Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi has topped the winners at the 2020 Brit awards, though a strong year for rap music prevented a clean sweep of his four nominations.
Capaldi picked up best new artist and best song for Someone You Loved, which spent seven weeks at No 1 in spring 2019, later topping the US charts and earning a Grammy nomination.
His debut album Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent – its title typical of the dry self-deprecation that has won him millions of fans on social media – was the biggest seller in the UK in 2019, but it lost the top prize of album of the year to south London rapper Dave and his emotionally fraught Psychodrama.
Dave, who in his performance earlier in the evening called Boris Johnson racist, decried the lack of support for survivors of the Grenfell tragedy and called attention to the disparity in the media treatment of Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton, used his acceptance speech to celebrate his fellow south Londoners, and to acknowledge incarcerated Britons including his brother, Christopher.
In September 2019, Psychodrama won the other top album award in British pop music, the Mercury prize. Dave is only the second ever artist to win both, following the Arctic Monkeys’ wins for their 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Dave had been this year’s joint top Brits nominee with Capaldi on four.
Continuing a successful year for rap music, Stormzy beat a strong field – Dave and Capaldi, plus Harry Styles and Michael Kiwanuka – to be named best British male. His win follows a triumphant year in which he topped the UK singles chart three times, began a five-continent world tour, and played a headline set at Glastonbury that is already regarded as one of the greatest in the festival’s 50-year history.
LA rapper Tyler, the Creator added to his best rap album Grammy award with a Brit for best international male, beating Bruce Springsteen and others. In his speech, he taunted former prime minister Theresa May, who as home secretary banned him from coming to the UK for five years. The restriction ended last year.
The rap wins show not only the current depth and breadth of the genre, but also that the Brit awards have adapted following accusations of under-promoting black talent. Following the #BritsSoWhite outcry of 2016, the Academy of voters was diversified to bring in more people of colour, and black British stars including Skepta, J Hus, Kano and Jorja Smith have all since appeared on shortlists.
Those Academy changes also brought in more women to move the gender balance of voters close to parity, but the awards have been criticised this year for not featuring enough women on its shortlists, as well as the longlists from which voters select nominees. Mabel was the only British woman to be shortlisted across 25 slots in the mixed British categories of best song, album, group and new artist. Voters could choose from 86 male artists for best British male, but only 26 women for best British female, while there were only 36 albums featuring women out of the 198 longlisted.
The lack of female nominees was a theme of the evening, with host Jack Whitehall skewering the Brits for failing to recognise women, and Foals, winners of best British group – an exclusively male category – expressing their desire to see more female artists in the category next year.
Joy Crookes, nominated for the rising star Brit award, was among those criticising the ceremony, telling the BBC: “You take one look at that list to go ‘there’s not enough women on it’. It’s as simple as that … you can tick all the boxes, but [diversity] just isn’t there yet.”
In the end, Mabel lost out to Capaldi in the best song category, but won best British female. Scoring a UK No 3 single and album last year as well as reaching the US charts for the first time, she is the daughter of another pop singer, Neneh Cherry, who won two awards at the 1990 Brit awards. Billie Eilish won best international female, adding to the five Grammy awards she won earlier this year.
The rising star award – formerly the critics’ choice award – had previously been announced, and was won by soul singer Celeste.
Two award categories from previous years, best international group and best video, were cut to make way for more performances at the ceremony – a sign that the Brits is attempting to remain a vibrant TV fixture in an increasingly fragmented media landscape, and intent on creating potentially viral performances to be shared online. Other changes include the introduction of three performance stages around London’s O2 Arena where the awards are held, reducing the number of industry tables by 50%.
Performers at the ceremony, hosted by comedian Jack Whitehall, included award winners Capaldi, Dave, Eilish, Mabel, Stormzy and Celeste, plus Harry Styles and US rapper, singer and sometime flautist Lizzo.