The 2021 Brit Awards, set for May 11 at The O2 arena in London, will be both a celebration and an experiment. The show is expected to have an audience of 4,000 — roughly one-fifth of the venue’s capacity. Here’s the surprising part: Audience members will not be socially distanced or required to wear face coverings in the arena.
In a statement, the Brit Awards characterize the show as the “first major indoor music event to welcome back a live audience – a pivotal moment in the return of live music at scale.”
About 2,500 tickets will be gifted by the recorded music industry to “key workers” — the British term for “essential workers” — in the greater London area. (This is meant to discourage longer-distance travel.) The remaining 1,500 tickets will be allocated for purchase by the nominated and performing artists and their teams, supporting record labels, management and show partners and sponsors.
A “ballot” (lottery) for free tickets for key workers will open on Brits.co.uk on Thursday (April 22) at noon local time. But those free tickets come with a catch: All attendees must consent to participate in a research program sponsored by the U.K. government.
A statement notes: “The indoor ceremony and live show will form part of the Government’s scientific Events Research Programme, using enhanced testing approaches to examine how events can take place without the need for social distancing.
“Working closely with the Government to adhere to safety guidelines, this means The Brits, as the first live music show at The O2 in over a year, will play an important role in paving the way for the return of live music at scale as the UK emerges from the past year’s restrictions.
“…Audience members will not be socially distanced or required to wear face coverings in the arena, but they will be required to follow existing Government guidance when travelling to the venue and adhere to rules set out by the event organisers.
“Attendees must have proof of a negative lateral flow test result to enter the venue. As part of the wider scientific research on the trial events, attendees will also be asked to take a test after the event to gather further evidence on the safety of indoor settings, reduced social distancing and the removal of non-pharmaceutical interventions like face coverings.
“They will also have to provide contact details for NHS Test and Trace to ensure everyone can be traced in the event of an audience member receiving a positive test after the event.”
The 2020 Brit Awards, held at The O2 on Feb. 18, 2020, was one of the last major events before the COVID-19 pandemic put large-scale public gatherings, including awards shows, on hold for more than a year. The 2021 Brit Awards, nearly 15 months later, will hopefully be a step on the road back to normalcy.
Comedian Jack Whitehall is set to host the show for the fourth year in a row. Celeste, Joel Corry, Dua Lipa, Arlo Parks, Young T & Bugsey and AJ Tracey received three Brit nominations each, more than anyone else this year. Lipa, Parks, Griff and Headie One have been confirmed as performers.
Lipa, who won British single of the year two years ago for “One Kiss,” a collab with Calvin Harris, said in a statement: “This has been a long tough year for everyone and I’m delighted the night will honour the key worker heroes who have cared for us so well during that time and continue to do so…”
Geoff Taylor, chief executive BPI & Brit Awards, said: “This year’s Brit Awards with Mastercard is one of the most significant in the show’s history. Not only will we be celebrating the brilliant music and artists that have helped us through the pandemic, but we hope it will provide a path for the return of live music that fans and artists have so sorely missed … We’re… working closely with Government, The O2 and all our partners to ensure all safety measures and guidelines are adhered to.”
Danielle Kennedy-Clark, deputy general manager of The O2, said “We’re proud that The O2 has been selected to host the largest indoor capacity pilot event with The Brits. This scientific trial is an important step on the path to recovery for the live entertainment industry, and our operational teams are making the final preparations to be able to welcome people into The O2 arena again for the first time in more than a year.”
A statement from the Brit Awards (officially, the Brit Awards with Mastercard) sheds more light on the rationale behind this testing program. Here is the opening paragraph (British spellings retained): “Through the Events Research Programme, the annual UK music industry showcase will test the safety of live audiences returning to indoor seated settings on a large scale. The research gathered from this year’s Brit Awards will build on the evidence collected at other pilots in the programme, including the World Snooker Championships at the Sheffield Crucible and an outdoor gig at Sefton Park hosted by Festival Republic. The evidence from these pilots will be used to inform government policy to bring about the phased return of fuller audiences to venues and events across England.”