* Prices may differ from that shown
The Mercury Music Prize is pitched as the quest to find the best music album of the year but ends up as yet another pretentious exercise by the music industry to be too cool for school. The records picked are the usual mix of aloof indie, and then perm one each from jazz, folk, weird and pop, adding one or two commercial hits to make sure corporate involvement. The fact Barclaycard sponsor it is the first contradiction of its coolness, other previous sponsors being Mercury Communications (of course), Nationwide, Cable & Wireless and Panasonic suggesting it's not so independent and commercially liberated as it thinks. You then stick it on the same night as the football (as did the equally snobby Booker nominations) to distance yourself more from the 'proles' and the scene is set for the most pretentious night of the year, clear lens colored framed glasses and skinny jeans wearing posers at every table.
It's a requisite that most of the artistes up for the award are rarely known by the general public, the suggestion being the music press who pick them out for the ward list know best and so your opinion irrelevant, the records people actually want to buy and love rarely considered, even though the most of judges no doubt sobbed away to Adele with a glass of wine the night before or tapped their toes to Bruno Mars on their Ipods as they drive into discuss the obscure records and so complete hypocrites.
The long list is of the best 300 British and Irish artists records and is chainsawed and then delicately chiseled down to just 12 by some anonymous judges in a small room (no doubt another bunch of middle-class tossers) . A swanky award night then reveals the winner, but really dragging it out, this year the twenty grand prize yet again going to the oddball PJ Harvey, the first artist to win the Mercury twice. Her music is just what the Mercury people love, only to be enjoyed with a glass of wine and trendy friends, coffee table pop.
The elephant in the room this year was Adele, her record '21' the winner of every music prize going in this country but too commercial to win because everyone likes it, somewhat ironic, the Mercury winner always niche and trendy, PJ fitting that profile to a tee. PJs self-indulgent record took six years to make and another warble about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a red rag to the lefty's music press and so no surprise it won. Her previous win was in 2001 on September 11th. In that time Adele has shifted 50 times her volume with a far superior record, musically and talent wise.
Being nominated for a BRIT is a huge boost to record sales and the organizers of that event will freely admit that it is back slapping night out purely to boost their own commercial bands in a flat period of the year for music sales. But the Mercury people are aloof and want the exact opposite, one of this years entries, Gwilym Simcock, selling just 11 copies of his album the month before he was nominated, and if you bear in mind there are 12 judges then that is all you need to know how much normal punters and the regular music media think of that particular artist. But once he was nominated the following weeks sales shot up to, err 57!
Adele - 21
Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys!
Everything Everything - Man Alive
Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam
Gwilym Simcock - Good Days at Schloss Elmau
James Blake - James Blake
Katy B - On a Mission
King Creosote and Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine
Metronomy - The English Riviera
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Tinie Tempah - Disc-Overy
If you look at that list then most of you will have heard of some of these acts. Tinie Tempah heads the urban cool alongside Katy B and then angst indie kings and previous winners Elbow top the student music roll-call. The rest I couldn't tell you about and still no sign of a rock record, my favorite genre. Classical music has also failed to appear in the list since 2002. The most obscure winner I can find from the twenty years of the prize is Talvin Singh, who beat Pulp and the Prodigy in the year of 1999. Heard of him? Na, didn't think so. He can't have been that good then guys.
The biggest Mercury upsets over the years have to be obscure UK Garage artist Ronnie Size beating OK Computer (Radiohead) back in the day and the student rockers The Klaxons whipping Amy Winehouse and Back to Black. The judges are clearly trying to create trends rather than pick winners and I doubt whether we will have heard of recent winners Anthony and the Johnsons, XX and Speech DeBelle three years from now. Few people like or have sort out these bands and that's why we have never heard of them. The may be able to sing and play instruments but so can a troop of Baboons if given long enough to practice.
Adel not winning is no big surprise but it is great that an artiste like her is being celebrated and her huge talent not being penalized because she looks normal, slightly overweight and not that gorgeous, probably why so many young women buy her stuff. She could be them and she shares their rejections by cute guys, eating too much chocolate and not getting vacuous boys who are interested in slim waists and nice tits. Her voice is great and although Amy Winehouse was a slip of a thing she too was celebrated for being normal and one of the girls but gifted with a talent to be able to talk to people like her through her songs. Sadly, the pressure got to both girls and their self-esteem slumped when they see themselves on TV, losing weight through whatever means all they think about now.
Solo women singers rarely dominate the charts here and Adel is the first British female singer to have a simultaneous number one album both sides of the Atlantic and yet the Mercury people tell her to eff off. I think its great that a sexy girl with an average voice and a passion for dance routines and voice enhances isn't representing us for once and Adele is the way forward.
---Previous Mercury Winners---
1992 - Screamadelica by Primal Scream
1993 - Suede by Suede
1994 - Elegant Slumming by M People
1995 - Dummy by Portishead
1996 Different Class by Pulp
1997 New Forms by Roni Size
1998 Bring It on by Gomez
1999 Ok by Talvin Singh
2000 The Hour of Bewilderbeast by Badly Drawn Boy
2001 Stories From the City Stories From the Sea by PJ Harvey
2002 A Little Deeper by Ms. Dynamite
2003 Boy in Da Corner by Dizzee Rascal
2004 Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand
2005 I am a Bird Now by Antony & The Johnsons
2006 Whatever People Say I Am That's What I Am Not by Arctic Monkeys
2007 Myths of the Near Future by Klaxons
2008 Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow
2009 Speech Therapy by Speech Debelle
2010 XX by The XX
This week saw the 12th edition of the Mercury Music Prize, still named so despite the original sponsors having been defunct for many years and are now sponsored by Panasonic. The prize is awarded annually to the most deserving British or Irish album released in previous 12 months according to a panel of judges taken from the industry. A shortlist of 12 albums is arrived at and a winner is announced during a swanky televised do in London. There is something undeniably irritating about the Mercurys. Whether it’s the show on the night having pundits waxing lyrical about how the music industry needs to support new artists or the meed-dya types on tables downing bottles of champers on their two grand tables in between visiting the toilets to powder their noses. However, possibly the most annoying thing about the prize is knowing full well that thirty-somethings desperately trying to have their finger on the pulse will buy the winning album as part of their twice-yearly trip to the music shop, and leave it untouched on their coffee table to try and improve their social status (“ya, I’m glad that won, such a rich tapestry of sounds ya”). This year, there was the usual smorgasbord of critically acclaimed bestsellers (Coldplay, Radiohead), indie wallpaper (Athlete), R&B (Floetry, Terri Walker), Urban, just to show that these meed-dya types are down with ‘tha kids’ (Dizzie Rascal) and token who-the-hell-are-theys from the ‘niche’ sectors (Soweto Kinch, Eliza Carthy). The current number 1 album by The Darkness was also nominated but stood out like a sore thumb thanks to its epic-rock pastiching playfulness, although was inexplicably the bookies’ hot favourite – I mean, can you imagine giving the credibility-conscious Mercury prize to a long-haired man wearing chestless Spandex? Methinks not. To their credit, the prize hasn’t always plucked the most likely o
r most well-known album. Gomez, Roni Size and Badly Drawn Boy all triumphed over more lauded contemporaries. Other albums, such as M People’s ‘Elegant Slumming’ won the prize despite being regarded in retrospect as a bit of a turkey. Portishead and Pulp were two of the few bands to be received as deserving winners and go on to sell shedloads of copies of their albums, although admittedly they had done so before they won the prize. Last year, the award went to Ms Dynamite’s debut album, beating hot favourite The Streets. This was despite reviews of her album in the press being lukewarm at best. The prize was a great platform for her, and she soon became a household name thanks to the MOBOs and Brits she was to receive in the future months, and her outspoken opinions. However, Ms Dynamite’s win seemed very much a case of fitting the album to the genre they want to win. It seemed necessary at the time to pick an Urban winner, as there had been criticism that black music had never won the prize before. Just as the judges appear to go out of their way not to give the prize to a big commercial seller like Radiohead or Coldplay, they appear to stick out their witch-hazel every year and let it guide them to type of music that people in the press think is cool and hip. This year’s accolade was won by the 19 year old MC Dizzie Rascal for his debut album which was only released the day the nominations were announced. The sound of the streets (which every media whore in Hoxton can obviously relate to), it’s different and more inventive than UK Garage stalwarts like So Solid Crew, but the singles from it so far are very aggressive and pretty unlistenable. Even so, it received excellent reviews across the board, and on this basis, is arguably a deserved winner. He also gave one of the more interesting acceptance speeches in Mercury history (second only to Portishead’s Beth Gibbons’ drunken
groping of her embarrassed bandmates) on the basis that he looked doped up to the eyeballs and could barely string a sentence together. It’s possibly its electicness that draws people to the Mercury award ceremony. The fact that not every nominated artist is a household name and the potential for unknown acts to become overnight stars does have its appeal. However, it is too self-knowing and self-conscious to allow itself to be taken as a true reflection of what really is the best music to come out of this country.
Well, to be honest, i dont really like any awards party. I personally think thy're a waste oftime because the nominations are always commercial because they're the onle cmpanies with money. This mecuy thingy is still much the same except for one difference. They try to be cool. There nominations are always the best known of any genre, so people believe that the mercury is good. In actual fact they know nothing about quality music. All peices of music out there have something good about them (well most of them). The guys at mercury cant just goto any genre pick the tip of the iceburg and claim they're good. There is a lot more to a genre then jus that, there is a whole culture. If you like this sort of thing i dont blame you, its commercialising things and a lot of bands have got money this way, which is a good thing. Im just stuck deep undeground and reject the idea of giving bands awards when other bands are out there with no money who are miles better then the bands they pick.
The recently announced short list for the mercury music prize shows that diversity and orginality is alive in the Uk. Lets face it, it is easy to criticise the mercury, how in reality can you compare the Radiohead's Amnesiac against Basement Jaxx's Rooty when the albums come from two completely different genres. It basically comes down to personal taste, which clearly makes the winner of the mercury a very subjective decision. However, the award will remain the most important in the Uk music industry. While the Brit's rewards popularity the Mercury remains based on the actual quality of the music rather than the promotion and popularity of the artist. Critics have said that a few big names are always included to raise sales of the compilation album. I would disagree with this stance for two reasons. Firstly, if big bands release innovative material like Radiohead this should be recognised by the award, the prize is not just for the best debut band of the year, and to retain its prestige all forms of music whether commericial or underground should be considered. Secondly, I personally feel that the presence of two or three big names would make little difference to sales. It would have been easy to include Travis or the Stereophonics but the sort of buyer who would not own their albums is far more likely to purchase a Now! complilation rather than anything relating to the Mercury. Also as far as I'm aware TV coverage of the event has always been late at night so I doubt many extra viewers would be obtained by another rendition of Sing. The award is important to recognise good music from all domains and to also highlight the brilliance that exists in many non commercial acts. Unfortunatly in the image obssesed pop market acts like Turin Brakes would never otherwise get a chance of achieving the breakthrough that their music deserves. With so much exposure given to pop trash, only the real dedicated music follower will have heard of m
any of the acts on the shortlist. The mercury is important because it attempts to highlight the year's best music regardless of commercial success, and by doing so gives publicity to many brilliant but unheard of acts. It is not the fault of the award that these acts are unknown but the music industry who fail to expose these artists to the public. Although he was never up for the award, just look at the sales now achieved by David Gray once his music has reached the mainstream.
The mercury music awards are often viewed as the most prestigous, anti-corporate, uninfluenced award ceremony in Britain. It's just one award, ONE, for the best album released in the past year. They assemble a panel of top music people, and they listen to every British album, of the past year, and they all construct their own shortlist of the best albums. From these lists, the nominees appear. Fine. Great, it sounds, but of course, there are problems with the mercury prize.. It seems to have got so big, and important, that an album from each section of the musical spectrum, HAS to get nominated, like out of politeness, every section of musical diversity, has to be represented, Accomodated, or at least tried to. So there's a shortlist of a dozen or so albums... But they don't all have a chance of winning. 3 albums are always by big mainstream bands, and they never ever win (cos the mercury supports the underdogs). 1 classical album. Never wins. The folk album is always heavily tipped, but doesn't win either. And so on and so on. There is a reason for all of this of course, The big bands get nominated, so people get interested and watch the show, and buy the compilation album... no-one would care if it was just a shortlist of obscurity. The other albums seem to be there, like, to raise their profile, to bring them to a wider audience, consequently, the point of the mercury music award isn't so much the winning, as the limelight it provides. A refreshing alternative to other award shows... so much so it doesn't really feel like an award show at all