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?