When Adele gave her spine-tingling performance of her ballad Someone Like You at the Brits in 2011 a small miracle happened – the boisterous music industry for once fell silent, and listened. Last year, the singer again provided the most talked about moment of the evening by giving a frustrated one-fingered gesture to presenter James Corden after he cut off her acceptance speech for best album to make way for the final performers, Blur.
But at the Brits on Wednesday, the singer, who has dominated the UK and US charts since 2011 despite releasing only the single Skyfall last year, may finally get her moment to thank her fans.
Universal UK chief executive and Brits chairman David Joseph said there would be no repeat of the speech-cutting controversy – Adele's speech was halted because the programme was running over.
"How can you take an artist who has made the biggest cultural impact musically this country has seen globally for some time and cut her off in the middle of her speech?" he said. "I very much to this day question what was happening in that control booth. I can hint something is going to happen this year to rewrite that wrong."
Joseph said he had told ITV it should run into a commercial break if a similar situation arose this year. "Adele was totally justified expressing how she felt. It was a very big moment for her, but I'd stay tuned to this year's show to see if there is any form of squaring of that circle." Adele is in LA and is unlikely to appear in person.
Joseph, who is standing down as chairman after this year's Brits, promised to go out with a bang. The show, broadcast live on ITV, will feature performances from stadium rockers Muse, Mumford & Sons, who have been nominated for three awards, Justin Timberlake, and Emeli Sandé, who leads the nominations and is up for four awards.
One Direction – who had two of the bestselling albums in the US last year – are nominated for best British group, and will perform One Way Or Another on the night. Robbie Williams, Ben Howard and Taylor Swift will also feature. "I would like to bow out saying we have made a bit of a difference," said Joseph. "I want it to be great for the artists this year."
During his three-year tenure, Joseph has overseen some of the biggest changes in Brits' history: the venue changed to the O2, artists were included in the voting academy, a greater emphasis was given to album of the year, and the Brits statue was designed by well-known artists, this year featuring Damien Hirst's trademark spots.
"It think we've achieved everything we set out to do, we started off saying it was a bit chaotic and we wanted to make it more about music than about a TV show," he said. "I think we did manage to make it more like the Grammys, with more gravitas."
He denied suggestions the awards were too safe. "If people are looking for explosive controversy, we still don't know what's going to happen on the night. I'm not encouraging stage invasions, but they are magical moments that happen; no one has control over that.
"The lineup goes from pop to discovery to indie. It's not dull; it's a brilliant showcase for music." The Brits remain important as a showcase for a certain moment in music, he said. "Shop windows and curation are massively needed when there is so much media fragmentation. Plus fans, viewers and, most importantly, artists love awards."
This year's Brits will also celebrate a year that saw four of the five best-selling albums in the US come from British artists, and will feature an international success award for the first time. "It's amazing what is happening with British music overseas. We are thrilled about it, four of the top five is exceptional. It shows good taste," he said. "When as an industry you realise you have four of the five top-selling acts in America, the only thing you want to do next is have five of the five."
The UK recorded music industry, one of the first to be hit by the digital revolution and piracy, was turning a corner, but still had some way to go, said Joseph. The record trade association, BPI, revealed that last year digital album sales rose 14.8% to 30.5m, although CD album sales declined 19.5% year on year to 69.4m. Combined sales fell by 11.2% to 100.5m in 2012. "A few years ago we knew were going to go through a rough patch, mainly to do with piracy and the way people were discovering music," said Joseph. "We have taken massive leaps in the last few years, going from nearly zero to 1 million people paying for subscription music services in the past three years."
The transition from physical to digital revenue, and the problems of the high-street retailer HMV, which went into administration earlier this year, continued to pose challenges, he said, with 70% of album sales still physical. "How HMV emerges is going to be an important factor for us, our artists and our record fans," he said. "I have always believed there should be a high-street presence for someone wanting to buy music. I still see record stores being on the high street in 10 years' time."
Joseph said 68 legal services had been licensed by record labels, with further deals in progress. He denied record labels had been slow to react to changing music consumption. "It takes time to create a service. I think we are significantly ahead of publishing, film and television. I think we were quick to react, our artists were quick to react and I'm feeling really positive about it," he said. "I predict that by 2014 we are going to see positive growth in the music industry worldwide," he added.
Music's increasingly globalised reach – typified by the worldwide success of South Korean star Psy's Gangnam Style – was an opportunity for British music, not a threat, he insisted. "There is massive growth for English speaking music. [At Universal] we are fixated about what is going on in China, what is happening in Brazil, in other parts of Asia," he said. "We are creatively very healthy, even if commercially we have still got a bit of a way to go."
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