It’s that time of year again; arguably the UK’s most exciting and innovative commercial musical award ceremony is upon us.
But despite the list being filled with as many new names as returning Mercury veterans, the Barclaycard Mercury Prize still has to fight to stay relevant. For a ceremony that was designed to offer a ‘cooler’ and more friendly faced – and less corporate – alternative to the Brits, over the years it has certainly slipped closer and closer to the, dare I say it, mainstream. So, despite the list being full of predictably fantastic artists, and even some of my personal favourites, I can’t help but wonder about the significance of the Mercury Awards anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I still follow it and write about it and, more importantly, trust them to pick out the best musicians that the UK has, but that’s exactly my point. They consistently pick the best musicians, and we know it. Where’s the fun in that? And what is the point? By this point, with her third nomination, we all know how good Laura Marling is, and I’m sure there are some people coming out of their 50 year cave residence who are thankful for being introduced to David Bowie, but the whole process now seems like the judging panel are simply flogging entirely capable, race-winning horses. Now sure, last year’s winners Alt-J went from relative obscurity to everyone NME readers’ favourite band in a few short weeks, and 2011’s winner PJ Harvey finally got the public recognition she deserved, but after a week in the limelight and a place in HMV’s Mercury Prize section, they’re right back where they were before. And the Mercury Prize, in some self-aware bid for popularity again, seem to have noticed this and, rather than standing by their great obscure choices, are picking obvious crowd favourites.
…The only musicians that the award matters to are the obscure ones…
Obviously it is good for the few token new bands that do make the list, and it has propelled past nominees into fame within their own scene (Sam Lee, for example, quickly became folk’s prodigal son), but this success just further highlights the misplaced priorities of the whole thing. The only musicians that the award matters to are the obscure ones, but the press coverage seems to exclusively focus on the big names. However, after last year’s shortlist was deemed ‘the most obscure in recent history’, rather than come back with: ‘Yes, that’s the point’, the Mercury has shadowed any new artist in its list under the infamous, God-like reputation of David Bowie. And I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve an award, just that perhaps we all already know how good he is and would like to be given some more good new music for when he finally hangs up his rainbow jumpsuits.
Then again, maybe that’s the point. Maybe they are trying to celebrate an iconic figure in music by championing and emphasizing his alternative roots and his redefining of what the mainstream was. Or maybe they’re playing it safe. Either way, I think the spirit of the Mercury Prize has been lost somewhere along the way; so rather than speculate whether Bowie is there because of his history, or if the Arctic Monkeys are still as cool as they think they are, or even whether Laura Marling is perhaps more cool than she’d like to be, we should be thankful for the few new artists to which it does give credit. And just so you know, my money’s on Bugg.
Here’s the list in full:
Arctic Monkeys AM
David Bowie The Next Day
Foals Holy Fire
Jake Bugg Jake Bugg
James Blake Overgrown
Jon Hopkins Immunity
Laura Marling Once I Was An Eagle
Laura Mvula Sing To The Moon
Savages Silence Yourself
This week’s Track Of The Week
Vulkano – Vision Tricks