The London ceremony drew 4,000 guests, including 2,500 key health workers and their guests who had received tickets in recognition of their efforts during the pandemic.
Dua Lipa has won the coveted British Album of the Year prize at the Brit Awards, in a ceremony that saw female artists dominate the mixed categories.
Around 4,000 guests streamed into London's O2 Arena for the biggest night in British pop music, as the ceremony welcomed guests for the first time in two years as part of the government's pilot scheme easing coronavirus restrictions.
The Brit Awards have been criticised in the past for nominations seen as skewing heavily male, but this year almost all of the main prizes went to female artists.
Little Mix won best British group – becoming the first female act ever to do so.
Singer and poet Arlo Parks took the Breakthrough Artist award, and best international group went to the American band HAIM.
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Two BRIT Awards and an incredible performance, what a night for @DUALIPA! 👏 #BRITs pic.twitter.com/owbSGVRtpv— BRIT Awards (@BRITs) May 11, 2021
'Feel so proud'
In another history-making moment, Taylor Swift became the first female winner of the global icon award, for what organisers said was "her immense impact on music across the world and incredible repertoire and achievements to date".
With her album "Future Nostalgia", 25-year-old Dua Lipa – who has won three Brit Awards previously – beat soul singer Celeste, Parks, and rapper J Hus, who was the only male contender in the best album category.
Dua Lipa and J Hus were also named best female and male solo artist respectively.
"Last time I was up here accepting this award in 2018, I said that I wanted to see more women on these stages," Dua Lipa said.
"I feel so proud that three years later, we're seeing that happened, and it really is such an honour to be a part of this wave of women in music."
An extra special speech from @taylorswift13 as she receives the BRITs Global Icon Award 💕 #BRITs pic.twitter.com/kZ7EGSIv7Y— BRIT Awards (@BRITs) May 11, 2021
'Give Boris a message'
She dedicated one of her awards to British nurse Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, noting that she had said "there's a massive disparity between gratitude and respect for frontline workers, because it's very good to clap for them, but we need to pay them."
"So I think what we should do is we should all give a massive, massive round of applause and give Boris (Johnson, the British prime minister) a message that we all support a fair pay rise."
The audience, which was packed with key workers after organisers reserved 2,500 seats for them, gave her a standing ovation.
Other winners included Harry Styles, who won best British single for "Watermelon Sugar", and Billie Eilish and The Weeknd, who won best international female and male artist respectively.
Coldplay kicked off the show with a performance on the River Thames, and Dua Lipa herself performed live, sporting a Union Jack miniskirt and an upswept hairdo reminiscent of late singer Amy Winehouse.
British rapper Rag'n'Bone Man performed live with the choir from Britain's National Health Service (NHS), while veteran American star Pink joined the performance remotely from the United States.
"Having people attend this special evening makes me really excited for touring to come," said Rag'n'Bone Man before the ceremony.
The annual event, which normally takes place in February, was postponed for three months because of coronavirus safety and logistical concerns.
Audience members neither observed social distancing nor wore face coverings once seated, but needed to produce a negative coronavirus test result.
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