The Mercury Prize, formerly called the Mercury Music Prize, is an annual music prize awarded for the best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland. It was established by the British Phonographic Industry and British Association of Record Dealers in 1992 as an alternative to the Brit Awards. The prize was originally sponsored by Mercury Communications, a brand owned by Cable & Wireless, from which the prize gets its name. It was later sponsored by Technics (1998 to 2001), Panasonic (2002 and 2003), Nationwide Building Society (2004 to 2008) and Barclaycard (2009–14). The 2015 prize was sponsored by the BBC, while in 2016 it was announced that a three-year deal had been struck with Hyundai to sponsor the event.
Any album released by a British artist, or by a band where over 50% of the members are British, may be submitted for consideration by their record label. The shortlist is chosen by an independent panel of musicians, music presenters, music producers, music journalists, festival organisers and other figures in the music industry in the UK and Ireland. The prize is open to all types of music, including pop, rock, folk, urban, grime, dance, jazz, blues, electronica and classical. Presentation of the awards usually takes place at an Awards Show in October, after the shortlist is announced at the Album of the Year Launch in September. It is often observed that bands whose albums are shortlisted, or win the prize, experience a large increase in album sales, particularly for lesser known acts. Each shortlisted artist receives a specially commissioned 'Albums of the Year' trophy at the Awards Show. Unlike some other music awards, the overall winner of the Mercury Prize also receives a cheque; in 2017, the prize money was £25,000. The winner also receives an additional winner's trophy.
To date, PJ Harvey is the only artist to have won the award on more than one occasion (in 2001 and 2011). She was also the first female solo artist to receive the award. Radiohead are the most shortlisted artists with five, but they have never won.
The Mercury Prize can have a considerable effect on sales for those artists who are shortlisted. Elbow saw a 700% sales increase of their album The Seldom Seen Kid after winning the Prize in 2008. In their winner's speech, Elbow's frontman Guy Garvey said that winning the Mercury Prize was 'Quite literally the best thing that has ever happened to us'. Similarly, sales of The xx's winning album rose by 450% the day after they won the 2010 Mercury Prize and 2013 winner James Blake saw a 2,500% sales increase on Amazon after he was announced as the winner of the 2013 Mercury Prize. 2011 winner PJ Harvey's album Let England Shake jumped from number 181 to 24 in the UK official charts the week after the 2011 Awards Show.
In 2001, the band Gorillaz requested that their eponymous debut album be withdrawn from the shortlist, with cartoon bassist Murdoc Niccals saying that winning the award would be "like carrying a dead albatross round your neck for eternity".
All genres of music are eligible for entry, and it is stated that all are treated equally, with only the music on the album being taken into account. Simon Frith, chair of the Mercury Prize judging panel, has said that albums are chosen because they are the "strongest" each year, rather than according to genre. However, the presence of classical, folk and jazz recordings has been cited by some as anomalous, arguing that comparisons with the other nominees can be invidious. Classical acts to have an album nominated have included Sir John Tavener, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Gavin Bryars and Nicholas Maw. None has ever won, and there has not been a shortlisted classical album since 2002.
The Mercury Prize also has a reputation for being awarded to outside chances rather than the favourites. The 1994 award winner was Elegant Slumming by the pop act M People, which some felt was a controversial decision considering the shortlist included popular albums from Britpop figureheads Paul Weller, Blur and Pulp, and electronica band The Prodigy.
Other music journalists critical of the awards stated that the 2005 award should not have been given to Antony and the Johnsons for their album I Am a Bird Now as, although they are British-born and therefore eligible for the Prize, the band were based in the United States. In 2006, Isobel Campbell's collaboration with Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas, was included in the shortlist, despite Lanegan being American, as the album was eligible due to Campbell's British citizenship, while Guillemots, whose album was also shortlisted in 2006, contained band members from Brazil and Canada, although the majority were from the UK.
Current eligibility criteria state that all albums must be available to buy as a full release on CD in the UK and as a digital download. In September 2013, My Bloody Valentine vocalist and guitarist Kevin Shields expressed concerns about the award in an interview with The Guardian, accusing the Mercury Prize's organisers of "banning" the band's self-released album, m b v, from the shortlist nominations and addressing the nomination criteria, which he claimed branded the album "virtually illegal".
It has also been noted that heavy metal has been overlooked by the prize. A 2013 article by Vice on the Mercury Prize said "Metal certainly never gets a look-in, not even on the official entry information form: 'The Prize is open to all types of music, including pop, rock, folk, urban, dance, jazz, blues, electronica, classical…'" The only metal record that has ever been nominated for the Mercury Prize is Troublegum by Therapy? in 1994. In 2011, Mercury chair of judges Simon Frith said "[Metal] is a niche that a lot of people don't listen to."
|1992||Primal Scream – Screamadelica||
|1993||Suede – Suede|||
|1994||M People – Elegant Slumming||
|1995||Portishead – Dummy|||
|1996||Pulp – Different Class||
|1997||Roni Size/Reprazent – New Forms|||
|1998||Gomez – Bring It On||
|1999||Talvin Singh – Ok||
|2000||Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour of Bewilderbeast||
|2001||PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea||
|2002||Ms. Dynamite – A Little Deeper||
|2003||Dizzee Rascal – Boy in da Corner||
|2004||Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand||
|2005||Antony and the Johnsons – I Am a Bird Now||
|2006||Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not||
|2007||Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future||
|2008||Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid||
|2009||Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy||
|2010||The xx – xx||
|2011||PJ Harvey – Let England Shake||
|2012||alt-J – An Awesome Wave||
|2013||James Blake – Overgrown||
|2014||Young Fathers – Dead||
|2015||Benjamin Clementine – At Least for Now||
|2016||Skepta – Konnichiwa||
|2017||Sampha – Process|||
Totals listed are for bands or artists nominated more than once under the same name. It does not include appearances on compilations (e.g. Artists for War Child) or individuals nominated separately as a soloist and group member (e.g. Robbie Williams for his Life thru a Lens and Take That's Everything Changes).
Mancunian band Elbow, who won in 2008, enjoyed a 700% rise in sales of their album The Seldom Seen Kid in the week following their Mercury victory
And their win tonight could bring a huge boost in sales, just like it did for the 2008 winner's Elbow, who saw their album sales increase by 700% that year.
"This is quite literally the best thing that's ever happened to us," singer Guy Garvey told the ceremony in London.
Elbow claimed that their Nationwide Mercury Prize victory is "the best thing that's ever happened to us" during their acceptance speech tonight
It was a similar tale for the XX after their 2010 win. Sales of their debut album soared 450% the day after they won, according to figures from music retailer HMV
Their debut album, which had sold 125,000 copies prior to winning the prize, has experienced a jump in sales of almost 450% since Tuesday's award ceremony.
After winning the 2013 prize, James Blake saw sales of his album Overgrown jump more than 2,500% on Amazon.
Finally, the double Mercury Award winning PJ Harvey sees Let England Shake, last week's prize winner, jump a phenomenal 151 places from last week 181 to this week's 24.
...the Mercury Prize has acquired a well-established reputation for destroying its winners' futures...
.Simon Frith, the head of the judges, yesterday rejected the age-old complaint that the Mercury shortlist featured "token" jazz, folk, classical and soul acts who do not stand a chance. "We are not tokenist, we chose the albums that are strongest,"
...Britain's most prestigious music prize...