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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Patrick Daly

What is the Mercury Prize? Past winners and its rumoured 'curse'

The Mercury Prize shortlist threw up a few very well-known names but also some more obscure acts.

Mega popstar Harry Styles was nominated for the first time and North East singer-songwriter Sam Fender also made the final cut.

The 12-strong shortlist also featured nominations for Little Simz, Jessie Buckley, and Isle of Wight band Wet Leg.

Lesser-known artists included were rapper Kojey Radical and Welsh musician Gwenno, whose album Tresor is sung mostly in Cornish.

But there are some in the music business who feel winning the Mercury Prize does more harm than good.

A number of winners have been heralded by judges only to sink to obscurity or fall into poor form in the following years.

What is the Mercury Prize?

Rapper Dave is a past winner of the Mercury Prize (AFP via Getty Images)

The prestigious award recognises the best British album of the year.

It prides itself on recognising acts outside the pop charts, being created in 1992 as an alternative to the more mainstream Brit Awards.

Organisers describe it as the “music equivalent to the Booker Prize for literature and the Turner Prize for art”.

The prize gets its name from its original sponsorship by Mercury Communications, a brand owned by Cable & Wireless, a former British communications firm.

Any album released by a British or Irish artist, or by a band where more than 50% of the members are British or Irish, may be submitted for consideration by their record label.

An independent panel of judges selects the shortlist from a batch of around 220 entries.

The winner is based on who the judges feel produced the best music in the 12-month time period and not on album sales or profile.

This year, former Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac, former Mercury winner Michael Kiwanuka, jazz artist and broadcaster Jamie Cullum and Phil Alexander, creative director at rock music magazine Kerrang!, are on the judges panel.

The overall winner receives a first place trophy and a cash prize of £25,000.

Who has won the Mercury Past in the past?

Michael Kiwanuka won the Mercury Prize for his self-titled album Kiwanuka in 2020 (BBC)

The first ever Mercury Prize winners were Scottish psychedelic rockers Primal Screen with Screamadelica in 1992.

Since then, everyone from pop acts to grime artists have taken the crown.

Indie singer-songwriter Arlo Parks won the 2021 award, rapper Dave took the top spot with his record Psychodrama in 20219 and synth-wizard James Blake picked up the 2013 prize for the LP Overgrown.

Elbow, Arctic Monkeys, Dizzee Rascal and Pulp are among others to have won the award during its 30 year history.

To date, PJ Harvey is the only artist to have won the award on more than one occasion - for Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea in 2001 and 2011’s Let England Shake.

Is the Mercury Prize cursed?

While the Mercury Prize is certainly prestigious and has a big media profile, some commentators have suggested winning it is jinxed or cursed.

Former judge Nigel Williamson said the Mercury can be the “kiss of death”, linking it to the nose-dive in form experienced by some early winners.

In an article for The Guardian in 2003, Williamson wrote: “Portishead virtually disappeared after triumphing in 1995 with Dummy.

“Pulp won it the following year with Different Class and haven't made a decent album since.

“In 1998, it was the turn of Roni Size's career to take a nose-dive. The next year, the dubious honour passed to Talvin Singh. After one further album, he was dropped by his record company.”

Three years later, former Gang of Four guitar player Andy Gill - who sadly passed away in 2020 - claimed nominees cast aside by the judges had fared better in their careers than some winners.

North East sensation Sam Fender has made the 12-act shortlist for the Mercury Prize 2022 (WireImage)

Writing for The Independent in 2006, Gill said: “Ms Dynamite's win in 2002 instigated another example of over-exposure reaping the whirlwind of public indifference, when her follow-up album was a disastrous failure.

“Bookies' favourites The Streets, meanwhile, went from strength to strength.

“Dizzee Rascal's triumph the following year - clearly the result of the judges' desire not to reward such corporate white-boy rock types as Radiohead, Coldplay or The Darkness - was another case of prematurely raising expectations about an act of somewhat restricted appeal.”

It cannot all be bad though. Elbow said they recorded a 700% sales increase of their album The Seldom Seen Kid after winning the prize in 2008.

The 2022 winner will be the latest to test out whether the Mercury proves a boom or a hindrance to an artist’s career - although it is hard to imagine former One Direction star Harry Styles’ being any bigger than he already is.

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