Twenty years ago today, the world experienced a brilliant but of Pulp friction.
Riding high at the time as one of the princes of Britpop, Jarvis Cocker famously crashed the stage while a “messianic” King Of Pop, Michael Jackson, was performing “Earth Song” at the 1996 BRIT Awards. The incident, in which Cocker ran onto the stage and shook his ass for a good minute or two before being chased away, caused a mighty uproar in England.
“My actions were are form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing,” Cocker said in a statement shortly afterwards. “The music industry allows him to indulge his fantasies because of his wealth and power. People go along with it even though they know it’s a bit sick. I just couldn’t go along with it anymore. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision brought on by boredom and frustration.”
At the ceremony, Jackson was issued a Brit Award for “Artist of a Generation”, while Oasis won MasterCard British Album of the Year for (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and best British Group, Take That scored best British Single for “Back For Good”, and Supergrass were the British Breakthrough Act. David Bowie was recognized for his “Outstanding Contribution to Music” and Paul Weller was named Male Solo Artist of the year.
Pulp also performed that night, playing Different Class single “Sorted for E’s & Wizz”, and other performances included Alanis Morissette (“Hand in My Pocket”), David Bowie and Pet Shop Boys (“Hallo Spaceboy”), Simply Red (“Fairground”), and Take That (“How Deep Is Your Love”).
What a time to be young and alive. Wrote the Independent on February 22, 1996:
“His performance of “Earth Song” at the Brits on Monday can be seen as merely the latest stage in his rehabilitation. It was this process that Pulp star Jarvis Cocker showed in critical, rather than fawning, light by invading the stage and causing chaos among the performers. But support grew for Cocker yesterday both within and without the music industry.
Jonathan King, who was the show’s producer from 1990 to 1992, said: ‘I thought Jackson’s performance was appalling and everyone who was there, bar the Sony executives, thought it was appalling too. It was the most excruciating, misguided and unbelievably awful thing I have seen in my life: 99 per cent of the music industry couldn’t believe it.’ Criticism of Jackson was also voiced in newspapers supporting Cocker. One letter called for him to be knighted, while another, from the former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who is signed to Jackson’s label, Sony, also complimented his actions. Cocker’s invasion has already received backing from the Brits’ Best British Producer, Brian Eno, and the Brits nominees Everything But The Girl.
Meanwhile, as Cocker was exonerated by video evidence of charges of assaulting children taking part in the act during his invasion, a spokesman for the BPI, organisers of the awards, said: “We will be reviewing security at next year’s Brit Awards but if artists have to be separated into different artist’s passes, we are reaching levels of absurdity.”
Cocker was not invited back to the BRIT Awards until 2007.