After a year of live music shutdowns during the pandemic, the Brits is back as one of the first mass events being held in the UK.
Featuring performances from big-name stars and with acts including Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, AJ Tracey, Celeste, Little Mix and Arlo Parks up for awards, it’s set to be a huge night – not just for the music industry, but hopefully as an indicator of life returning to normal.
Tonight’s Brit Awards ceremony at the O2 Arena, hosted by Jack Whitehall, will be the first major indoor and in-person live music event in more than a year. Here are eight things to look out for.
Coldplay will walk on water
Chris Martin and co are the Brits’ most nominated group – with 28 nods in total and nine wins – and they last performed at the ceremony back in 2017, alongside dance music duo Chainsmokers.
Last week, they premiered new single Higher Power on board the International Space Station, teaming up with French astronaut Thomas Pesquet to beam the track back to Earth by satellite.
How do they top that? Well, it’s pretty difficult to beat space but they’ve done it – as the band will be walking on water on the River Thames.
Okay, they’ll be on a pontoon. Coldplay’s performance will open the ceremony, so no doubt they’ll be going all out. Armbands and rubber rings may well have eaten into the budget, but as it’s a big occasion hopefully they’ll have pushed the boat out for fireworks too.
Taylor Swift to receive global icon award
The Brits’ highest honour has only been dished out three times in the event’s history, to Elton John, David Bowie and Robbie Williams.
It’s back this year, with Taylor Swift set to become the first female artist to receive the prize, "in recognition of her immense impact on music across the world and incredible repertoire and achievements to date".
Her CV is pretty impressive: 11 Grammys, 114 million album sales worldwide, and global audio and video streams reaching 78 billion, the Brits said in its announcement. She is also the only artist in history to have four consecutive albums sell more than one million copies in their week of release (Speak Now, RED, 1989 and Reputation) and the first and only female artist in the 21st century to score seven chart-topping studio albums in the UK (three of those in the last year).
As well as her icon award, Swift is also shortlisted in the international female solo artist category, her sixth Brit nomination to date.
The O2 has a capacity of about 20,000 but this year just 4,000 people will be watching the show, which forms part of the government’s scientific events research programme looking into how mass events such as this can take place in the future without social distancing.
More than half of the audience tickets have been gifted to frontline workers and their guests following a ballot, and no doubt tributes will be paid on stage to the key workers who have given so much during the pandemic.
As the first major indoor music event to welcome back a live audience, the ceremony will play an important role in paving the way for the return of live music at scale as the UK emerges from the restrictions that have been in place for more than a year.
So there’ll be no social distancing or face masks, but audience members will have to prove they have tested negative for COVID-19 before they arrive, as well as take a test after the event.
Adele, Florence And The Machine, Sam Smith, Jessie J and Ellie Goulding are among the acts who picked up the Brits critics’ choice award before going on to stardom.
Renamed the rising star award in 2020, this year’s prize – which is always announced ahead of the ceremony – has gone to 20-year-old pop singer Griff, who will perform at the show.
Ahead of the show, she told Sky News the win was "surreal" and that she was "very, very nervous" – and revealed she has made her own outfit. "So if it’s falling apart on the night, you know why."
Speaking about the return of live music and playing the O2, she said: "I mean, my last gig was 250 people and now I’m in the O2 Arena, so it’s quite the jump. I’m excited for everyone that we’re back, but honestly it makes it more nerveracking so I’m kind of just trying to not think about it… now that there’s a live audience, I’m like, okay, wow, this is real. It’s going to be real adrenaline."
This year’s ceremony is all about sharing, with winners receiving two trophies – a main statuette and a smaller one to gift to someone else.
Artists Es Devlin and Yinka Ilori have designed the two-part award, with Ilori saying he was inspired by experiences of goodwill during the COVID-19 lockdowns of the past year.
Winners are encouraged to gift the smaller trophies to anyone from friends and family members to key workers.
"The idea came from the experience of lockdown, where your neighbour you’ve lived beside for six years and never say hello to suddenly gave you flowers, foods, acts of kindness," Ilori said ahead of the show. "I wanted to capture that."
P!nk and Rag’n’Bone Man’s NHS tribute
Performing their duet Anywhere Away From Here, P!nk and former rising star winner Rag’n’Bone Man will appear alongside the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust Choir.
Choir leader and children’s physiotherapist Caroline Smith said before the show that this would be their tribute to those who have worked so hard and so bravely throughout 2020 and 2021.
"We’re so excited to be a part of music history, and truly privileged to be able to perform for our NHS family and all the key worker heroes," she said.
"We hope this very special version of ‘Anywhere Away From Here’ acts as a tribute to all the superstars at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust and our NHS colleagues across the whole UK, who’ve done such extraordinary work keeping the country safe."
P!nk will perform her part of the song virtually due to pandemic restrictions.
Women and rap rule
Swift is the first woman to win the global icon award and this year’s rising star is also female, but the record year for female nominees doesn’t stop there.
At the 2021 awards, women make up the majority of the best album list for the first time ever, with Arlo Parks, Celeste, Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware all in the running, up against J Hus.
Like other awards ceremonies, the Brits had come under fire over lack of diversity in previous years – with the 2020 shortlist featuring all-male nominee lists in both the album of the year and group of the year categories.
And it’s not just women who are dominating this year; looking at genre, British rap leads the way, with multiple nominations for the likes of Young T & Bugsey, AJ Tracey, J Hus, Headie One.
It’s the first major indoor live music event in the UK for months, which means a return to a red carpet. And when it comes to red carpet fashion, Brits attendees always go all out.
Who might we see? Well, we don’t know the full celeb guestlist, but some nominees who could be in attendance include Little Mix – who now have two baby bumps to dress – Haim, Dua Lipa, Celeste, Arlo Parks, Rag’n’Bone Man, Lianne La Havas, Jessie Ware, Joel Corry and Biffy Clyro.
After a year of trackies and PJs, we’re expecting nothing less than meat dresses, safety-pinned gowns and swan outfits, maybe even a pantomime cow.
You can watch the Brit Awards on ITV tonight, starting at 8pm – but get here earlier than that as we’ll be live blogging from the red carpet from around 5pm