LONDON (AFP) - British singer Harry Styles won the top awards on Saturday at the UK's biggest popular music prizes, the Brit Awards, while acknowledging his "privilege" for triumphing in a supposedly gender-neutral category that featured no female artists.
Styles made multiple appearances on stage, winning awards for artist of the year, album of the year, song of the year for "As It Was" and best pop/R&B act.
"This night has been really, really special to me and I will never forget it," Styles said.
"I'm so so proud to be a British artist in the world out there."
The awards ceremony for the second year running handed out a gender-neutral main prize for British artist of the year.
This title was introduced last year to increase inclusivity after non-binary singer Sam Smith was automatically excluded from previously gendered categories in 2021.
Yet, controversially, the category had an all-male shortlist this year, and Styles in his acceptance speech named women artists who were originally shortlisted for the category but did not make the final list.
"I'm really really grateful for this and I'm very aware of my privilege up here tonight so this award is for Rina, Charli, Florence, Mabel and Becky", he said, referring to Rina Sawayama, Charli XCX, Florence Welch, Mabel and Becky Hill.
The Brit Awards chairman Damian Christian told Music Week this month that it was "disappointing to see the lack of female representation", blaming a lack of eligible 2022 releases by big female stars.
Styles' clutch of awards came as little surprise after the former One Direction bandmember earlier this month won the coveted Grammy award for album of the year for "Harry's House", which was the UK's biggest-selling album last year.
Styles' reference to his "privilege" on Saturday came after he prompted mockery with his Grammy acceptance speech by saying "this doesn't happen to people like me very often".
Critics pointed out that Styles as a white 29-year-old Englishman hardly falls into any underprivileged category.
US star Beyonce won the international artist of the year and best international song categories, while she did not attend in person.
It was also a big night for several young acts making their recording debuts last year.
Wet Leg, an indie rock band from the Isle of Wight off England's south coast, won the group of the year category and also best new artist after releasing their catchy debut single "Chaise Longue" -- which they performed at the ceremony -- and their eponymous debut album.
One of the band members got a huge cheer at the show with a political aside that was bleeped out on the television broadcast: "F**k the Tories".
They beat the UK's 2022 Eurovision Song Contest entry, Sam Ryder, who was the first ever contestant from the flamboyant Europop event to be shortlisted for a Brit award -- for best new artist.
Ryder came second at Eurovision with his song "Space Man", losing to Ukraine but achieving the UK's highest place at the contest for two decades.
"I used to be on the wedding circuit before this," he commented during the Brits show, upbeat despite not winning.
"I feel a responsibility to show immense gratitude."
Rapper Aitch, 23, whose debut album Close to Home included NFT technology, won in the best hip hop/grime/rap category, beating top star Stormzy.
The Brit Awards were first held in 1977. The event is run by British Phonographic Industry, a trade association that represents the UK music industry.