Awards

The Duo Behind 2021 Brit Awards Sets From Olivia Rodrigo, Arlo Parks & More Reveal How They Came Together

Amber Rimell, Bronski, Tawbox
Andrew Timms

(L-R) Amber Rimell and Bronski of Tawbox

The creative direction duo behind Tawbox -- Chris “Bronski” Jablonski and Amber Rimell -- describe this year’s Brit Awards as “pretty emotional” considering that 2020’s ceremony was the last big pre-pandemic event in the U.K.

“Once the show started and you could hear this roar of an audience from backstage, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, we have not heard that in 15 months,’” says Bronski. “It was amazing.”

This year, Tawbox creative-directed three of the show’s performances: Olivia Rodrigo, Arlo Parks and Headie One. “Our first performance of the night was Olivia, and we were standing with her manager and label, and you could hear gasping in the audience -- that magic was back,” continues Bronski.

After launching in 2012, Tawbox scored its major break working with Stormzy in 2017. Now, the pair is working on the creative direction for his upcoming headlining slot at Reading and Leeds Festival this August. In spite of so many years and so much success, both Bronski and Rimmel say it doesn’t feel like they’ve been doing this for nearly a decade, largely because, as Rimell says, “We’re always evolving. We’re constantly working towards the next thing and how we can progress from the last thing that we’ve done.”

Andrew Timms
Amber Rimell and Bronski of Tawbox at rehearsals for Stormzy's Glastonbury Festival 2019 performance.

Below, Tawbox breaks down how its three 2021 Brit Awards performances came together.

Olivia Rodrigo

One of Bronski and Rimell’s first Zoom calls was in fact with Rodrigo and her team. They say it didn’t take long to develop the idea for this performance -- for which the 18-year-old wore a red Dior dress and delivered a more stripped-down rendition of the hit, standing mostly still in front of her mic -- but that one thing became clear: The rising singer loves butterflies.

Considering Rodrigo’s past use of projections in photoshoots and, most notably, on the back of her neck in the “Drivers License” music video, working in that format -- with the help of holographic and augmented reality technology -- made perfect sense for her performance at the Brits.

Bronski says the butterflies took on new meaning as the idea developed, noting while it started with her being within this box surrounded by them, “towards the end it felt like the butterflies were breaking free, kind of going with the heartbreak story of the song.” Adds Rimell: “We took her inspirations and created this world for a live TV performance. And that being her first one [for an award show], we really wanted to make it really special for her.”

Arlo Parks

To celebrate the January release of Arlo Parks’ acclaimed debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, the singer created a link on her website for fans to submit videos or voice memos directly to her. So before Bronski and Rimell started to ideate what Parks' Brits performance might look like, they listened to them all. “We wanted to open with these beautiful audio moments from fans that brought everyone together,” says Rimell, adding that they used the video floor to help dramatize the opening top shot. “Her performance very much was about ‘This is hope for everybody.’”

From that opening scene, the rest of the performance played out like a tightly packaged story. While there’s a shining sun displayed on-screen through the first half of the song, when Parks delivers a spoken-word verse she added just for the Brits, the sun goes down and leaves the artist illuminated by the moon. The goal, says Bronski, was “to let her have that moment with the audience at home, before that epic shot where the camera just flies backwards and the new sunrise appears. The moon accentuates the start of a new time, a new journey, new post-pandemic era -- however you want to interpret that.”

Adds Rimell: “That’s a hard thing -- especially when young, new artists coming up are put on the O2 arena stage -- to have an audience, which is great, but knowing you’ve also got to connect to the millions at home. It’s finding that balance.”

Headie One

Since Headie One was one of the Brit Awards’ first bookings, Bronski and Rimell were able to get an early start on piecing this “intricate” performance together. They say they were largely inspired by the once-in-a-lifetime setup in which there were limited tables and chairs and no pit of fans surrounding the stage. "We were like, ‘This is probably the only time that we’ll get to use the whole of the arena floor … Let’s do it,’” recalls Rimell. As a result, the pair managed to design a performance that took at-home viewers on a journey down the middle of the entire space thanks to a robotic camera.

Using the full space also allowed the pair to create four distinct environments within the performance. First, there was the opening shot of the boombox (which now sits in Bronski and Rimell’s car), decorated to look like the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham were Headie grew up, placed in front of drill originators Original Farm Boys. Next, there was the Virgil-Abloh-designed box, plastered with negative news headlines about drill music as well as Headie’s lyrics, from which the artist delivered his opening bars. Then there was the “ridiculous corridor” Tawbox built for AJ Tracey to join Headie in as the pair performed a politically fueled new verse together. And finally, Headie One was joined by Young T and Bugsey, plus dozens of dancers, to close out the set.

“After we’ve given the audience this mad ride, we did want to ground the performance at the Brit Awards,” says Bronski. “So we went for a super clean, slick, choreographic element on the main stage to finish it off.”