LONDON — From Billie Eilish’s world exclusive debut of her James Bond theme, “No Time To Die,” to London rapper Dave picking up album of the year — and calling Prime Minister Boris Johnson “a real racist” in his spine-tingling performance — there were plenty of big standout moments at Tuesday night’s (Feb. 18) 2020 Brit Awards.
This year marked the 40th anniversary of the U.K.’s biggest music awards show, held at London’s O2 arena, and it seemed like everyone involved was determined to make it a night to remember – or, in the case of Tyler, the Creator, simply get a few things off his chest.
As with previous years, the entire two-hour show was broadcast live on British TV and streamed globally on YouTube, but there was just as much going on behind the scenes as there was in front of the cameras. Here’s 10 of the best moments you (probably) didn’t see on television.
A standing ovation for Dave
Not only did Dave triumph in the main album of the year category, the 21-year-old London rapper delivered arguably the best performance of the night when he sat down at a custom made piano — with images of prison bars projected onto it — and played his track “Black,” a highly charged song about being young, black and British.
In a newly-written verse Dave criticized the British government’s response to 2017’s Grenfell tower fire tragedy and used the spotlight to declare, “The truth is, our prime minister is a real racist.” He also paid tribute to London Bridge terror attack victim Jack Merritt and commented on how the U.K. media had treated Meghan Markle. It was an incendiary, politically charged performance that culminated in a standing ovation from everyone inside the O2 arena.
Later in the night, Dave referenced his brother, who is serving a life prison sentence for murder, when receiving his award for album of the year. “I want to say everyone who is inside doing their time and holding it down, I love you so much,” he said with emotion in his voice.
Stormzy and Lewis Capaldi duet backstage
Having collected three of the night’s biggest awards between them, Stormzy and Lewis Capaldi delivered one of the night’s surprise collaborations when they teamed up in the backstage press area for a brief impromptu duet of Stormzy’s hit single “Crown.” The duet took place after Stormzy told journalists how much he admired Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved,” before calling the Scottish singer over and bursting into song. “I love that man,” beamed the rapper.
Host Jack Whitehall swearing like a trooper
Although 99% of the 2020 Brits was televised, one bit that wasn’t fully shown was Whitehall interviewing 2019 Critics’ Choice Award winner Sam Fender at a table on the arena floor. Keen to make the most of it, Whitehall began the interview by shouting a succession of swear words like an excited schoolboy, before getting Fender to deliver a personal message to the host’s sister ahead of her upcoming wedding. “Don’t do it,” the singer pretended to plead with her. “Pick me instead.”
Less music executives, more music
One of the big changes to the Brits this year was a reduction in the number of music industry tables on the arena floor, down from 300 to around 200. That meant there was more room for two new performances spaces inside the O2, including a central “in-the-round” stage area in the middle of the tables, showcased by Capaldi (singing “Someone You Loved”) and Rising Star award winner Celeste, who delivered a stirring run through her track “Strange.”
High scaffolding-like features also adorned the wings of the main stage, which were filled with dancers for several numbers. U.K. industry sources tell Billboard that the change bothered some industry executives who were concerned the reduced number of tables would limit their ability to network before the show.
This year also saw a welcome reduction in the number of celebrities and sports stars giving out awards, with a steady stream of music acts such as Niall Horan and Paloma Faith instead taking their place on the podium. The result was a slicker, faster-moving show that kept the emphasis on music throughout and removed some of the more painfully wooden introductions that have plagued previous years.
Like most awards shows, The Brits is a largely scripted affair with guest presenters reading from Tele-Prompters that contain vital instructions such as “Open Envelope.” Non-scripted exceptions included Whitehall’s interviews with the likes of Lizzo and Harry Styles on the arena floor, and artist acceptance speeches – the best of which was a tie between Capaldi thanking his grandmother for dying (and inspiring “Someone You Loved”) and Tyler, the Creator dedicating his award to former Prime Minister Theresa May for banning him from entering the UK.
“Thank you Theresa May,” said the rapper. “I know she’s at home pissed off.”
Ronnie Wood dancing
It’s fair to say that Ronnie Wood has packed a lot into his 72 years on earth. The Rolling Stones guitarist can now add ‘presenting a Brit Award while wearing a pair of oversized bright yellow gloves’ to that list. Said gloves were quickly whipped away by a member of the production team while the video nominations for best male were played, but only after they’d dazzled everyone watching. It was also an unexpected pleasure to see Wood enthusiastically dancing to Stormzy’s “Vossi Bop” while the rapper walked to the stage to collect his award. The already legendary guitarist gets extra kudos for slumming it and taking the tube to The O2, rather than a limo.
— Ronnie Wood (@ronniewood) February 18, 2020
Harry Styles tribute to Caroline Flack
One of the more sombre moments of this year’s show was host Whitehall’s tribute to British TV presenter Caroline Flack, who was found dead in her home on Saturday (Feb.15) at age 40.
“Over the weekend, we learnt the awful news that a member of the BRITs family, our friend, Caroline Flack, tragically passed away,” the comedian said. “She was a kind and vibrant person with an infectious sense of fun, she will be sorely missed. I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say our thoughts are with her friends and family.”
Styles briefly dated Flack in 2011, and although he didn’t mention her directly in the show, when the singer walked the red carpet at the start of the night he wore a black ribbon on his jacket lapel, which many people have taken to be a tribute to his ex.
Lizzo licking A Brit Award
I’ll be honest, I have no idea what’s going on in this photo. Lizzo didn’t win a Brit Award. That didn’t stop her from borrowing one backstage and licking it.
— Steve Hargrave (@SteveHargrave) February 18, 2020
Mabel and Neneh Cherry Walking the Red Carpet Together
In 1990, Neneh Cherry won Brit awards for best international breakthrough and best international solo artist. In 2020, her daughter Mabel was crowned best female solo artist. Cherry was in the audience to see the moment, having earlier walked the red carpet alongside her daughter, making this year’s Brits a true family affair.
Bring Me the Spice Girls
Sheffield rock band Bring Me the Horizon may have lost the best group award to Foals, but they definitely triumphed in the “best dressed on the red carpet” category thanks to their inspired sartorial homage to The Spice Girls. Arriving dressed in outfits directly inspired by the girl group’s 1997 Brits performance, the group ensured they stood out amid all the other preening peacocks. They also posted a photograph of them next to Baby, Sporty, Scary, Ginger and Posh captioned “girl power.”
–girl power– pic.twitter.com/eZ3b7OqtXx
— Bring Me The Horizon (@bmthofficial) February 18, 2020