The Brit Awards matter . . .

. . . for all the wrong reasons. Like Coldplay.

 

In terms of record sales (or, increasingly, download receipts), the Brit Awards still matter. The appropriately named Duffy, for example, who claimed three gongs at the 2009 tedium, saw a substantial hike in profits -- this, when even the NME compared Rockferry, her debut album, to "an X Factor covers record". Its total first-year sales hit the 1.7 million mark; "Mercy", taken from the LP, was the third-bestselling single of 2008. Paul McCartney's lacklustre Memory Almost Full, which received the "Outstanding Contribution" nod in 2008, sold five times as many copies immediately after the ceremony as it had before it.

When the Brits began in 1977, the panel retrospectively awarded three prizes to the long-defunct Beatles. For an institution that claims to "showcase the sheer depth and diversity of British and international music talent", its choices are marked by a distinct lack of daring: Travis, Coldplay and the Darkness (!) are among past winners. This is partly because, to be eligible, artists are required to have had a hit single or album the previous year. It's an unapologetically commercial enterprise, which, I concede, is fair enough in these hard times. Judging from its logo, it isn't even called the Brit Awards. Its full name seems to be "the Brit Awards with Mastercard". Ker-ching.

This year marks the Brits' official 30th anniversary. For all its self-professed "glamour", the event has long had the deathly atmosphere of a musical Slug and Lettuce: smartly dressed people desperately trying to have fun, all the while aware that they're actually at a work do. It'll be a big moment for Lady Gaga, La Roux and the sundry other popstrels on the coveted shortlist. But the Brits, whose first lifetime achievement award was awarded to the EMI chief Leonard G Wood, is an extended TV commercial -- much like the time-fillers on QVC -- and it's made by the music business, for the music business.

What's more, it's unlikely they'll ever top their 1990 showbiz coup: Maggie Thatcher singing "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window". Where do you go from there?

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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Harry Potter and the Minotaur’s Rage: how fanfiction got me into writing

My fanfiction was almost uniformly awful, like most of the things I did or liked when I was becoming myself.

The source of the noise was clear. Some kind of monster was emerging from the wood.

"Easy, Harry," counselled Hagrid, "Easy.”

Nervously, the bespectacled wizard approached the hulking beast cautiously. What was it? It had red leather skin, like a sofa, was bigger even than Hagrid and had a pair of cruel horns.

You may not recognise the above passage from any of J K Rowling’s seven entries in the Harry Potter series. That’s because it’s not by Rowling at all, but is taken from Harry Potter and the Minotaur’s Rage by awideyedwanderer, the alias under which I, with the addition and subtraction of a few dashes and underscores depending on the platform, wrote fanfiction from 2000 to 2006.

To deal with the obvious questions, no, it was not about the Labour party, and no, I don’t think anyone ever had sex, except perhaps very briefly towards the end of the story. (As such, it was a fairly accurate reflection on the life of its author during that period.)

Fanfiction often gets a bad rap, in my case deservedly. One former editor of the New Statesman used to say of one of his staffers that he was “the Fred West of prose”, and my fanfiction was not much better. I hacked my way through the universes of Harry Potter, Doctor Who, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Final Fantasy and Star Trek. I also perpetrated my own, highly derivative “original” fiction, featuring a character called Mr Jones who was basically Doctor Who with a gun.

My fanfiction was influenced by whatever novel I was reading and whatever the current state of my politics were, which meant that as the Noughties wore on it became increasingly dominated by thinly-veiled allegories for the excesses of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

What got me started? Well, it’s all J K Rowling’s fault. I was an early adopter of the Harry Potter books, and though the first three books came out every year, there was a three-year gap between The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix. So without a new book, Potter fans had to write their own, of which Harry Potter and the Minotaur’s Rage was one.

At this point in this sort of article, it’s usually customary to defend fanfiction by pointing out that some of it is actually very good, while some of it has made a great deal of money. My fanfiction was neither good nor financially lucrative, but I always think this misses the point a bit. Very few people think they are producing high art when they write fanfic – people are doing it to have a good time, to expand a world they’ve enjoyed.

My fanfiction was almost uniformly awful, like most of the things I did or liked when I was becoming myself. (In its defence, I think my fanfiction has aged better than Evanescence, a band which provided the soundtrack and most of the chapter titles to my fic.) But I had a great time writing it, and if nothing else, it taught me never to begin a sentence with “nervously” and end it with “cautiously”.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.