while the viewers at home were being shown clips of the nominees. Others were visibly more awkward with their co-hosts and marched up to the awards podium ready to read out the results and leave as soon as they were no longer on screen.

Time is experienced very differently as a live audience: key moments feel either much longer than you think, or much more fleeting

There are others involved in the awarding process who are invisible to spectators watching on television at home – the cameras are strategically placed so that when an award winner makes their way up to the stage, the woman who hands them a microphone is not seen. Incidentally, this lady was dressed very glamorously and would certainly not have tainted the evening’s glitzy tone, but nevertheless, she was only visible to the arena audience. There are also stagehands who appear every now and then to set wandering celebrities back on the right track if they seem to be heading towards the wrong part of stage, or exiting the wrong way.

Time is experienced very differently as a live audience: key moments feel either much longer than you think, or much more fleeting.The length of time each presenter appears on camera for is ludicrously short – they are dressed up to the nines for about a nine second appearance. Meanwhile, the route from the celebrity tables in the pit to the awards podium is deceptively long. The time it takes for winners to perform their shocked-and-humbled face, hug their friends and family, meander round the other tables, walk along the stage and up to the podium actually takes a lot longer than you’d think.

One of the most successful musicians of the night, Dua Lipa, made the long trip to the podium twice, and was nominated for an astounding five awards. Gennaro Castaldo, who works for the BPI, the company who organises the BRIT Awards, commented, “Dua Lipa receiving five BRITs nominations this year – the most that any female artist has received in a single year – really made a big statement.” Indeed, Dua Lipa herself realised the enormity of her achievement as a female BRIT award winner, saying: “Here’s to more women on these stages, more women winning awards, and more women taking over the world!” An acceptance speech that went a little further than the usual incessant thanking, Dua Lipa turned her achievement into an opportunity to acknowledge why her award was so important.

Mainstream music is becoming more open to new genres and it will be interesting to see where that goes

Gennaro Castaldo went on to explain just how much impact success at the BRITs can have on musicians: “Receiving a nomination can be very important for an artist. It shows that an artist has really arrived, and helps to secure further coverage and sales for them – not just in the UK but around the world.” Alex Baker, a Data Analyst Manager at the BPI, added, “The industry definitely takes notice every year and a win can mean a big boost in sales, streams and publicity for an artist. It’s the celebration of the year but also a great career milestone for a top artist.”

When asked whether or not the awards were justified, Baker responded: “I thought the wins were well deserved but there will always be a long list of artists who don’t get recognised.” While it is true that not every artist is accounted for, the BRITs do help to highlight the direction in which the music industry is headed. It is worthwhile to consider the trends in BRIT award winning: for example, it’s interesting that the two most successful award winners of the night, Dua Lipa and Stormzy, are very different artists in terms of genre.

Additionally, Stormzy beat Ed Sheeran in two different categories. Nevertheless, Barker commented: “I think you can compare the different artists and increasingly there has been a lot of cross over. Last year for example, Ed Sheeran and Stormzy performed together.” He added, “Grime has been the big thing for a couple of years now and it’s interesting to see artists like Stormzy becoming popular but also having staying power. It may mean that mainstream music is becoming more open to new genres and it will be interesting to see where that goes.”

Attending the BRIT Awards as a member of the arena audience casts it in a completely different light. While the glitz and glamour of the red carpets, spotlights and shiny trophies still comes across in the arena, being exposed to all the carefully concealed nuts and bolts and off camera interactions of the show helps to give it a more human character. It is as though we are seeing the individual brush strokes of a painting, rather than the polished-off finished piece, making it seem less rigidly glamorous and unforgivingly perfect.

Either way, whether watching as a live audience, or at home, the BRITs is an irreplaceable showcase for British musical talent. As Baker points out, “the BRITs is an established brand, watched every year by millions of people around the world, so it’s a great platform for promoting British music at home and globally.” The BRIT Awards 2018, living up to high expectations, certainly highlighted the outstanding musical talent we have in Britain, as well as internationally, while entertaining millions in the characteristically glamorous way we all know and love. M

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