Hey, remember when The BRITs were good? Of course you don’t, no one does. There are rumours that once upon a time it wasn’t all sanitised prime time TV fluff, not just a big office party for label execs, but no one can say for sure. Yeah there was that time Jarvis Cocker sort of waved his bum at Jacko and that bizarre incident involving John Prescott, Chumbawumba and a big bucket of ice, but do you remember those BRIT Awards? No, of course you don’t, you are not a hundred years old.
But let’s remember that amidst all the awfulness – the dire jokes and absurdly mismatched presenters – The BRITs spaff out a gem every now and then. And in 2008, we got the gem to end all gems.
Back in ’08, The BRITs still felt like one big gig, when it was held at London’s Earl Court instead of the vast, impersonal vacuum of the O2. This was before Adele won every gong, before Mastercard’s #PricelessMoments and before Ant of Ant and Dec fame thought wearing a dress would make a relevant and funny joke in 2016. The BRITs still had something to offer, a vague sense of anarchic glee and a knack for cobbling together bizarre but memorable performances.
When Rihanna took to the stage in 2008, she was on top of the world. Finally a bona fide global icon after a slew of massive hits from her third album, she was the hottest pop star on the planet. The coked up TV boss who suggested pairing her with Klaxons would, in any rational world, have been laughed out of the office before they could cut another line, but thank God they were not. Because this wacky coupling – the Barbadian pop goddess and a rabble of very of-the-moment nu-rave hipsters – accidentally became the best pop collab of all time.
Standing atop an altar inside a giant laser pyramid, Rihanna, cloaked in a hooded robe, peers down at the crowd below. Over the opening bars of Klaxons’ ‘Golden Skans’, Rih belts out the biggest hit of the previous year, the chart-dominating behemoth ‘Umbrella’. Why does this work so well? On paper, it reads like a car crash. And in many ways it is. The two tracks don’t quite sync up at the beginning, poor Klaxons don’t get to do anything but thrash about and look scene in the background and Rihanna has likely never heard of nu-rave, looking slightly miffed by the whole spectacle.
But man, what a spectacle it is. From the lasers to the costumes, this is a performance for the ages. Rihanna’s vocals have never sounded so on form, so glassy and sharp, and when she causally slips off her hood, offering a glimpse of a wry smile, you know this performance is all hers. As she emerges from the pyramid she is majestic. She offers a cursory look back at the Klaxons behind her, an acknowledgement of their contribution without having to engage in any real interaction, resigning them to backing band status in what is temporarily the best supergroup in the world.
There is so much to love here. The pedestal that looks like it’s made from tinfoil and PVA glue, James from Klaxons looking livid throughout, Rihanna’s maxi dress that looks like the type of M&S garment your mom would wear to a barbecue held by people she doesn’t like, the knowledge that at some point in time someone said “hey what about a big pyramid made of lasers?”, Rihanna’s deranged look as she says ‘pour’ in the final chorus, her little rock and roll moment just after the three minute mark.
If the organisers of The BRITs had any sense they’d have called it a day after 2008, safe in the knowledge that nothing would ever top this masterpiece. It’s camp, it’s theatrical, it’s tacky and it’s marvellous. So when you’re watching this year’s awards and Michael Bublé is introducing Ed Sheeran or Calvin Harris or Emeli Sandé, look back to 2008 and weep for what we have lost – the spirit of nu-rave and pop stars in big fuck off laser pyramids.