Less Taylor Swift, More Lady Gaga: Why the Brit Awards Are Better Than the Grammys

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Tonight marks the cultural antidote to the Grammys: The Brit Awards. You may ask yourself, “Why should I care about a music awards telecast that takes place in a country I’ve only ever heard of in wives’ tales?” In this case, it matters a great deal because, unlike our car-crash of a telecast, the UK’s answer to the Grammys promises to be everything the Grammys have failed to be year after year: Relevant. Basically, everyone involved with the Grammys, from producer to peon, should watch and take lots of notes.

(‘DiggThis’) Mostly, the Brit Awards seem less guided by spectacle and tabloid headlines (note: not entirely devoid of)–relegating someone like Taylor Swift, who only rose to prominence because of spectacle, not discernible talent, to the International Breakthrough Act category. More telling is this: Swift is nominated alongside Lady Gaga. Gaga, unlike Swift, has become iconic on both sides of the Atlantic. As far as the UK goes, Swift may still be “that bird who was upstaged by Kanye sometime ago.” Or possibly “a younger Shania Twain.” This is reflected in the International Female Solo Artist, where she’s absent. Where Gaga is nominated next to superstars like Norah Jones, Rihanna, and Shakira and emerging stars like Ladyhawke alike. It’s further reflected in the fact that of the two, the only one performing is Gaga.

But where the Grammys err in favor of appealing to blue-hairs and possibly the Bible FUPA, the Brits–at least this year–are looking to stir the sympathies of more discerning music fans. Performers like Florence + the Machine, La Roux, Animal Collective, Bat for Lashes appeal to indie sensibilities, while picks like Cheryl Cole, Leona Lewis, and Robbie Williams appeal to mainstream tastes. There’s a balance there that, while not perfect, at least makes sense out of the breadth of music made available to consumers in the past year. To contrast, the Grammys try hard to achieve the opposite effect: Rewarding talent purely on sales while maybe, just maybe, batting an eyelash at niche performers who were big news over a year ago. That balance is most well-demonstrated by Lily Allen’s nomination and her performance tonight.

What works especially well with this pool of nominees is a sense of history. Where the Grammys operate arbitrarily, cherry-picking talent from history in order to create a narrative that conveniently forgoes their campier moments (like that whole Milli Vanilli incident), the Brits–maybe perhaps too contrivingly–tips a nod back to its history with a category like the Most Memorable Brits Performance of the Past 30 Years. It’s a category where performers like the Spice Girls, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Eurythmics, and The Who are directly in competition with newer performers like Kanye West, Girls Aloud, the Scissor Sisters, and Kylie Minogue.

But the way in which the Brits is most like staring into a wonderful parallel universe? How Leona Lewis expects to be snubbed tonight. Speaking of snubs, here’s a Memorable Brit Performance of the Past 30 Years that sadly went unnoticed.