The BRIT awards are always a spectacle, but this year wasn’t solely the domain of avid music fans. The BRITs were held this year as part of the government’s Event Research Programme (ERP) to make sure that when live music returns to the UK later this year, it can do so in a COVID-safe way.
The ceremony took place last night at the O2 arena in Greenwich, hosted by popular comedian Jack Whitehall. 4,000 people descended on the iconic venue to witness artists such as Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, HAIM, and Taylor Swift, win in their respective categories.
2,500 of the 4,000 who attended were key workers from the London area, who were able to apply for free tickets through the BRIT website. They were given the tickets by the organisation to “to thank them for their remarkable hard work and selfless commitment” over the course of the pandemic. The other 1,500 tickets went to the nominated artists, their managers and teams plus other members of the music industry and sponsors.
The two conditions of attendance were the ability to present proof of a recent negative lateral flow test before entering the venue, and the capacity to provide their personal details for the NHS Test and Trace system. After these two conditions were met, the event went forward as normally as possible, with no social distancing or masks required – even food and alcoholic beverages were served to the attendees.
AEG’s CEO Alex Hill said “There won’t be any social distancing restrictions, people won’t have to wear masks when they’re sitting in their seats. But before that is a very tough regime in terms of testing and hygiene measures to make sure that the event is safe.”
Attendees are also being asked to take another lateral flow test after the ceremony to amass data on the safety of indoor settings, reduced social distancing and the absence of face coverings. This evidence will become crucial during the phased reopening of the economy as per the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, which will hopefully see nightclubs and live music venues reopening without the need for strict social distancing in June.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “The Brits are always a big night in the music calendar, but this year’s awards will be particularly special. They will reunite live audiences with the best of British talent for the first time in a year, while providing a vital opportunity to see how we can get large crowds back safely as soon as possible.”
The Music Venue Trust were also delighted by the BRITs going ahead with a live audience. However, they questioned how the data gathered would be useful in the reopening of grassroots music venues. “It isn’t at all clear how anything learned from this event will directly help us to open the Hull Adelphi, 100 Club London… or any of the other 950 grassroots music venues across the country,” said CEO Mark Davyd.
Considering it’s been 14 months since the last live event took place at the O2, any step toward live music being allowed to return to the UK nightlife scene can be seen as positive news for the nightlife and theatre industries. However, over the course of the ERP, the government does seem to have forgotten the existence of smaller, more intimate venues, who will also be planning their reopening in the coming months. It will be interesting to see how the government responds to this criticism.
Words by Rebecca Clayton