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In 1999, while I was a sensitive indie-type in my first year at University, the Brit Awards (basically the English Grammies, but more like the VMAs in structure) tried their hand at crowd participation. The ‘Best British Newcomer’ award would be voted for online by the public, who had a host of nominees to choose from.
The vast majority of these acts were the typical (at the time) Brit Award fare: Pop acts like Steps (who were arguably the most popular pop act in the country at the time), 5ive, Cleopatra and Billie. One of the acts nominated, however, stood out as different from the others: Twee Scottish indie kids Belle and Sebastian.
There was no way that B&S would have won the award, had it been decided by faceless corporate music industry types, as in previous years. But the band had loads of fans in the country’s universities - at the time, probably the most highly internet-proficient demographic in the country.
To the shock and disgust of the music industry people, Belle and Sebastian got the most votes. Two band members collected it on stage and the band’s fans wondered aloud, as they watched on TV, how a group with three albums under their belt could be considered “newcomers”.
Then the backlash started. Pop svengali Pete Waterman, who had put together Steps (hence his bitterness at the band’s loss), accused Belle and Sebastian of cheating in a front page rant in the Sun newspaper. The judges replied that they’d checked the IP addresses of the computers that voted, and there was nothing dodgy about the result. Many of the voters came from Scottish universities in cities where the band members lived, but apart from publicising the vote to their fans, there was no evidence that multiple votes had been cast by different people. The award stood.
In the end, everybody knew that the most popular band - the band with the most fans - didn’t win. Instead, the band who had the most fans who cared enough to go online and vote won. And that was the important thing.
The following year Steps were given an award for which they were the only nominees, in a pretty transparent way to placate their manager. I think the award was called “Best British 5-member pop act whose name is Steps of the year”.
I had a point somewhere, when I started writing all this. If anyone could tell me what that was, I’d be most grateful.