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Eminem Runs Censors Ragged at Brits

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“And the winner is . . . Steely Dan!” yelled Eminem, holding his Brit award aloft Monday in triumph. “Who the [expletive] are Steely Dan?” he then inquired, referring to the veteran American duo that defeated him in the best album competition in last week’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Maybe the controversial American rapper had gotten word that the British Phonographic Industry’s flagship awards ceremony--the English equivalent of the Grammys--has thrived on mild misbehavior. Having apparently washed out his mouth with soap to allow a mostly expletive-free Grammys, Eminem carefully explored the parameters of language mayhem.

During afternoon rehearsals at the Earl’s Court arena, he uttered various obscenities more than two dozen times. They were counted by a team of experts (tabloid journalists), and the TV producers began worrying about “all-night editing sessions” to prepare highlights of the show for U.K. national television and 63 other countries the following evening.

During the Brit ceremony itself, Elton John presented Eminem’s best international male solo artist statuette, and the two reprised the hug that was one of main talking points of the Grammys. At the after-show party, John reemphasized that in his view Eminem’s records are not homophobic and that he had offered his support to champion free speech, although “it would [expletive] off some people in the gay community.”

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Indeed, a handful of protesters stood outside in a winter deluge, arguing that “this nomination is the moral equivalent of honoring a Ku Klux Klan singer.” On a rotten night for picketing, they were barely noticed by the media.

So Eminem gave almost everyone what they wanted, to get what he wanted. The right fences mended, the right fences kicked over. This chap is not daft.

Otherwise, pop-soul singer Kelis took the best international newcomer award, and Madonna accepted her best international female solo artist award humorously via a “home” movie wherein director Guy Ritchie delivered the thank-yous while his wife cleaned the house and fetched him a cup of English tea (“God save the Queen!” she urged in the final frame).

Ireland’s U2 provided superstar presence in the flesh as best international group and “outstanding contribution” award winners.

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But the remainder of the night’s delights and “shocks” were domestic to the point of introversion. Dido and David Gray, the two new British successes in the U.S. in the last 12 months, got nothing. The same fate befell Craig David, probably the next U.K. artist due serious consideration by the United States. The 19-year-old R&B; singer-songwriter worked his own story into the rap section of his hit single “Fill Me In”: “Six nominations, no Brits for CD.”

However, he then won a star-studded sympathy vote.

After winning three Brits, singer Robbie Williams told the press backstage, “Craig’s brilliant. He’s a decent bloke and his songs are ace.” Elton John prefaced his Eminem presentation by telling the cameras, “If there’s a better singer in Britain than Craig David, then I’m Margaret Thatcher!” Finally, Bono quietly dedicated the first song of U2’s live set to the night’s favorite victim. So this 21st edition of the Brits did have its spats, yet it failed to live up to the occasion’s gloriously undignified history. That began with the legendary second (and last) live-television show in 1989 when presenters Mick Fleetwood and topless model/disco singer Samantha Fox found the TelePrompTer impossible to master.

And there have been other moments:

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* In 1990, the Fine Young Cannibals returned their statuette after the organizers invited Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to send along a videotaped greeting.

* In 1996, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker got up on stage and wiggled his bottom as Michael Jackson struck crucifixion poses and platoons of children took turns hugging him during a live performance.

* In 1998, Chumbawamba’s Danbert Nobacon tipped a jug of ice water over visiting Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott “on behalf of all those now suffering at the hands of the Labor government.”

Even in the quieter years, someone could at least be relied on to take the podium and challenge Liam Gallagher to a punch-up. In 1998 it was Sporty Spice.

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No such luck in 2001. While top BPI people advised that “Music touches people’s hearts, inspires their minds and reaches into their souls,” the unofficial view was that the event had suffered a surfeit of such reverence.

Writer and broadcaster Andrew Collins, who for three years did BBC Radio 1’s live commentary on the Brits, suggested that the event was actually losing ground relative to its Goliath opponent, the Grammys, because it was suppressing its idiosyncratic identity, which ought to represent “British [rubbish]” against “American pomp”.

“It’s great that there are so few awards [14 Brits to over 100 Grammys this year], but it’s becoming more and more bloated, a victim of its own success,” Collins said Monday. “The BPI is always thinking about what’s going to look good on TV to an international audience. That takes a lot of the interest and integrity away from it. It’s out of our hands; it doesn’t reflect what the nation thinks.”


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