They are both earnest singer-songwriters whose emotive anthems have returned UK music to the top of the global charts. In the end, the Brit Awards could not split Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, as the two solo stars shared the top prizes at the music industry’s annual showcase.
At an O2 Arena ceremony which will do little to quell criticisms that the music industry is dominated by white, polite, middle-class voices, Sheeran and Smith both took home a brace of awards. But rock music also enjoyed a return to the mainstream limelight with wins for Royal Blood and Foo Fighters.
Sheeran’s rise from pub backroom singer to multiple Wembley Stadium headliner was confirmed when the Suffolk strummer took the British Male and Best Album awards. Sheeran’s ‘x’ bucked the trend for declining album sales and is poised to break the 2 million barrier in the UK.
Astute collaborations with urban music producers like Pharrell Williams have given Sheeran, 24, a run of hit singles which enjoy millions of weekly streams on Spotify without cannibalising his paid-for sales.
Smith, the Grammy-winning soul singer who took the Brits Critics’ Choice winner a year ago, confirmed his stunning rise, winning the Breakthrough prize and a special Global Success award given to the British act with the greatest international sales.
His debut album, In The Lonely Hour, has sold 5 million copies worldwide and his hit single Stay With Me has racked up a similar number of download sales. Curiously, the London-singer, 22, was awarded greater honours at the US Grammys, where he took four prizes including Song of the Year.
The recognition for Smith and Sheeran disturbed the DJ and broadcaster Edward Adoo, who called the Brits a carve-up run by “middle-class white guys in suits (who) don’t have a clue about their own industry’s diversity. It seems the judges simply don’t think the ethnic talent we have is worthy of being rewarded.”
Smith’s mother helped launch his career with the pay-out she received after losing her City trader job. Mark Ronson, the DJ from a privileged background who songs expertly mix black music traditions, won Best Single for his Uptown Funk collaboration with Bruno Mars.
The only ethnic minority winner at the awards was Pharrell Williams, who took the International Solo artist prize.
Paloma Faith, the Hackney singer, whose range extends from showtunes to jazz and funk, enjoyed a significant breakthrough by taking the British Female prize. Faith, 33, released her debut single in 2009 and has enjoyed a steady rise to prominence through her highly theatrical stage performances.
Among a generation of winners who avoid any expression of political controversy, Faith, who performed at the show, broadcast live on ITV, describes herself as a “vehement socialist. I put that down to having a strong moral code.”
The most noteworthy event of the awards was Madonna, who while making her first performance at the Brits for 20 years, fell spectacularly down the stairs after a cape she was wearing failed to detach from her clothing.
The declaration at last year’s Brits by Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner that “rock ‘n’ roll will never die” was given credence by the surprise Best Group win for Royal Blood. Drummer Ben Thatcher and bassist/singer Mike Kerr only began performing as a duo in 2013.
The Brighton band’s self-titled debut topped the charts and their combination of thunderous Led Zeppelin-style riffs and smart songwriting has seen them rise up the bill at Summer festivals. Foo Fighters took Best International Group for the third time.
The British performers, who included the over-looked singer-songwriter George Ezra, were somewhat overshadowed by the stardust provided by a trio of American imports; A late addition to the bill, Kanye West, notorious for interrupting other people’s award ceremony speeches, unveiled a track from his new album and Taylor Swift celebrated her Best International Female win, entertained the industry guests.