The British Bit: Brit Awards Recap

Article originally published by North By Northwestern.

The Brit Awards are the highlight of my year and the only awards ceremony I ever bother watching. They combine two things in life that I am most passionate about: music and British culture. Sure, winning a Grammy is probably a bigger deal than winning a Brit, but the Brits (like the awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA)) are about celebrating the nation itself.

The star of this year’s ceremony was Adele. She took home two trophies for British Female Solo Artist and the highly coveted MasterCard British Album of the Year, but all the headlines were about Adele giving the middle finger after her speech was cut off at the end of the ceremony.

I have two opinions on that. Firstly, I gladly join the queue of people who wanted to hear the rest of her speech and think she should have been allowed to finish. This was 21 after all, the best-selling album of the 21st century that has sold more digital copies in one calendar year than any other album ever. Secondly, I kind of wish she’d used the V sign instead. It would have been much more British.

Adele also performed “Rolling in the Deep” for the O2 Arena crowd. It was not a bad performance, but there was no way it could top last year’s “Someone Like You.” That performance was understated yet raw with emotion and was partially responsible for launching her world domination. I think Kylie Minogue got it right during this show when she answered host James Corden’s question about which current artist has the most staying power and will be around for years. Her first diplomatic response was that everyone’s got the potential. Her real answer was, “If I had to choose someone today, I’d say Adele.”

In addition to her two wins, Adele was nominated for British Single with “Someone Like You” but lost to One Direction, a boy band that came in third place in X Factor in 2010. I’m not going to lie – I was shocked. This was one of three categories decided by the public, but I was still convinced that Ed Sheeran’s avid fanbase would mobilize better than any other artist’s. Then again, I can see how “What Makes You Beautiful” would have wormed its way into the hearts of many females.

Speaking of Sheeran, the 21-year-old was the other big focus of the evening. He led the nominations with four and walked away with British Male Solo Artist and voter-decided British Breakthrough Act. I think both were greatly deserved and that if it hadn’t been up against 21, + would have won Album of the Year. Sheeran spent the evening being charmingly humble — wearing a designer suit just to make his parents happy, giving little nods of thanks to the crowd after his “Lego House” performance, not preparing a speech for Male Solo Artist because he never expected to win.

Not winning any of her three categories didn’t stop Jessie J from also being gracious and cheering for Sheeran (who beat her out for British Breakthrough) at every opportunity. She did manage to make a splash with that sheer red dress of hers. No matter what you think of it, you have to admit that she pulled the look off way better than Fergie did at the Grammys last week.

In the International arena, Bruno Mars won Male Solo Artist, Rihanna won Female Solo Artist (not surprising considering how obsessed the Brits are with her), the Foo Fighters won International Group and Lana Del Rey won International Breakthrough. Wait, what? Lana Del Rey?! Seriously?! I thought everyone was already over her like me. Guess not.

Apart from the awards themselves and the performances, there were random little moments in the ceremony that gave me a chuckle. Like when Labrinth got between the camera and James Corden while he was trying to introduce Rihanna. “Really?! Labrinth! I’m on the TV!” Or when BBC Radio 2 DJ Jo Whiley had to present the award for British Group to Coldplay even though it’s no secret that she hates their music. And Bruno Mars practically read my mind when he said, “This is almost taller than me,” gesturing to his statuette after hugging the substantially taller International Male Solo Artist presenters Jack Whitehall and Jessie J.

In general, the show was mild and predictable which is probably why the media have all led with Adele’s cut-off and middle finger. Personally, I’m more interested in what she managed to fit in just before being cut off: “I’m so, so proud to be British and to be flying our flag.” I think that sentiment is the whole point of the Brit Awards and the Britishness of these artists is definitely part of why I love them so much.

For a complete run-down of the winners and losers, visit the Brit Awards website.


Ten Artists for the British Bit

North By Northwestern

Those of you who know me know that I love British culture. As an excuse to share that love with other people and to get bit of a byline, I started a weekly column called “The British Bit” in my school’s online magazine last spring. I took a break from in the fall while I was off campus on an internship, but I’m back at it this quarter and I’m very excited for my first column of 2012: Brit bandwagon: artists you should listen to now. It’s about ten British musicians who are under the radar in America — five who released albums in 2011 and five who might just blow up in 2012. Rather than rehash what I wrote there, I’ll let you go read the column for yourself…

Tim Larson at Vintage Vinyl

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The inside of Vintage Vinyl is a collage of sound, color and musical artifacts. Bins of records and CDs line the walls and fill the center of the room, constricting any movement from one side of the shop to the other. Layers of posters, T-shirts and signs ornament the pale pink walls and ceiling. Such liveliness appearance betrayed the cold, rainy day beyond the doors as well as the serious voice and mild manners of Tim Larson’s performance Saturday afternoon to the cramped interior.

“We’re going to play a couple songs. Is that all right?” Larson quietly asks a dozen or so customers rifling through vinyl and CDs. The singer-songwriter performed at the Davis Street record store in honor of Record Store Day, an unofficial worldwide holiday celebrating independent record stores and the music they sell.

A New Deal, Larson’s new album with his band The Owner Operators was released on April 15. It is a collection of songs for the down-and-out in today’s economy. Larson, himself a union asphalt worker from Chicago, wrote the songs about the economic downturn and its effects on blue collar workers.

It’s a shame that an album with such a fresh and relevant theme doesn’t sound as such. Too many layers of instruments muddle the impact and cause a genre identity crisis. Is it country, folk or rock? Luckily, the limited space in Vintage Vinyl only allowed for Larson, his guitar and drummer Tommy Henry. The stripped-back set gave the songs the chance to speak for themselves.

In a live performance, Larson’s skill as a songwriter shines through. The first of his six-song set is “Own To Rent,” which gives the mortgage crisis a human face with heartbreaking lyrics like “more habitat now than home.” Larson also played “I Went Down Swinging,” a song from his 2007 solo album No Weapons, No Allies. With “I had a good run and my debts are all paid, I went down swinging, I went down in flames” as the chorus, he jokes that it’s the happiest song he’s ever written. “Merit Worker” describes union workers taking non-union jobs in order to survive, while “A New Deal” is a dissatisfied protest song about waiting for help and affirming that survival is the new American dream.

Larson and Henry’s cheerful banter with audience members helps to balance the atmosphere. Larson apologizes if he seems distracted, but The Walker Brothers section keeps catching his eye and he wants to look through their records. While retuning for his last two songs, he asks everyone in the room what they’re buying and Henry offers Robert Palmer to anyone who can’t reach them because his drum is in the way. It’s a nice metaphor for their music — they just want people’s lives to be easier.

Originally published on North By Northwestern

A Global Village playlist

Originally published by North By Northwestern

In honor of Sunday’s Global Village organized by AIESEC, here is a list of the best music of the cultures represented by Northwestern’s student groups at the event, plus a few others, that is sure to give you a global experience.

Kitka, “Ne Po Pogrebu Bochonochek Kataetsja”
This song is a Russian folk tune but it has a modern hip-hop feel to it. The lyrics about a young couple downstairs in the cellar doing some things their parents probably wouldn’t approve of is also timeless and cross-cultural.

Maria Rita, “O Homem Falou”
São Paulo, Brazil singer Maria Rita began singing professionally in her twenties with the help of her mother, Brazilian pop singer Elis Regina. Her vocal style is based on those of great Jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald. Between 2004 and 2008, Rita won six Latin Grammy Awards. “O Homem Falou” is great for parties.

Miriam Makeba, “Beware Verwoerd (Naants’ Indod’Emnyama)”
It’s the late, great South African singer Miriam Makeba. What other reason do you need? The cheerfulness of the music doesn’t portray the message of the lyrics which say “Beware Verwoerd, here are the black people!” It was sung to protest Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958-1966 who is today considered the “architect of apartheid”.

Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir, “Erghan Diado (Song of Schopsko)”
The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir is an internationally renowned ensemble that became widely known when they released a pair of anthology albums on the alternative English record label in 1986 and 1988, but their recordings date back to 1957. Like “Ne Po Pogrebu,” “Erghan Diado” is sung by a choir of women and contains some brilliant dissonances that, combined with the forceful vocal tone, have a very powerful effect on the listener.

Nagoya Children’s Choir & Shunji Mizutani, “Hotaru Koi”
Hotaru Koi” is great for your imagination. This Japanese song is echoing and dynamically swelling when performed correctly. The lyrics are about a firefly exploring the night and hiding during the day. The musical arrangement imitates the sight of hundreds of fireflies lighting up the darkness at different times.

Absynthe Minded, “Envoi”

There are indie bands in countries other than America. Absynthe Minded is an indie rock band from Belgium that sings in English. An “envoi” is a short stanza at the end of a poem. This song is all about poetry and the creative process of writing.

Julie Fowlis, “Hug Air A’ Bhonaid Mhoir”
You’ve probably heard Irish Gaelic before, but did you know that there is also Scottish Gaelic? Julie Fowlis is a folk singer from North Uist, a small island in the Outer Hebrides, who sings in Scottish Gaelic. With a title that translates to “Celebrate the great bonnet!” this song is energetic and a lot of fun.

Hanggai, “Xiger Xiger”
You probably haven’t heard throat singing before. Hanggai is a Chinese folk music group from Beijing who specialize in blending Mongolian folk music with more modern styles like punk rock. Lead singer Ilchi traveled to inner Mongolia to learn about his ethnic heritage and learn the art of throat singing, a form of overtone chanting or harmonic singing. “Hanggai” in Mongolian refers to an ideal natural landscape with sprawling grasslands, mountains, rivers, trees and blue skies.

Angelique Kidjo, “Awan N’La”
Why you should listen: If you haven’t heard of Angelique Kidjo, you need to now. “Awan N’La” is like all of Kidjo’s songs, mixing styles from around the world while remaining essentially African in inspiration and execution. Kidjo is a Grammy Award-winning Beninoise singer-songwriter who has collaborated with everyone from Alicia Keys to Josh Groban to Ziggy Marley. Kidjo is fluent in Fon, French, Yorùbá, and English and sings in all four languages. She is also widely involved in philanthropy, promoting education for girls in Africa and traveling the world as a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador.