In his lifetime, David Bowie was routinely hailed as a pioneering musical great, and so it has continued after his death. Nearly 14 months after the man born David Jones died from cancer, the late, great British singer was posthumously awarded two of the biggest prizes at the 37th Brit Awards — the U.K’s biggest music awards show, held at London’s O2 arena.
“I lost my dad last year, but I also became a dad and I was spending a lot of time trying to work out what would I want my son to know about his granddad,” reflected his filmmaker son Duncan Jones, collecting the best British album award for Blackstar on his father’s behalf.
“I think it would be the same thing that most of my dad’s fans have taken over the last 50 years. He’s always been there supporting people who think they’re a little bit weird or a bit strange. A bit different. He’s always been there for them. So this award is for all the kooks and all the people who make the kooks,” Jones said.
Bowie was also awarded the prize for British male, which was collected by actor Michael C. Hall, the lead actor in the Bowie-devised musical Lazarus.
“If David Bowie could be here tonight, he probably wouldn’t be here tonight. But since he can’t be here tonight, I’m here on his behalf and on behalf of his family to accept this testament to a man beholden to nothing but his own boundless imagination and daring. [A man] whose ever-expanding artistic vitality simultaneously soothes us and astonishes us. Maybe he is here tonight? I don’t know,” Hall said.
The other big winners of the night were Emeli Sandé, who collected British female and delivered a stirring live rendition of her hit single “Hurts,” and indie band The 1975, who won British Group — their first-ever Brit Award.
“We’ve been in this band since we were 13, for 14 years now, and I think the reason we’re here tonight is because of our album,” said frontman Matt Healy, collecting the award. “The only thing we tried to do with that album is we tried to get back to that place where we were 14 [years ago], when we felt alive and music made us feel alive. So to have something of that purity celebrated by the industry is actually quite moving,” the singer went on to say before making the closest that any of this year’s winners came to a political statement.
“A lot of the time people in pop music and in the public consciousness are told to stay in their lane. But if you have a platform, please don’t do that,” said Healy to heavy applause from the 15,000 strong crowd.
The four-piece band later delivered one of the night’s standout live performances when they were backed by a gospel choir for “The Sound,” accompanied by self-demeaning statements like “Punch Your TV” and “Obnoxious” flashing up on screens around them as they played.
Other live highlights included Katy Perry and Skip Marley performing “Chained to the Rhythm” alongside dozens of dancing houses and two gigantic skeleton marionettes (one male, one female, respectively dressed like Donald Trump and U.K. prime minister Theresa May). Bruno Mars produced a note-perfect rendition of “That’s What I Like” from his latest album 24K Magic and British grime star Skepta making up for last year’s #BritsSoWhite snub and accompanying controversy by delivering a triumphant, pyrotechnic accompanied rendition of his breakthrough single “Shutdown.”
Rag’n’Bone Man, whose debut album Human recently became the U.K’s fastest selling male debut of the decade, became the first artist to ever win Critics’ Choice and British Breakthrough in the same year.
Stormzy, another of grime’s leading lights, later joined Ed Sheeran for a rousing run through Ed’s latest singles “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill,” while British girl group Little Mix were backed by 92 silver-clad dancers for an energetic run through their hit “Shout Out to My Ex.”
Broadcast live on U.K. TV channel ITV, the event was hosted by British TV personalities Dermot O’Leary and Emma Willis, who stepped in after original host Michael Bublé was forced to withdraw to care for his 3-year-old son as he underwent treatment for cancer.
Among the absent winners was Adele, who accepted her second successive award for global success via video, as did Drake for international male. Wins for Beyoncé (international female) and A Tribe Called Quest (international group) were only briefly acknowledged, due to neither act being present or filming an acceptance video.
One of the night’s most moving moments saw Coldplay’s Chris Martin deliver an orchestral version of George Michael’s “A Different Corner,” which saw him momentarily duet with previously shot film of the late singer, who died on Christmas Day in his London home.
“George Michael’s great archive of contemporary music rests alongside the immortals,” said Andrew Ridgeley, making a rare public appearance to pay tribute to his former Wham! bandmate.
“His is a legacy of unquestionable brilliance and one which will continue to shine and resonate for generations to come. George left for us in his songs, in the transcendental beauty of his voice and in the poetic expression of his soul, the very best of himself. I loved him and, in turn, we, you, have been loved,” stated a clearly moved Ridgeley, flanked by Wham! backing singers Pepsi and Shirlie.
The show closed with a crowd-pleasing three-song set from Robbie Williams, the most decorated Brit Award winner of all time and recipient of this year’s Brits Icon award.