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Brit Awards Tuesday, 16 February, 1999, 19:08 GMT
Who's the biggest Brit?
Spice Girls: Big in the US but not at the Brits
As Britain's biggest annual music industry jamboree, the Brit Awards draws a television audience of many millions at home and abroad.

The Brit Awards
But how many British bands nominated for this year's gong-giving ceremony could claim to have cracked the world market?

Looking at the nominations for best group - Beautiful South, Catatonia, Gomez, Manic Street Preachers and Massive Attack - the answer is probably none.

Of course some of these acts do well enough beyond these shores, and yes, the Brits ought to be a showcase for all home-grown talent.

The Manic Street Preachers are "artistically credible"
But when it comes to real barnstorming British bands; to millions upon millions of sales; currently there is only one name on the tip of all foreign tongues - the Spice Girls.

The omission of Baby, Posh, Sporty and Scary from the Brits shortlist suggests there is still uncertainty over what the Brits awards is really about: artistic credibility or commercial success?

The birth of the Brits

The awards have their origins in 1977's Britannia Awards, which celebrated 100 years of recorded sound.

The winners that year included Queen, Cliff Richard and George Martin. By 1982 the first annual British Record Industry Awards were instituted, and they were renamed the Brit Awards in 1989.

The awards have shed much of their old fogey image of the 1980s and early 1990s.

These were the days when the show was presented by the likes Jonathan King and Noel Edmonds and artists such as Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox, Elton John and Phil Collins seemed to mop up all the big awards. But critics say the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

Major Spice omission?

Pop commentator Rick Sky says the shunning of the Spice Girls "does seem to be a serious omission".

"They are the biggest [British] group in the world at the moment. They are big earners but they're just not 'credible'," says Mr Sky.

Indeed, according to the British Phonographic Industry, which stages the Brit awards, the group has sold more than 35 million copies of its two albums Spice and Spiceworld.

Boyzone: Will sing at the Brits but see no awards this year
Forbes magazine calculated the Girls earned 20m in 1997, second only to the Rolling Stones for a British group.

At the start of that year they won two relatively minor Brit awards - Best British Video and Single - and despite going on to score four number one hits at home, they were nominated just once for last year's Brits - for Best Video.

While the Brit academy of 600 leading industry figures managed to temper its blushes by hastily arranging a special award, the fact remains that when it comes to bubble-gum pop groups, the industry is deeply undecided.

The death of Britpop

It's a far cry from the Britpop boom of the mid-1990s, when sales and credibility came as one, in the form of pop rockers Blur, Oasis and Pulp.

"The death of Britpop will have troubled the Brits very much," says Mr Sky. "The big sales seem to be coming in the teenage side of music, with the likes of B*Witched and Boyzone."

The truth, he thinks, is that the Brits is as much concerned with image as it is music.

"It's the same problem with dance music. Dance music is a big seller and always in the charts but part of the problem is that a lot of the dance bands are incredibly faceless. They've been put together by producers."

If there's one artist who does manage to straddle the alternative-mainstream divide it's former Take That singer Robbie Williams, who is up for six nominations.

But even he is just "sub Oasis" says Mr Sky. He points to Madonna - nominated under Best International Female Artist - as one solo artist who has successfully traded up from her teenage audience.

While honours for the pop-lite sect look set to be thin on the ground, all is not lost for the younger generation. Call it a sop if you wish, but they will be at least be able to feast on an Abba medley performed at the ceremony by the likes of Billie, Steps, Cleopatra and B*Witched.

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