Arctic Monkeys and One Direction were the big winners at the 2014 BRIT Awards in London tonight, taking home two gongs apiece. Unlike last year's slick-but-uncontroversial show, the 2014 event occasionally harked back to the unpredictability of the BRITs' Nineties pomp: In other words, there was a lot more going on than a mere handing out of prizes. Here are the most surprising moments from the O2 Arena:
1. David Bowie gave the event its most surreal moment – even without showing up. Winning the British Male Solo Artist award – his first BRIT in 18 years – wasn't much of a surprise, but the acceptance certainly was. First Noel Gallagher came on to announce the winner, laughing: "You maniacs didn't think David Bowie was actually going to be here, did you? He's too cool for that, he wouldn't do this shit." Instead, Gallagher introduced supermodel Kate Moss, a woman renowned for not speaking in public. Wearing a Ziggy Stardust-era stage costume, she read a statement by Bowie, which included the line, "Kate is from Venus and I from Mars," before ending on a statement about the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence: "Scotland, stay with us." Now, no one saw that coming.
2. Arctic Monkeys have waited a long time to consummate their relationship with the BRITs – this, oddly, was the first year they've performed – but it was worth the wait. They opened the show with a literally incendiary performance of "R U Mine?," playing behind giant flaming A and M letters, and became the first three-time winners of the double of British Group and British Album (for AM). Their strained history with the ceremony – the band snubbed the event in 2006, sent a bizarre video message in 2007 with them dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz and had their victory speech cut short by organizers in 2008 – still showed in their snarky acceptance speeches though. "That rock & roll eh?" drawled Alex Turner. "It just won't go away. It might hibernate from time to time… but it's always waiting just around the corner, ready to smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever." He then deliberately dropped the microphone, telling organizers to "invoice me."
3. It might be called the BRITs, but it was the Americans that brought the real star wattage this year. Katy Perry (who at least had the decency to attempt a terrible Cockney accent), Beyoncé, International Male Solo Artist winner Bruno Mars (doing a slick "Treasure") and the closing Pharrell/Nile Rodgers set (even without Daft Punk, who did not attend to pick up their International Group gong) provided most of the wow factor. But couldn't someone British have been found for the finale?
4. British people can't keep a secret half as well as Beyoncé. Her appearance – a world first performance of "XO" – was supposed to be a surprise. But news filtered out days ago, proving that not even someone who kept an entire album under wraps is leak-proof. Still, the excitement from the audience was enough to stop too many people noticing her straight-forward performance was actually a bit (whisper it) on the dull side.
5. Regular BRITs host, comic actor James Corden – best known to U.S. audiences as the Tony-award winning star of One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway – is something of acquired taste. And, even after his record-breaking fifth stint helming the awards, many people are still trying to acquire it. His odd mix of earnest musical appreciation and near-the-knuckle banter always results in a few awkward moments, not least this year's exchange with One Direction about what happens to guys like Justin Bieber in prison. Still, kudos for describing Bruno Mars as "the greatest showman anywhere in the world" with a straight face, when Prince was actually in the room. And he says this is definitely his last time in charge, so striking the right note will be someone else's problem next year…
6. BRIT Awards history is littered with less-than-stellar duets: for every Dizzee Rascal and Florence Welch (2010), there's a Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua (2004). Tonight's Disclosure and Lorde hook-up started promisingly with a bleeped-up take on "Royals," only for the teenage New Zealander to be sidelined by Aluna Francis from AlunaGeorge for the second half of the performance, on Disclosure's "White Noise." British Breakthrough winners Bastille and Rudimental (who picked up British Single) fared better; their beat heavy mash-up of "Pompeii" and "Waiting All Night" seeming like a genuine collaboration rather than just two acts sharing a stage together.
7. The ghost of Adele may finally have been exorcised from the BRITs stage. Ever since she sung a stripped-down "Someone Like You" at the 2011 ceremony, the awards have been littered with artists going for the less-is-more approach. This year, only Beyoncé just, you know, sang a song, while Katy Perry went for a day-glo Egyptian extravaganza on "Dark Horse" and even British Female Solo Artist winner Ellie Goulding, who started off singing with just a piano and guitar, quickly drafted in dozens of dancers and some flamethrowers on "Burn." Maybe more really is more after all.
8. The BRITs finally went online this year. The ceremony was streamed worldwide on YouTube for the first time, apparently attracting millions of views, while the British Video Award was voted for on social media during the show, attracting over two million Tweets and ensuring One Direction won for "Best Song Ever." But was Lorde aware of the pre-ceremony furore over PRs for sponsors MasterCard apparently asking journalists for mentions of its #PricelessSurprise hashtag in exchange for access to the ceremony, when she declared her International Female Solo Artist win "really was a priceless surprise"?
9. The BRITs has had plenty of stick for its low-rent guest presenters in the past. This year it went all out, with Prince, Kylie Minogue, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Noel Gallagher and Lily Allen all pressed into service. Although perhaps someone might have briefed the latter. "Do I just go straight into it?" she asked, live on air.
10. Is it finally time for a moratorium on polite pop stars thanking their label and management? Noel Gallagher's presence was a reminder of when BRITs winners actually said something during their moment in the spotlight, so crazy Pharrell hats off to Alex Turner for declaring: "There's a lot of people to thank, but they need to hear their names read out about as much as you need to hear another list." Harry Styles, meanwhile, was late onstage for One Direction's win for BRITs Global Success as he "was having a wee." Bless.
BRIT Awards’ Winners List
British Male Solo Artist - David Bowie
British Female Solo Artist - Ellie Goulding
British Group - Arctic Monkeys
British Breakthrough Act - Bastille
British Single - "Waiting All Night" by Rudimental feat. Ella Eyre
British Album of the Year - AM by Arctic Monkeys
Best Video – One Direction
International Male Solo Artist - Bruno Mars
International Female Solo Artist - Lorde
International Group - Daft Punk
Global Success - One Direction
Critics' Choice - Sam Smith
British Producer of the Year - Flood & Alan Moulder