Teen-friendly English troubadour Ed Sheeran won two trophies, including British male solo artist, at an energetic ceremony in London.
It has been a dramatic year for down-to-earth north London diva Adele, who based her chart-topping songs of heartbreak on a rocky relationship.
Her sophomore album 21 won six Grammys last week and has sold more than 6 million copies in the United States alone. But Adele also had to undergo vocal cord surgery in November to fix a potentially career-threatening throat condition.
She delivered a powerhouse performance of her single “Rolling in the Deep” to thousands of fans and industry insiders at London’s O2 arena.
“It’s been an amazing year,” Adele said as she received the female artist statuette from petite pop star Kylie Minogue.
“I feel like a drag queen next to you,” joked the winner, who wore a sleek black Burberry gown but towered over Minogue. She thanked her record company “for letting me be the kind of artist I want to be.”
The show’s host, actor James Corden, cut off Adele’s second acceptance speech, prompting the singer to make a rude middle-finger gesture in frustration.
She stressed afterward that it was aimed at industry leaders, not her fans.
“I’m sorry if I offended anyone but it was the suits that offended me,” Adele said. “Thank you all very much and thanks to my fans. I don’t want them to think I was swearing at them.”
The 23-year-old lost out on the British single prize to boy band One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” but took the coveted album of the year award for 21. The statue was presented by singer George Michael, returning to the stage after suffering life-threatening pneumonia in December.
The ceremony also included tributes to two departed divas, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse.
Tousle-haired singer-songwriter Sheeran won prizes for solo artist and British breakthrough act.
The red-headed 21-year-old has been panned as bland by some critics, but has amassed legions of young fans through online releases and a relentless calendar of shows.
Sheeran thanked his manager for transforming a “spotty, chubby ginger teenager” into a Brit-winner.
Long derided as dull, the Brits have become a lively celebration of U.K. music and style – and this year’s awards come with British music riding high around the world.
“I’m so, so proud to be British and to be flying our flag,” said Adele, who has the century’s best-selling album so far.
Tuesday’s event – which kicked off with Coldplay performing “Charlie Brown” and included live turns from Sheeran, Florence & the Machine, Noel Gallagher, Bruno Mars and Rihanna – brought out a host of stars who blended rock ‘n’ roll attitude and fashion finery.
Blur frontman Damon Albarn dressed down for the red carpet in jeans and a flat cap, and former Oasis guitarist Gallagher wore a leather jacket. But others struck a snazzier note. Actor Ray Winstone arrived in a pinstriped three-piece suit, complete with watch chain.
Style standouts included Minogue, in a strapless sky blue dress; plump-lipped Internet sensation Lana Del Rey, wearing a floor-length red gown; and Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch, in a lacy peach dress by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen.
Coldplay won their fourth best British group trophy, while Foo Fighters were voted best international group.
Bruno Mars took the prize for international male solo artist, and Rihanna won the international female prize for a second year.
The Barbadian singer, who has often been in the news for non-musical reasons since her then-boyfriend Chris Brown attacked her at a pre-Grammy Awards party in 2009, thanked her fans.
“At times when I feel misunderstood, my fans always remind me that it’s OK to be myself,” she said.
Lana Del Rey appeared moved to be named international breakthrough act.
“This award means much more to me than you know,” said the singer, who has gone from Internet-fueled buzz to backlash in record time after a disastrous performance last month on “Saturday Night Live.”
Britpop icons Blur received a special prize for their contribution to music.
The four original members – Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree – performed together for the first time since a series of concerts in 2009, offering versions of 1990s hits including “Girls & Boys” and “Parklife.”
Most of the awards are chosen by more than 1,000 musicians, critics and record industry figures, with several decided by public vote.