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Cool Britannia: The Brit Awards and the future of live music


By Matt Redley

The year is 1998. Google is founded from a dorm room. Bill Clinton denies improper activity with former White House aide Monica Lewinsky, but later admits it. The UK, the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland sign The Good Friday Agreement. But more importantly, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has a bucket of ice water thrown over him at the Brit Awards by the drummer from Chumbawamba.

The Brit Awards ceremony is usually known for its glitz and glamour, celebrating some of the most successful and critically acclaimed artists that Britain produces. But in the context of the devastating effects of the pandemic on the live music industry, the Brit Awards are particularly significant this year given that it will be one of the first major indoor and in-person live music events in the UK in more than a year. 

Hosted at the O2 Arena, the 20,000 capacity stadium will see just 4,000 people watching the event in person. This will be part of the government’s research programme to look at welcoming fans back to mass events without social distancing or a requirement to wear masks. Notably, out of these 4,000 people due to attend, as many as 2,500 tickets have been gifted to key workers. No doubt, some fans will be disappointed to hear that Chris Martin and Coldplay will be performing from outside the stadium from a floating barge. Others will be less so.

The event follows the recent pilot scheme in Liverpool in which a gig and an electronic music event were run in a closely monitored experiment to understand how to reopen events of a similar kind after lockdown. In the early stages of reopening, the demonstrable success of events such as The Brit Awards will prove crucial to restoring confidence in fans who are desperate to attend events in a safe way.

Whilst Dua Lipa’s performance is not one to be missed, the event is significant beyond who will be celebrated from an industry perspective. The Awards will serve as a sign that the live music and events industry, which has come to a standstill over the course of the pandemic, is moving towards a semblance of normality following a roller-coaster couple of years. The commercial music industry grew by 11% in 2019, following the successes of the artists and record labels in the live music sector. With the effects of the pandemic, however, the live music sector reported a fall of 81% with a bleak outlook for 2021.

If there’s one thing for certain, the UK music industry is well known for staging comebacks against the odds. From the Spice Girls to Craig David, the music industry has proven time and time again that the appetite is strong for excellent output which grabs the public’s attention. In striving for comebacks, there is no bigger gig than the return from COVID lockdowns.