How NOT to write about music – 152. the BRIT Awards 2020

BRIT Awards 2020

Observations from last night at the O2 Arena

Yeah, let’s start with Dave. Dude comes out, plays his chilling diatribe ‘Black’ – made even more beautiful through judicious use of tumbling piano arpeggios – and throws in an extra verse at the end, free-form, standing up to give an unambiguous throwdown to our racist Prime Minister and his racist advisers. Inspirational, brilliant. Fuck your Ricky Gervais and his amoral breed who believe that entertainers shouldn’t speak out. This was about seizing the moment. Pure emotion, pure truth.

“It is racist whether or not it feels racist. The truth is our prime minister is a real racist. They say, you should be grateful we’re the least racist. I say, the least racist is still racist.”

Yeah, let’s continue with Billie Eilish. I left soon as she finished, not believing that the night could transcend her, stupidly forgetting about Stormzy and Celeste – damn I’m an idiot for missing Stormzy – but in actuality found myself a little underwhelmed by Our One True Star in 2020. Too much going  on – Johnny Marr on zingy guitar, a full live orchestra, that bloke who soundtracks all those films, a suitably explosive set – and all this detracted, distracted. I expected too much from one song, frankly. Sounds way better on YouTube.

Also, she wasn’t Dave.

Her wonderful opening performance gave me an unrealistic expectation of what was to follow. What actually happened was a spot from Harry Styles that threatened to break into a song but never did, some lachrymose constipated whining from within a Curtain of Light from the New Prince of the New Boring Lewis Capaldi, and a brief onstage appearance from my old drinking buddy Courtney Love that a Facebook friend summarised thus: “She’s definitely mellowed but unfortunately not in an interesting way. More cheap standard Portuguese rose than fine wine.”

Still, say what you like about Courtney, but I bet you she didn’t get on her bicycle later and cycle home in freezing cold rain from Haywards Heath station.

Fuck yeah! I got to see Lizzo, a real live Lizzo on a real live stage! Now, that HAS to make you feel good.

Mostly, the whole affair reminded me of why I have never been to whole affair like this before. I have no idea who won what, and could care even less. The bit I liked most was Dave, and meeting a BIMM lecturer who’s into Joseph Spence, Daniel Johnston and Serge Gainsbourg.


I missed Celeste. Shame.

How NOT to write about music – 30. Harry Styles

Harry Styles

The way I discover music has changed, radically.

This in turn reflects upon the music I choose to listen to. My children insist on listening to Radio One on the way to and from Brighton, and in between school runs, and I in turn enjoy listening with my children as they interact occasionally with the DJs (Greg James and Nick Grimshaw, for the most part – I still have no idea what either looks like) and sometimes pass judgment on the tunes. In this context, when a song stands out – Nadia Rose, Jorja Smith, The 1975, Isaac Gracie, George Ezra, Ariana Grande, Eminem – it feels amplified, like it’s cutting through a great swathe of wheat and flimflam. Likewise, teaching students: I prefer (for many reasons) to discover their tastes in class (rather than rely on mine as many teachers do) and – universally, it seems – their tastes are both more mainstream and ‘heritage’ (retro) than mine most commonly have been. I say “than mine”, but the process of enjoying and appreciating music is indelibly linked with social and cultural circumstance – and so, my musical listening habits have changed. As to my ‘taste’, well…

I had a 20-minute conversation with one of my co-workers yesterday about my passion for Ariana Grande, followed by a day of discovery (particularly enjoying her take on Christina on this). Ariana is wonderful, and I suspect that whatever my current social circumstance I would have come around to her – if only for her reactions on a performance like this – her beguiling mix of fragility, sexuality and expression. My point is this: by favouring pop music I am not attempting to reclaim a youth I never experienced or to be a stereotypical heteronormative middle-aged man lusting after the forbidden. My taste reflects my surroundings.

Hence, exhibit A today – Harry Styles. I was way unimpressed when some of my Solent students tried to convince me of his value as a solo performer following the break-up of One Direction: Coldplay has never struck me as a band worth emulating and that big ‘serious’ song of his was yet another obvious rip of The Hollies or Korgis or whatever the fuck it was. I can’t be bothered to go back and look. (It was the latter.)

The below attempt to ingratiate himself in with the rock fraternity and ‘serious’ popular music commentators (fuck them) mostly works however, despite being too reverential. (In other words: I LIKE IT!) The reason it works though is interesting. Nothing to do with Styles (or very little). Everything to do with the vocal and instrumental contributions of his keyboard-player Clare Ushima, and in particular drummer Sarah Jones.

Check Sarah Jones out. Why does it not surprise me that she has her own way cool musical projects?