|Barclaycard Mercury Prize|
The Mercury Prize logo
|Awarded for||Best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland|
The Mercury Prize, formerly called the Mercury Music Prize and currently known as the Barclaycard Mercury Prize for sponsorship reasons, 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), and the Nationwide Building Society (2004 to 2008). Barclaycard became the Prize's current sponsor in March 2009.
Any album released by a British or Irish artist, or by a band where over 50% of the members are British or Irish, may be submitted for consideration by their record label. The nomination shortlist is chosen by an independent panel of musicians, music executives, journalists 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, dance, jazz, blues, electronica and classical. Presentation of the award usually takes place at an Awards Show in October, after the nominations are announced at the Album of the Year Launch in September. It is often observed that bands whose albums are nominated, or win the prize, experience a large increase in album sales, particularly for lesser known nominees. Unlike some other music awards, the winner of the Mercury Prize also receives a cheque; as of 2013, the value of the prize money is £20,000.
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 and ties with Radiohead as the most nominated artist, although Radiohead has never won the prize.
In 2001, the band Gorillaz requested that their eponymous debut album be withdrawn from the nomination shortlist, with vocalist and songwriter Damon Albarn saying that winning the award would be "like carrying a dead albatross round your neck for eternity".
Although all genres of music are eligible for entry, and it is claimed that all are treated equally, with only the music on the album being taken into account, 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, 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, while Guillemots, whose album was also nominated in 2006, contained band members from Brazil and Canada.
Current eligibility criteria state that all albums must be available through the main digital and physical music retailers as both CD and digital download, and have full digital and national physical distribution throughout the UK. In September 2013, My Bloody Valentine vocalist and guitarist Kevin Shields addressed 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 corporateness of the nomination criteria, which he claimed branded the album "virtually illegal".
Lack of metal participation
Of all the Mercury Prize nominees from 1992 to 2014, not one nomination has been from the genre of heavy metal. In 2011, Mercury chair of judges Simon Frith said "[Metal] is a niche that a lot of people don’t listen to."
Frith elaborated in a 2011 article by The Daily Telegraph saying "every year I get angry emails from academics in metal studies. There is a sort of music out there that doesn’t really get entered, for whatever reason. It probably should because it’s out there and there is an audience. But I suppose the big problem for metal is that part of the function of the Mercury Prize is to say, ‘Here is some music you will never have heard of, and you’ll like it’. I’m confident enough to argue that people outside jazz or folk will like those kind of albums. But some metal is so niche. It’s under the radar."
A 2011 article by NME argued that Bring Me The Horizon's LP There Is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let's Keep It a Secret. should have been included in the 2011 nominees.
A 2011 article by The Guardian touched upon this subject saying that "the British mainstream media is institutionally biased against heavy metal," but ultimately argued that "the worst thing that could happen would be for the Mercury to acquiesce to the protesters' demands and introduce a token metal nomination to go alongside the token jazz and folk ones."
A 2013 article by Vice on the Mercury Prize stated "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…"
There does however seem to be some celebration in heavy metal that they are not represented by the awards. In 2014, James McMahon, editor of Kerrang!, said "I think that the rock community has just decided that the Mercury is a load of tosh, and so aren’t bothering to put any entries in. I can think of loads of albums that should be considered, but they won’t because a) rock is such an insular, us versus them scene and b) because the labels and bands know they wouldn’t stand a chance if they were nominated." Whilst James Sherry of Division Promotions, who represent metal act Black Sabbath, said “Who gives a shit? The Mercury is for the bland and the mainstream. Why would metal even want to be a part of it?”.
Winners and shortlisted nominees
- Scottish Album of the Year Award (Scotland)
- Choice Music Prize (Ireland)
- Polaris Music Prize (Canada)
- Prix Constantin (France)
- Shortlist Music Prize (United States)
- Australian Music Prize (Australia)
- Nordic Music Prize (Nordic countries)
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- NME - Bring Me The Horizon For Mercury Prize
- The Guardian - Alexis Petridis On Heavy Metal
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- Clash - Does It Matter If Metal Doesn't Make The Mercury
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