Emeli Sandé and Ben Howard were the big winners at the 2013 BRIT Awards, on a night when singer-songwriters trumped rock and pop stars and performers often outshone the award winners.
Sandé picked up the big award, the MasterCard British Album of the Year, at the ceremony, held Wednesday at the O2 Arena in London. Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry presented her with the award for Our Version of Events, the biggest-selling album in the UK in 2012. She also picked up British Female Solo Artist and closed the show with a performance of "Clown," solo at her piano, and "Next to Me," featuring a full band and a gospel-style choir.
"I think I'm a very unlikely pop star," she said backstage after her British Album win. "This is an album I made because I didn't have the confidence to say these things in person. So many people connected with this album and it makes me feel incredible."
Howard, a hitherto largely-unheralded singer-songwriter who has nonetheless gone platinum in the UK with his Every Kingdom debut album, picked up British Breakthrough Act and British Male Solo Artist, looking every bit as bemused as the TV audience at home may have been.
"That's bizarre, isn't it?" he said, as he picked up the second trophy. "To win two of these things is amazing."
Those unfamiliar with Howard had the chance to discover his music later in the show when he performed an acoustic version of his song "Only Love." For that, show host, actor and TV personality James Corden got to introduce him as "a two-time BRIT Award winner…"
On a slick, well-organized night a long way away from the BRITs' one-time riotous reputation, most of the winners were as grown-up and well-behaved as their music, meaning it was often left to the live performances to inject some edge and spectacle into proceedings.
Muse did precisely that, kicking off the show with a pyro-heavy version of "Supremacy" that featured a full orchestra and horn section. The American superstars also delivered: Taylor Swift had a fairytale fire-and-ice-themed set and a mid-song costume change for "I Knew You Were Trouble" and Justin Timberlake provoked screams from the crowd as he performed "Mirrors." Homegrown star Robbie Williams also performed his hit "Candy" with a dancing brass band.
One Direction picked up the newly-introduced BRIT Global Success Award, given to the act with the highest international sales in 2012, and performed on a spectacular pinball stage set, singing a rather less spectacular mash-up of Blondie's "One Way or Another" and the Undertones "Teenage Kicks."
That award, however, had been expected to go to Adele, who had to content herself with the award for British Single for her Bond theme "Skyfall." The singer did not attend, as she is in Los Angeles rehearsing for the Oscars, although she did send a video message in which she referenced last year's controversy, when her acceptance speech was cut short in order for Blur to play live.
"I won't keep you long," she quipped, "I don't want to interrupt the Best Album speech at the end of the night."
Mumford & Sons carried on from their success at the Grammy Awards by picking up the British Group award and performing "I Will Wait."
"We weren't expecting that," said singer Marcus Mumford. "We were in a group with Muse and One Direction, so it's a surprise. We love being British and going around the world telling people we're British."
Other winners on the night included Coldplay (British Live Act), the Black Keys (International Group, picked up on their behalf by Dave Grohl, who also revealed he will start work on a new Foo Fighters album this week in LA), Lana Del Rey (International Female Solo Artist) and Frank Ocean (International Male Solo Artist).
"Before this year, I didn't get many trophies in my life," said Ocean as he accepted his award. "I'm definitely a long way from working fast food in New Orleans."
Blur's Damon Albarn picked up a Special Recognition award on behalf of the War Child charity, which helps suffering children in war-torn regions.
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