Our torch singers burn the brightest, our boybands are more puppylike than everyone else’s, and our guitar groups have the best tunes. The Brit Awards may take place 10 days after the Grammys but they won’t feel like an afterthought this year. As musicians gather in the world’s most popular music venue, the O2 Arena, on February 20, we’ll see why our homegrown acts are increasingly of world significance.
It’s a fact acknowledged by the creation of a new category, the Global Success Award, at this year’s ceremony. It was announced among the familiar categories when this year’s nominees were revealed last night. There’s no shortlist for this prize — it simply goes on the night to the British artist who has sold the most albums worldwide (excluding the UK) in 2012. That could be Mumford & Sons or One Direction, but it looks most like another excuse to give a spotty Damien Hirst-designed trophy to Adele, to go with her pair of Peter Blake statues from last year. Hey, she deserves it.
Her album 21 has now sold so many copies that there must be Amazonian tribes, previously untouched by Western culture, weeping along with Someone Like You. Last week it was revealed that 21 was 2012’s biggest seller in the US as well as 2011’s, the first time an album has topped the annual sales chart two years in a row since they started counting in 1991.
Yet while the scale of the Londoner’s success has been unique, others are snapping at her heels. Remarkably, four of America’s five biggest selling albums in 2012 were by UK acts — Adele’s 21, Babel by Mumford & Sons and both the One Direction albums. Even the lone US effort, Taylor Swift’s Red, features guest spots from our own Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody.
Meanwhile, Sheeran’s The A Team is up for Song of the Year at the Grammys while Mumford & Sons are jointly the most nominated group with six nods, the same number that Adele won last year. The Grammys are full of the Brits.
Sheeran, Florence + the Machine and The Wanted have all also reached the US top 10 recently, and Jessie J hit No 11. It could be classed as another British invasion like the one that swept along The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, if the musicians in question weren’t all so different.
What’s helping the charge? The internet is a huge factor, of course. Now that people are finding their hits on YouTube instead of local radio, international barriers are down for good — how else could the biggest single of the moment be by a tubby man, Psy, singing in Korean?
“One of the huge game-changers is the way we can exploit social media to bypass the traditional gatekeepers,” Nick Gatfield, chief executive of Sony Music Entertainment UK, said recently as he credited One Direction with doubling his company’s profits. “The consumers, in One Direction’s case, absolutely voted with their keyboards and helped them gain a following before [the album] launch.”
“Anyone can get my record around the world, anyone can see my music videos around the world, anyone can see me live around the world,” said Ed Sheeran. “It’s the click of a mouse.”
The Olympics helped too. With all eyes on London last summer, we had several opportunities to show off our biggest stars to a vast worldwide audience, and we didn’t stint on the setlists at the Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies.
There also seems to be a deliberate move away from a more parochial sound across the spectrum. Nobody successful is rapping in a cockney accent about kebab shops. Apart from the red phone box on the cover of their latest album, very little about One Direction’s sound or image suggests Britishness. Mumford & Sons look and sound more like Oklahoma sharecroppers than English poshos … Jessie J is straight from the Mariah Carey mould of big-lunged showboaters.
And there are more to come, as last night’s Brits nominations list showed. Emeli Sandé, this year’s most bountiful nominee (up for three gongs along with Mumford & Sons and Alt-J), has yet to reach the overseas ubiquity of her peers, but as 2012’s biggest seller in the UK and with a polished soul sound and a big voice in the traditional style, there’s no reason why she couldn’t approach Adele’s worldwide appeal in 2013.
Among the other nominees, Calvin Harris is already in great demand as a dance producer among the US R&B elite. Ben Howard’s acoustic simplicity and fine ear for a melody should translate anywhere, while Jessie Ware has a soulful dance sound that could travel well too.
The other big change at the Brits this year is the omission of a Lifetime Achievement Award in favour of honouring the charity War Child and its long-term work with the music industry. Recent comebacks by The Rolling Stones and, this week, David Bowie were reminders that we’re hardly short of music legends in this country. The Stones, first nominated at the inaugural event in 1977, even get another mention this year, as does the late Amy Winehouse, but really this is no time for nostalgia. With so much global success going on right now, it’s the perfect moment to focus on the stars of the present becoming the lifetime achievers of the future.
2013 BRIT AWARD NOMINATIONS
Best British Male Solo Artist
Plan B, Ben Howard, Calvin Harris, Olly Murs, Richard Hawley
Best British Female Solo Artist
Amy Winehouse, Bat for Lashes, Emeli Sandé, Jessie Ware, Paloma Faith
Best British Breakthrough Act
Alt-J, Ben Howard, Jake Bugg, Jessie Ware, Rita Ora
Best British Group
Alt-J, Mumford & Sons, Muse, One Direction, The xx
Best British Single
Adele (Skyfall); Alex Clare (Too Close); Coldplay and Rihanna (Princess of China); DJ Fresh feat. Rita Ora (Hot Right Now); Emeli Sandé (Next to Me); Florence + the Machine (Spectrum); James Arthur (Impossible); Jessie J (Domino); Labrinth feat. Emeli Sandé (Beneath Your Beautiful); Olly Murs feat. Flo Rida (Troublemaker); Rita Ora feat. Tinie Tempah (RIP); Rizzle Kicks (Mama Do the Hump); Robbie Williams (Candy); Rudimental feat. John Newman (Feel the Love); Stooshe (Black Heart)
MasterCard British Album of the Year
Alt-J (An Awesome Wave); Emeli Sandé (Our Version of Events); Mumford & Sons (Babel); Paloma Faith (Fall to Grace); Plan B (Ill Manors)
Best British Live Act
Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, Muse, The Rolling Stones, The Vaccines
Best International Male Solo Artist
Bruce Springsteen, Frank Ocean, Gotye, Jack White, Michael Bublé
Best International Female Solo Artist
Alicia Keys, Cat Power, Lana Del Rey, Rihanna, Taylor Swift
Best International Group
Alabama Shakes, The Black Keys, fun., The Killers, The Script
Producer of the Year
Damon Albarn, Jake Gosling, Paul Epworth
Playing live at the ceremony on February 20 at the O2: Muse, Robbie Williams, Emeli Sandé, Mumford & Sons, Ben Howard, One Direction, with more to be announced.