Brit Awards 2021: Dua Lipa leads diverse range of female winners
Little Mix make history in group category as Taylor Swift becomes first female global icon
Dua Lipa (centre R) performs during the Brit Awards 2021. Photograph: Ian West/PA Wire
Dua Lipa was the top winner at the 2021 Brit Awards, and she called for Boris Johnson to approve “a fair pay rise” for frontline NHS staff as she picked up gongs including best British album for her chart-dominating disco spectacular Future Nostalgia.
She also won female solo artist, bringing her total Brit award tally to five and cementing her position as one of the UK’s most successful and critically acclaimed pop stars.
Receiving the latter award and addressing the 2,500 key workers given tickets to the show, she said: “It’s very good to clap for [frontline NHS staff], but we need to pay them,” as she dedicated her award to nurse and healthcare pioneer Dame Elizabeth Anionwu.
She later dedicated her album award to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, the 20-year-old man who died after attempting to save a woman who had fallen in the river Thames in April. She called for a bravery award to be made to him and Joaquin Garcia, who also attempted to rescue the woman and survived along with the woman.
The 2020 Brit Awards were widely criticised for their heavy bias towards male artists, with only one British woman – pop singer Mabel – nominated across 25 slots in the mixed-gender categories. There was an emphatic reversal in 2021, with Lipa among a diverse range of female winners.
Little Mix became the first all-female band to win the British group award, with Five Star in 1987, Stereo MCs in 1994 and Gorillaz in 2018 the only previous such category winners to feature women.
Little Mix’s win crowns a career that began on TV show The X Factor 10 years ago, with six UK top five albums since, plus 16 top 10 singles, five of those reaching number one. The group is expected to now go on hiatus, with members Perrie Edwards and Leigh-Anne Pinnock each announcing pregnancies this month, and founder member Jesy Nelson leaving the group in December last.
Pinnock said on receiving the award: “It’s not easy being a female in the UK pop industry. We’ve seen the white male dominance, misogyny, sexism and lack of diversity. We’re proud of how we’ve stuck together, stood our ground, surrounded ourselves with strong women and are now using our voices more than ever.”
Los Angeles trio Haim won international group, the first all-female group to do so in nearly two decades following Destiny’s Child’s win in 2002. Billie Eilish won international female, pop singer Griff won the rising star award, and Taylor Swift became the first woman to receive the global icon award, previously won by David Bowie, Elton John and Robbie Williams. “There is no career path that comes free of negativity,” she said on receiving the award in person. “If you’re met with resistance that probably means that you’re doing something new.”
Twenty-year-old Arlo Parks won breakthrough artist, having released one of the most admired albums of the year so far with her debut Collapsed in Sunbeams, blending trip-hop and soul in songs full of emotive storytelling.
She had been nominated for three awards and also performed at the ceremony.
Each year this century, at least half of the winners in the mixed-gender categories at the awards have been men, but in 2021, six out of seven are women. The celebration of female talent follows similar recognition at this year’s Grammy awards, where Eilish, Swift, Megan Thee Stallion and HER won the top four awards, and where Lipa won for best pop vocal album.
Lipa couldn’t sweep the board at the Brits though, and was beaten to British single by Harry Styles with his song Watermelon Sugar, an enduring hit since its release in November 2019 that has spent 62 weeks in the UK chart in total.
Styles also addressed the key workers in the audience, saying: “Thank you for everything you did for this country”, while Headie One and AJ Tracey added new lyrics to their track Ain’t It Different during a performance at the ceremony, rapping: “Team work keeps the dream working, it’s only right we show love to the key workers.” The pair also got in a jab against British PM Boris Johnson’s government, “saying eat out to help out but won’t help out [Marcus] Rashford when he’s feeding the youths”, while performing on a stage set designed by Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh.
British male was won by J Hus, the east Londoner whose sophisticated blend of rap with African pop production cohered on his album Big Conspiracy.
International male was won by the Weeknd, who was snubbed at this year’s Grammys, earning zero nominations despite having one of the year’s biggest global hits with Blinding Lights. He also performed at the Brits via video, and his award was presented to him with a video message by Michelle Obama.
Further performances came from Griff, Coldplay and Olivia Rodrigo, the latter making her UK live debut after her single Drivers License topped the UK chart for nine weeks earlier this year. Elton John and Years & Years also performed a surprise collaboration, covering Pet Shop Boys’ It’s a Sin.
Rag’n’Bone Man closed the show alongside Pink and the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust Choir.
The 2021 Brits was the first large-scale indoor event to be held as part of a UK government-led research programme into how crowds can return safely to events. Scientists monitored the event and tracked any potential areas of contamination. “The learnings that the government will get out of this will be very important and hopefully will allow them to inform their approach and policy going forward,” said a Brit Awards spokesperson. – Guardian
2021 Brit award winners
British female: Dua Lipa
British male: J Hus
British group: Little Mix
Breakthrough artist: Arlo Parks
British single: Harry Styles – Watermelon Sugar
British album: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
International female: Billie Eilish
International male: The Weeknd
International group: Haim
Global icon: Taylor Swift
Rising star: Griff