“Don’t take this the wrong way”: looking back at that extremely silly Alex Turner BRITS speech

Our latest Cold Take, on stupid rock stars, ridiculous speeches and having a laugh

What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever done on drugs?

According to Alex Turner, he hadn’t taken any cocaine when he made his speech at the BRIT Awards in 2014. Face contorting like an estate agent celebrating a particularly brutal ripoff, pupils flaring almost as much as his nostrils, rambling about “that rock and roll” in that weird Partridge-goes-to-Vegas accent he adopted for a bit, the man was stone-cold sober apparently. Okay mate! 

It’s a fun watch now, nine years on. Turner looks like a four-year-old’s drawing of Elvis doing a bad impression of Al Pacino, while his bandmates look like they’ve come in last-minute fancy dress as the Bad Seeds. Emeli Sandé, having just announced that the band have won Best British Album (for AM), looks pretty confused, but is certain that Turner is being a twat. “That rock and roll eh,” he drawls, waggling his trophy. “It just won’t go away. It might hibernate from time to time, and sink back into the swamp…” He pauses for a gurn. “I think the cyclical nature of the universe in which it exists demands it adheres to some of its rules.” And so on, for really quite a long time. “Thank you very fucking much for this,” he says, finally reaching some kind of conclusion. “I do truly appreciate it. Don’t take that the wrong way” – what way would that be Alex? – “Invoice me for the microphone if you need to.” He drops the mic. To be honest it’s more like a toddler throwing bread into a duck pond than a sign-off at the Correspondents’ Dinner, but it does give the ramble we’ve just witnessed its first bit of punctuation. 

What’s interesting about the whole performance when we look back at it now, though, isn’t whether or not Turner had been hoovering up enormous rails of chop as if he was some kind of rock star or something, or whatever he actually said in his nonsense speech. It certainly wasn’t his little mic drop at the end. What makes it quite interesting to look back on now is what’s happened since, both to Arctic Monkeys and the music industry more widely. 

I vividly remember the reaction to The Speech. “The fame’s gone to his head!” cried some. “He’s taken cocaine!” howled others, who’d clearly never been to a high-end awards show, glitzy music industry event or small-town Wetherspoon’s at 10pm on a Friday in their lives. It was almost as if none of these people had ever experienced sarcasm, parody or any humour whatsoever, and instead were expecting the frontman of a band called Arctic Monkeys – who’d just put out an album containing song titles like ‘Knee Socks’ and ‘Mad Sounds’ – to say something insightful when he’s in the middle of a big night out. 

Firstly, let’s just be clear about where this happened: we’re talking about a corporate-sponsored, old-school, major-label music awards ceremony here – there’ll have been dozens of people in that room, literally as he was speaking, making Turner look like a Dalai Lama-style paragon of sobriety and wisdom. Also, awards ceremonies like this, whatever their other virtues, are extremely silly. In a way, it’s sort of weird that Turner’s speech stood out in its daftness – have you seen where he’s stood, the people around him, the fanfare he’s being garlanded by for having written some thinly-veiled metaphors for shagging? 

Alex Turner did exactly the right thing, and had a laugh. Did he believe that stuff about the swamp? Well yeah, maybe at the time, but I’m willing to bet he wouldn’t defend it as anything other than a hastily-prepared piss-take, a hamming-up of his post-AM showman persona, in the cold light of day. Just look at the other members of the band as he’s delivering his lines – their efforts to keep it as deadpan as they’ve obviously pre-agreed are constantly fraying at the edges, Matt Helders’ thousand-yard stare frequently threatened by Jamie Cook muttering to him out of the side of his mouth like a bad ventriloquist, or his own personal moments of “lol, fucking hell” clarity. (This is the same band who picked up a BRIT Award six years earlier, in 2008, all dressed in tweeds, pretending to be country squires, don’t forget.) 


Since 2014, Arctic Monkeys have released two more albums (Turner has also contributed to another – a horrid Last Shadow Puppets record with mod goblin Miles Kane, at which point it actually did feel like the coke might’ve been getting the better of him). Both 2017’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and 2022’s The Car see the band refining the same gag, leaning into the hubristic excess of international stardom and pushing it right to edge. Both records are comically decadent and syrupy, Turner’s vocals somehow more Sheffield and more LA than ever as Bond-theme strings flutter around song structures which almost play like half-jokes in themselves, half a bar away from making actual sense. With hindsight, that speech feels like the point at which this band, nearly a decade on from their last vomit in Tiger Tiger and realising they probably couldn’t pull off songs about taxi ranks any longer, decided to embrace their own absurdity. And that decision resulted in the most enjoyable work of their career. 

As the music industry disintegrates around them, it feels like a bit more silliness might be useful. Everything’s so earnest; to be clear, earnestness in itself is no bad thing, and that horribly persistent Gen X affect of mocking, alienating or attacking people who actually care about stuff (Charlie Brooker banging his desk, the entire project of Keir Starmer, etc.) feels as tired now as it has been irritatingly smug for years. But you can care about real issues, try to address them and occasionally have some fun in the process. Yet the structures of the music business, in the UK and US at least, are increasingly dominated by tech billionaires with messiah complexes, heart-on-sleeve troubadours who’ve never written a hook or made a joke in their lives, private school leavers who honestly believe they got to where they are through the sheer force of their own genius, and the profoundly bald. Being daft in the face of all this doesn’t solve anything – but it does at least illustrate how stupid everyone else is being in their apparent sincerity. I’d much rather hang out with the lad who sings about “jet skis on the moat” in a Vic Reeves croon than the Sound of 2023 longlister who actually grew up speeding around on them. 

Obviously, this isn’t the materialist, sociological analysis this stuff really needs, nor am I remotely saying that we need to listen to millionaire rock stars for the answers to our problems. But it’s good to be reminded sometimes – like when you’re watching a silly lad from Yorkshire making his mates crack up with an over-elaborate gag on the UK’s biggest stage – that although most things are terrible, some things are great, worth celebrating, worth defending, worth making jokes about. It might be in front of millions at the BRITs, it might be when you’re checking out a new band; it might even be when you’re organising against your boss or landlord. Please remember to have a laugh.