The Brit Awards 2002

Thursday, February 21, 2002 by

In the same way that Ian Hislop watches Have I Got News For You to see which of his bits have been cut out between recording and transmission, TV coverage of the Brit Awards invites viewing of a similar before-and-after mentality.

Our agenda is supplied by the newspapers the morning after the night before: who said what to whom, and who did what to whom. Who won what is very much a secondary concern; it’s the bits in-between that matter. The ceremony itself, however, has to pay lip service to the industry’s patrons: the great and the good who’ve bothered to come to London on a cold February night, return a few favours, show their faces, and enjoy a prolonged bout of backslapping. Unfortunately, finding the means to reconcile these contrasting expectations seemed to elude the TV producers of this year’s Awards. The 2002 Brits failed as a piece of television on pretty much every level.

At heart was the problem of scale. How best to capture and package the atmosphere of the huge occasion so it was similarly palpable sitting at home watching on a tiny screen? Not by kicking off with a resolutely indifferent introduction from a bored off-screen voice, hyping up a “groundbreaking” performance by Gorillaz that turned out to be three minutes of fuzzy life-size computer images. The way these were reproduced on stage at Earls Court looked dreadful; better from a viewer’s point of view was when the picture switched to a direct feed. But then the coverage kept alternating between the two, leaving an impression of this whole opening section as confused and poorly realised. When two real-life rappers came on they appeared to be wandering about aimlessly, totally dwarfed by the big screens around them and the minute dancers gyrating up the back walls. No memorable opening act here.

Earls Court was packed out for the awards and throughout the broadcast we were treated to occasional long shots of the gathered thousands. Perhaps this was meant to create a feeling of awe – look at the size of the thing! But it certainly didn’t make you feel jealous of those lucky enough to be there in person. In fact you felt lucky to be as far away from these rather indifferent, smug celebrities and hangers-on dining off industry hospitality as possible. What did they care for the people at home? Both audience and, by and large, award-winners showed no respect or interest in TV viewers; consequently it seemed all too easy to feel the same in reverse. Out of all the stars and guests parading in front of the cameras, only once did somebody – Kylie Minogue – thank “those watching at home”.

Furthermore, while there’s something entertaining and intriguing about the endless references to largely unknown producers and executives at an event like the British Comedy Awards, hearing Brit Award-winners piously thanking mysterious industry personnel, no matter how sincere the intention, is a complete turn-off. There’s already enough people we don’t know making up the sprawling horde of diners and howling teenagers in the pen in front of the stage. This sense of sneakily eavesdropping on a highly exclusive, self-satisfying shareholders meeting was then compounded by the way all the featured performances seemed set on demonstrating total ignorance of the wider TV public. In this sense the production team were lumbered with problems beyond their control. The ways they chose to deal with that, however, seemed lacklustre and amateurish.

Given there was a whole 24 hours to edit the ceremony into a two hour broadcast, the quality of much of what we saw was pretty lamentable. Alternating between massive long shots and dramatic close-ups, especially during the live performances, ended up looking indecisive, and were sloppily edited together. Coming out of commercial breaks was scrappy too, especially the way we always landed back in the middle of proceedings without any establishing shots or appropriate musical/visual build-up. During clip packages the sound quality was appalling, as the feed came from the arena, rendering everything virtually inaudible. Worse of all was our off-screen continuity guide, doing her best to explain the workings of the music industry in as patronising and clumsy a way possible. So The Strokes were described to those not in the know as, “cooler than an industrial freezer” and proof that, “you don’t have to look like a nerd and live on a council estate to make great three minute pop songs.” Kylie’s LP Fever was apparently “a brilliant return to form,” while So Solid Crew were, “the garage Gallaghers,” whose most notable quality was how, “they’ve made the whole scene commercially viable.”

But listening out for the next hapless voice-over quickly turned from being a bit of fun to just plain irritating. Much the same was true of that long-cherished pastime of edit-spotting. Again, our template had been provided for us all by the day’s newspapers, who’d taken pains to plot in detail how hosts Zoë Ball and especially Frank Skinner had contributed to possibly the worst presented Brit awards ceremony since Fleetwood and Fox in 1989. It was now a question of how much of this supposed catastrophe had made it to the final cut. Skinner’s bizarre opening stand-up had been brutally shorn, but the bits we saw were still ropey, and there was actually little pleasure to be gained in seeing how the man died on his arse. Likewise, acknowledging the lack of on-screen chemistry between him and Zoë was not something to be relished, merely logged and checked.

What did become amusing was how the editing ended up making Skinner look even more out of his depth. As far as this was a TV rescue attempt, Zoë’s reputation was slightly salvaged, but Frank’s was truly nailed. We saw him rambling, then tongue-tied. One minute he was transfixed by the arrival of a guest or a chance remark; a second later he was off to one side fidgeting and thinking up what to say next. The choice of what was cut was intriguing as well. Some of the reported sparring with the likes of Simon Cowell was totally excised, while something like Zoë’s painful introduction of Sophie Ellis-Bextor (“You better watch out for this next lady, otherwise there might be murder on the dancefloor, but you better not kill the groove, DJ, or she’ll burn your goddamn house right down!”) was kept in its wonderful entirety.

No matter how the pair performed as hosts within Earls Court, on screen the rapport it was necessary for them to establish with viewers never felt like it was present. To a degree they were beholden to two very different constituencies, but if forced to choose sides, much more entertaining and exciting telly would’ve come from them trying to let us in on the very knowing, self-congratulatory world of the music business, perhaps through a few genuinely self-deprecating, amusingly cynical observations and gestures. Not by giggling through crappy digs at the musical establishment, or pretending to not know what’s going on.

The positive spin that’s been put on the Brits these last few years – it’s a wacky forum for spontaneous threats, sabotage and confusion! – has almost backfired. A viewer’s expectations have arguably been raised way too high. Seeing what’s been cut out and what’s been left in the televised coverage of a rowdy awards ceremony previously sounded a pretty appealing way to pass a couple of hours. This year that allure faded within a matter of minutes. Perhaps footage of celebrities trading quips and blows only really appeals in retrospect, with a good few years safe distance between then and now. Meantime, as a media “event” the Brits may inspire and contrive increasingly levels of attention; but as a TV programme, the Awards haven’t delivered for at least half a decade.


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