A live audience of 4,000 people will be allowed at the Brit awards in the O2 arena in London next month as part of a government-led research programme into how crowds can safely return to mass-participation events.
The awards will be held on 11 May, pushed back from the traditional February date because of the pandemic.
The hope of organisers was always to have some kind of live audience for a show which will feature performances by Dua Lipa, Headie One and Arlo Parks.
On Thursday the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that the Brits will be joining events such as the current world snooker championships in Sheffield’s Crucible theatre as a pilot in the government’s events research programme.
Audience members will not have to wear face coverings or socially distance. They will have to have proof of a negative lateral flow test for coronavirus and will be asked, for research purposes, to take a test after the event.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the Brits were always a big night in the music calendar but would be particularly special in 2021.
“They will reunite live audiences with the best of British talent for the first time in a year, while providing a vital opportunity to see how we can get large crowds back safely as soon as possible,” he said.
“Music connected us when we were separated by this pandemic, and now it’s going to help bring us back together again.”
Geoff Taylor, the chief executive of the BPI, which stages the awards, said he was excited to confirm a live audience.
“There could be no better way to celebrate music’s biggest night than with an audience present for the first live performances at the O2 in over a year,” Taylor said.
“Most importantly, this is also a key moment in the return of live music, which we all want to see back at scale as quickly as possible.”
The awards are due to be hosted by Jack Whitehall for the fourth year running and will be broadcast live on ITV.
The 2020 awards were heavily criticised for being male-dominated, with only one woman nominated out of 25 available slots in mixed-gender categories.
Nominations for 2021 have gone some way to redressing the imbalance with Dua Lipa, Arlo Parks and Celeste leading the charge with three nominations apiece.
The British album category features four out of five female nominees for the first time in Brits history. In 2020 there were none.
The DCMS said information gathered from the research programme was crucial to understanding how venues – whether theatres, sports stadiums or nightclubs – could operate safely this summer.