Photo by JMEnternational/JMEnternational for BRIT Awards/Getty Images

I'm officially jealous of Harry Styles' Brit Awards purse

From Dua Lipa’s performance to Taylor Swift’s icon award, here’s everything that went down at the biggest night in British music.

by Douglas Greenwood
11 May 2021, 10:53pm

Photo by JMEnternational/JMEnternational for BRIT Awards/Getty Images

Okay girls, the Brit Awards are back for 2021, live and in the flesh. Tonight, over 4,499 people plus Dua Lipa poured into London's O2 Arena to celebrate the past 12 months (give or take) in excellent music from around the world. People wore dresses; some wore suits. Some -- like Olivia bloody Rodrigo -- flew across the Atlantic to sing a song and then flew back again. Awards were won, gags were made at the expense of the cultural elite, and hopefully – if the event went as planned – not one of the 4,500 folks in attendance caught Coronavirus. That, my friends, is the ultimate serve.

For those of you who didn't tune in, fret not. Lots happened, and we're here to tell you about the moments that everyone will be talking about until the Brits return in 2022. 

Dua Lipa owned the night

No pop artist has dominated the last 18 months quite like Dua Lipa, who's gone from cool British pop girl to arguably the one of the most significant stars in the genre’s contemporary crown. 

She kicked off the ceremony's IRL performances (Coldplay crooned from a platform on the Thames) with a megamix of Future Nostalgia tracks, wearing a Union Jack dress and single handedly reclaiming that symbol from Tommy Robinson. 

On the night, she won two prizes: Best British Female and MasterCard Album of the Year for Future Nostalgia. She used her speech slots appropriately: once the usual thanks were out the way, she turned her attention to two causes. In her first speech, she was sure to thank the British key workers – many of whom made up the crowd. "It's very good to clap for them but we need to pay them," she said. It's time, she added, to "give Boris a message that we all support a fair pay rise for our front line".

In her second speech, she dedicated her prize to Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole, known to friends as Jimi. Last month, he died trying to rescue a woman who'd fallen into the River Thames in London. It was a poignant moment in a night that largely opted for levity over sadness. Of all the artists, Dua was one of the few willing to dive into the nitty gritty of politics too, proving she remains not only an exemplary pop talent, but one unafraid of doing something with her voice.

Taylor Swift accepted her Global Icon award

Arriving after the fanfare had already kicked off, Taylor Swift turned up to accept her prize for Global Icon, presented by actor Maisie Williams. The award, bestowed to its winner by the BPI, celebrates an artist based on their musical and cultural impact, and based on Taylor's 2020 and 2021 (she's the only artist in history to earn three number ones in a 365-day period in the UK), she was a worthy winner. Taylor, who's spent part of the last year living in London between recording sessions got folklore and evermore, also thanked the NHS for their hard work in her speech. 

Headie One gave a shoutout to Marcus Rashford

Having been nominated for Best British Solo Artist this year, Headie One performed his track “Ain’t It Different” with a crowd of creative collaborators, including one especially for the night: Virgil Abloh. Yes, in his capacity as an architect and fashion designer, Virgil designed the set on which Headie and co. performed, alongside some slick LV looks.

The track, which featured AJ Tracey and Stormzy, was switched up with Stormzy absent, with a verse added to honour Britain’s key workers and the work of footballer Marcus Rashford, including the lyrics: “The government is saying eat out to help out but won’t help out Rashford when he’s feeding the youths”.

Olivia Rodrigo made her UK debut

While 90% of US acts nominated opted to stay at home (pandemic, we get it), pop music's new hope Olivia Rodrigo trekked across the Atlantic, did her time in quarantine, and turned up to the ceremony purely to make her UK debut performance, singing “driver's license”. The night was mostly shaped by high octane performance and movement, but Olivia's pared back take on her juggernaut single proved that the voice you hear on the radio is just as strong IRL. Now, she's jumping back on a flight back to the USA to prep for her next big milestone: Saturday Night Live.

Little Mix dedicated their prize to the Spice Girls

After what's been a hell of a few weeks for Little Mix, with both Leigh-Anne and Perrie announcing their pregnancies, they rounded it out by winning the Best British Group gong, making history as the first girl group to do it.

Leigh-Anne started her speech with a piercing observation: "We’ve seen white male dominance, misogyny, sexism and lack of diversity,” she said. "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.

“The fact that a girl band has never won this award really does speak volumes," Jade added. "So this award isn’t just for us, it’s for the Spice Girls, Sugababes, All Saints, Girls Aloud, all of the incredible female bands — this one’s for you!” There was even a bittersweet thanks for Jesy, who left the band last year after nearly a decade. 

Olly and Elton gayed it up!

If the politics of the Brit Awards was woven into its fabric, there were few moments as brazenly queer and vital than Elton John and Years & Years' Olly Alexander linking up to perform a cover of Pet Shop Boys' "It's A Sin", complete with Olly writhing around on a piano in full-look Harris Reed, before snaking through a real life maze while dancers swarmed around him. It was an extension of his glowing performance in It's A Sin, the Channel 4 series that captured the AIDS crisis, and came with a prescient message about the realities of live with HIV now, delivered by none other than Elton's partner, David Furnish. 

Harry Styles actually showed up!

Despite the fact he's been bubbling with his My Policeman cast since filming started, our king Harry Styles absconded the Brighton set to pick up his Best British Single prize for "Watermelon Sugar". Appearing late in the show -- shortly before his prize was announced -- his speech was short and sweet, thanking his management, friends and family.

It might have been a flying visit, but he still managed to look excellent as always. Stylist Harry Lambert dressed him in head-to-toe Gucci, including one of his most sweet suits to date. "We couldn’t not do this iconic suit!" Harry Lambert tweeted. Would we die for that purse too? The answer is yes.

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