Formerly known as The Mercury Music Prize, it’s fair to say that the Mercury Prize is easily the most respected in the music industry.

The prize is specifically focused on the best albums released by British and Irish Artists. One thing is for sure, some of the finest albums ever produced have made it to the Mercury Music Prize shortlist.

The Mercury Prize has surprisingly been around for nearly thirty years. I know that makes you feel old, hey. But on a serious note, the great thing about the Mercury Prize is that it has introduced us to some remarkable acts.

Generally, if an album makes it to the shortlist, it’s probably worth buying. For that reason, every artist or band shortlisted will see sales of that album go through the roof. This is because the shortlist is chosen by an independent panel of musicians looking for the most innovative sound across all genres.

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The Mercury Prize Shortlist 2023

The 2023 Mercury Prize shortlist has been announced, showcasing a diverse range of talent. Leading the nominations are J Hus, Jockstrap, and Shygirl, each with their unique contributions to the industry.

Other notable nominees this year include the Arctic Monkeys, Fred Again.., jazz ensemble Ezra Collective, pop sensation RAYE, Irish folk rock band Lankum, rapper Loyle Carner, soul vocalist Olivia Dean, and the Scottish trio Young Fathers.

The winner will be decided by a judging panel and announced at a ceremony in London on September 7, 2023.

Here is the full list of the nominated albums and the odds for each artist:

Arctic Monkeys (The Car) 25/1

The Car is a testament to Arctic Monkeys’ ability to evolve and innovate, offering a cinematic experience that is both engaging and thought-provoking. It’s an album that doesn’t shy away from exploring new territories, resulting in a rich and rewarding listening experience.

Loyle Carner (Hugo) 11/4

Hugo is a powerful and poignant album that showcases Loyle Carner’s expansive talents and his ability to address complex themes with honesty and depth. It’s an album that enriches his legacy and solidifies his status as one of UK hip-hop’s brightest talents.

Olivia Dean (Messy) 8/1

Messy is an album that does everything a debut should, uniting multiple stories with a clear, radiant voice. It’s an album that showcases Dean’s ability to dissect subjects that others swerve, all while appealing to a mainstream audience. It’s a testament to Dean’s musical vision and her ability to create gorgeously crafted moments that resonate with listeners.

Ezra Collective (Where I’m Meant To Be) 25/1

Where I’m Meant to Be is a testament to Ezra Collective’s musical prowess and their ability to create a unique, engaging sound that pushes the boundaries of jazz. It’s an album that finds comfort in the structure of standards and jazz collaboration, but isn’t afraid to push them further, creating a listening experience that is both enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Fred Again (Actual Life 3) 9/2

Actual Life 3 by Fred again.. is a candid and intimate exploration of the producer’s world. This album, the third instalment in his ‘Actual Life’ series, continues Fred’s soul-baring approach, blending warm voice notes from friends and collaborators, spontaneous phone recordings, Instagram audio snippets, and samples from his favourite records.

J Hus (Beautiful And Brutal Yard) 16/1

Beautiful and Brutal Yard by J Hus is a triumphant return for the genre-splicing East-Londoner. This 19-track album, his third studio release, is a voyage into the brazen, boundless, and sometimes bleak frontier of the Black British and Gambian experience.

Jockstrap (I Love You Jennifer B) 4/1

I Love You Jennifer B is a triumphant debut from Jockstrap. It’s an album that showcases their limitless sound and their ability to create music that is both deeply personal and universally relatable. It’s an album that invites listeners into their world, offering a unique blend of introspection and celebration that will resonate with many.

Lankum (False Lankum) 6/1

False Lankum by Lankum is an album born out of uncertainty and isolation, conceived during Dublin’s recurring pandemic lockdowns. This album, a successor to their acclaimed breakthrough, takes what worked on their previous album and pushes further in every direction, resulting in a sprawling, dense collection of ideas.

Raye (My 21st Century Blues) 11/1

My 21st Century Blues is a triumphant debut from RAYE. It’s an album that showcases her growth as an artist and her ability to create music that is both deeply personal and universally relatable.

Shygirl (Nymph) 30/1

Nymph by Shygirl is a sultry and eclectic debut album that explores the full breadth of her fantasies and desires. The London-born artist, Blane Muise, challenges the notion of female sexuality being frivolous and fleeting through a collection of songs that are as diverse in their instrumentation as they are in their content.

Jessie Ware (That! Feels Good!) 9/1

That! Feels Good! by Jessie Ware is a vibrant album that blends dancefloor energy with themes of sexual pleasure. Standout tracks include the title track, “Beautiful People,” and “Pearls,” each celebrating freedom and self-expression. The album showcases Ware’s growth as an artist and her ability to create music that resonates with a wide audience.

Young Fathers (Heavy, Heavy) 4/1

Heavy, Heavy by Young Fathers is a passionate and mesmerising album that seamlessly blends diverse styles like soul, pop, rock, and hip-hop. The album’s strong songwriting subtly introduces politicised themes, turning simple lines into hypnotising mantras. With its well-paced tracklist and unique sound

This year, an overwhelming 75% of nominees originate from London. Remarkably, the last non-London-based Mercury Prize winner was the Scottish band, Young Fathers, who interestingly find themselves in contention again this year with their impressive fourth album, Heavy, Heavy.

Previous Mercury Prize Winners

Year Winner Album
2022 Little Simz Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
2021 Arlo Parks Collapsed in Sunbeams
2020 Michael Kiwanuka Kiwanuka
2019 Dave Psychodrama
2018 Wolf Alice Visions of a Life
2017 Sampha Process
2016 Skepta Konnichiwa
2015 Benjamin Clementine At Least for Now
2014 Young Fathers Dead
2013 James Blake Overgrown
2012 Alt-J An Awesome Wave
2011 PJ Harvey Let England Shake
2010 The xx xx
2009 Speech Debelle Speech Therapy
2008 Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid
2007 Klaxons Myths of the Near Future
2006 Arctic Monkeys Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
2005 Antony and the Johnsons I Am a Bird Now
2004 Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand
2003 Dizzee Rascal Boy in da Corner
2002 Ms. Dynamite A Little Deeper
2001 PJ Harvey Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
2000 Badly Drawn Boy The Hour of Bewilderbeast
1999 Talvin Singh OK
1998 Gomez Bring It On
1997 Roni Size / Reprazent New Forms
1996 Pulp Different Class
1995 Portishead Dummy
1994 M People Elegant Slumming
1993 Suede Suede
1992 Primal Scream Screamadelica

A Brief History of the Mercury Music Prize

The Mercury Music Prize, officially known as the Mercury Prize, has a storied history that spans over three decades. Since its inception in 1992, the award has consistently celebrated the richness and diversity of the UK and Ireland’s music scene, creating a platform to honour some of the most creative and critically acclaimed albums.

The award was established by the British Phonographic Industry and British Association of Record Dealers, in collaboration with the now-defunct Mercury Communications. Its primary aim was to create an alternative to the BRIT Awards, which was seen as too commercial and focused on mainstream pop music. The Mercury Prize, instead, placed the emphasis on artistic merit rather than commercial success.

The process behind the Mercury Prize is unique. Each year, an independent panel of judges, comprising music critics, musicians, producers, and other industry professionals, select the ‘Albums of the Year’. This shortlist reflects the wealth of talent and innovation in the UK and Ireland’s music industry and includes various genres, from pop and rock to grime, folk, dance, and beyond.

Since its inaugural year, when Primal Scream won the award for ‘Screamadelica’, the Mercury Prize has helped spotlight both established and emerging artists. Notable winners have included Portishead, Pulp, PJ Harvey, Dizzee Rascal, Arctic Monkeys, and more recently, Dave and Michael Kiwanuka.

Over the years, the Mercury Prize has gained a reputation for its unpredictability and commitment to recognising excellence, irrespective of an artist’s commercial success. This focus on artistry and innovation sets the Mercury Prize apart, making it one of the music calendar’s most respected and anticipated events.

The Selection Process of the Mercury Prize

The Mercury Prize’s selection process stands out for its fairness, independence, and emphasis on artistic merit. Here’s a glimpse into how this fascinating process unfolds each year.

  1. Album Submission: Record companies, both large and small, as well as digital music platforms and self-releasing artists, are invited to submit their albums for consideration. To be eligible, albums must be released by artists from the UK and Ireland during the 12-month eligibility period.
  2. Selection of Judging Panel: The Mercury Prize is decided by an independent panel of judges, which changes yearly. The panel is usually a mix of musicians, music journalists, music producers, and other industry professionals, all of whom bring a broad range of musical expertise and tastes.
  3. Shortlist Compilation: The judges listen to all the submitted albums and engage in robust discussions to determine the shortlist of 12 ‘Albums of the Year’. This is a painstaking process, and the shortlist isn’t finalised until the announcement day. Importantly, the shortlist reflects the panel’s collective opinion rather than individual preferences.
  4. Choosing the Winner: After revealing the shortlist, the judges reconvene to decide the ultimate winner. This typically happens on the day of the awards ceremony. All the shortlisted albums are discussed again, with each judge championing their favourites. The winner is then decided through a majority vote.

Throughout this process, the focus remains on the music. The Mercury Prize does not consider an artist’s commercial success or previous accolades. The winning album is the one that, in the opinion of the judges, showcases the most innovation and creativity and represents a significant moment in the artist’s career.

In summary, the Mercury Prize selection process is meticulous, independent, and focused solely on the music. It’s a celebration of the rich tapestry of the UK and Ireland’s music scene, providing a platform for well-known and emerging talent.

Criticism and Controversy of the Mercury Prize

Like many influential institutions, the Mercury Prize has experienced its fair share of criticism and controversy throughout its existence.

One of the most recurrent criticisms revolves around the alleged genre bias. Despite its pledge to celebrate a broad range of music, some critics argue that certain genres, such as heavy metal and jazz, tend to be underrepresented. This has raised questions about the Prize’s commitment to genre diversity.

The independence of the Mercury Prize from commercial influence has also been a point of contention. While the Prize purports to focus solely on artistic merit, critics have suggested that high-profile artists or those under major labels seem to have a distinct advantage. This contention challenges the claim that the Prize elevates artistry over commercial popularity.

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A peculiar narrative that has emerged over the years is the notion of the “Mercury Curse”. This refers to a perceived trend where some artists experience a decline in their commercial success after winning the award. Though this isn’t universally applicable, it has certainly added a layer of intrigue and debate around the Prize.

There have also been notable instances of snubs and omissions, where certain high-profile artists were surprisingly overlooked or never nominated. These instances have sparked debates over the relevance and fairness of the Prize, with some questioning whether the Prize truly represents the best in UK and Irish music.

Lastly, the size of the cash prize, which as of 2021 stood at £25,000, has been a point of criticism. Some believe this amount doesn’t quite match the prestige and recognition of winning the Mercury Prize.

Despite these challenges, the Mercury Prize continues to hold a significant place in the music industry. It’s a platform that champions creative and innovative music, offering a crucial balance to more commercially focused awards. These criticisms and controversies have also led to important conversations about the nature of music recognition and the ongoing evolution of the industry.

Conclusion

As we anticipate the announcement of the 2023 Mercury Prize with FREENOW ‘Albums of the Year’, it’s worth remembering the legacy and impact of this award. The Mercury Prize is more than just a trophy and a title; it’s a celebration of the rich tapestry of music that these islands produce, a tribute to artistic courage, and a testament to the transformative power of music. And that, in itself, is worth celebrating.

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