With a brigade of minor celebrities strutting the red carpet, some wild musical performances and a procession of gushing chart stars accepting awards, getting through the BRITs can sometimes feel like music’s answer to completing a Tough Mudder -challenge, or at least a measure of one’s endurance.
That said, the annual awards show has also been a fixture for decades now, and along with the more forgettable moments, has witnessed some serious music history along the way. Fingers crossed, then, that this year’s event – which takes place at The O2 in London this week (February 11) and promises live performances from Lizzo, Wet Leg and Harry Styles – lives up to the hype.
From the most surreal Rihanna collaboration ever to Jarvis Cocker’s stage invasion, these are the 10 best moments in BRITs history.
“KLF has now left the music industry” (1992)
Pictured alongside such truly exciting acts as Extreme, Seal and Simply Red, electronic pranksters The KLF decided to troll the Hammersmith Odeon when they found themselves in the middle of an all-beige sandwich at the ’92 BRITs. Accompanied by Ipswich crust-punks Extreme Noise Terror, KLF performed a barely recognizable version of their acid-house single ‘3am Eternal’. Between puffs of a cigar, Bill Drummond spat out new, barely audible lyrics aimed at the BRITs and television – the performance ended with Drummond firing machine gun rounds into the audience and an announcement: “The KLF has now left the music industry.”
Afterwards, the KLF fled the scene, sending a motorbike courier to collect their Best British Group gong and allegedly leaving a dead sheep outside an after-party. “[We] planned to throw buckets of blood over the audience during the performance – what larks! – but we were advised against that by BBC lawyers,” they later said Smash hits.
Jarvis moon’s ‘Earth Song’ (1996)
When Michael Jackson rocked the BRITs in 1996 with his over-the-top ‘Earth Song’, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker thoughtfully decided to mourn the moon. During a particularly nauseating segment, in which Jackson shone with bright white lights and modeled himself as some kind of Jesus, Cocker invaded the stage and did a theatrical ‘bow and wave’ motion.
“I just sat and watched it and felt a little sick because he’s there doing his Jesus act,” Cocker later recounted. TFI Friday. “It seemed to me that there were a lot of other people who also thought it was distasteful and I just thought, ‘The scene is there, I’m here and you can actually just do something about it and say ‘a load of rubbish’ , if you would’.”
Geri’s Union Jack Dress (1997)
For their 1997 performance of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, The Spice Girls took the ceremony’s namesake literally, with Geri Halliwell wearing her now iconic Union Jack dress. As the choice of outfit alone has gone down in BRIT history, it’s easy to forget that the group’s performance was relatively low-production – forget your fancy lighting, gimmicky stage props, high-concept video screens and backing dancers. Instead, it was all about the Spice Girls: swinging, shaking, moving and making cultural history at the peak of their (girl) powers.
Rihanna’s Unlikely New Rave Project (2008)
In a year splattered with fluorescent glow-stick goo and fueled by the fading embers of new raves, ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’-era Rihanna and recent Mercury Prize winners Klaxons teamed up for a gloriously chaotic mash-up of their biggest hits: ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Golden Skans’.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that RiRi fully grasped the brief right away, completely immersing herself in the ridiculousness of it all with green lasers and a glowing cape. So what now, Lil Nas X with Sports Team?
Amy Winehouse Rocks a Pop Polish Focused Ceremony (2008)
Elsewhere at the 2008 BRITs, safely away from the neon hair colour, the late Amy Winehouse sang twice – a year after taking home Best British Female Artist. Though a lone performance of ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ turned Earls Court into a smoky jazz club, Winehouse’s rendition of her Zuton cover ‘Valerie’ was the moment that stole the show.
Performed as part of a Mark Ronson presents… medley (also featuring Adele and, er, Daniel Merriweather), Winehouse commanded the stage the moment she stepped out, bringing vocal grit, spontaneity and creativity to a ceremony usually focused on pop polish.
Adele Silences a Notoriously Loud Room (2011)
Released just before her BRITs performance in 2011, Adele’s second LP ’21’ went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time – and there’s no doubt this flawless rendition of ‘Someone Like You’ helped whip up at least few copies.
Backed by a lone, dimly lit grand piano, the Londoner’s powerful voice took center stage at The O2 as the room fell completely silent. She would later go on to command the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, which she headlined in 2016. This was arguably the performance, however, that proved Adele was capable of casting magical silence over a raucous crowd.
The Two Tumblers (2015, 2017)
Someone needs to have a hard word with whoever is responsible for polishing the stage at The O2, because we’ve witnessed two major slip-ups in recent years. In 2017, Katy Perry performed ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ while surrounded by little trotting cardboard houses and a few skeletons resembling Donald Trump and Theresa May. In the midst of the choreographed kerfuffle, however, one of the tiny houses crashed off the side of the stage — a damning, if accidental, metaphor for the declining rates of home ownership.
Back in 2015, the actual Queen of Pop fell backwards down a flight of stairs mid-performance after her Armani gown closure got stuck. Although Madonna’s BRITs fall remains one of the worst tumbles in recent awards history, she still managed the performance after dusting herself off and carrying on. “No more capes,” she vowed later.
Este Haim, AKA “Mystery Drunk Woman” (2018)
During host Jack Whitehall’s slightly awkward interview with Liam Payne and Cheryl, eagle-eyed viewers at home were quickly honed in on something far more interesting: Este Haim repeatedly winking at the camera, slapping on lip gloss and saying “call me” as her bandmates laughed. uncontrolled in the background.
A number of publications, clearly clueless about this year’s International Group nominees, called Este the “mysterious drunk woman”. The bass player clarified later: “Not drunk, just living my truth.”
Stormzy highlights an important political issue (2018)
“Theresa May, where is the money for Grenfell?” demanded a rain-soaked Stormzy at the 2018 BRITs, eight months after 72 people were killed in a fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London. After the disaster, families left homeless by the fire waited months – in some cases years – to be rehoused. Across Britain, thousands still live in high-rise buildings similar to Grenfell, which are covered in the same flammable cladding.
The rapper’s performance, meanwhile, directly criticized the UK government’s response and was accused of focused anger. “You should get some jail time, you should pay some restitution,” he said. “We should burn your house down and see if you can handle it.”
Dave’s Transformation into a Guitar Hero (2022)
Dave closed the show at the BRIT Awards 2022 in triumphant fashion. During a sensational performance of ‘In The Fire’, where he played both piano and a flame-throwing guitar, he shared the stage with grime heroes such as Ghetts and Giggs, as well as rising stars Meekz and Fredo. A fitting and memorable performance from the 2022 winner of the Best Hip Hop/Grime/Rap act.