29 Oct 2014

Is The Mercury Music Prize Still Relevant?

The Mercury Music Prize is something that has happened every year since, like, forever. It was set up in 1992 as a means of combatting the oh-so-predictable Brit Awards, and at the time it was pretty groundbreaking stuff. For example, the first prize in '92 went to Primal Scream for Screamadelica, an album which is an unprecedented bona fide work of genius, but one that the Brits would have snubbed their noses at. And it was the same case in 1995 when Portishead won it. It was quite a cool accolade in the nineties.

But in the present day, is it still relevant in 2014, or is a pointless, toxic award that really means nothing? On the surface, there isn't much point to it. What's to make this more credible than an NME album of the year award, or the topper of a Pitchfork End Of Year list? Well, I don't think there is anything, it's just someone being rewarded for being more favourable to a panel of judges, right? It's not like The Mercury is a genuine barometer of how good an album is. Like hey, how often is the line "how dare you even compare OK Computer to the alt-J debut... how many Mercury Prizes did OK Computer win?" cracked out during any rational conversation about music? It's not very often.

On the surface, what the Mercury Prize is for is increasing sales, and fattening up wallets. The main appeal of it is the 20K cash prize for the winner, nothing more. Which is fair enough, I guess, I can understand why artists would enter with that kind of prize money. It makes a lot of sense, but at the same time I think if anything it detracts from the credibility of it as a prize which rewards artistic merit. And the fact that there's a £200+ (£170 + VAT) entrance fee just emphasises this; it's all about the money, and not the art.

No Mercury nomination? Why? It makes no sense.
And to me, it looks like the Mercury has a type it awards it's prize to, which kind of emphasises the fact that it's just awarded to the record that caters best to the tastes of the judges. It always favours music you'd associate with the middle-classes, inoffensive kinda university-educated pseudo-intellectual indie bands or singer-songwriters. You can't imagine anyone working class (WHY THE FUCK WEREN'T EAGULLS NOMINATED?) or anyone whose music wouldn't be at home soundtracking an advert for cider. Throughout the prize's entire existence, no metal band has ever been nominated, even though it is a genre that huge numbers of people listen to - despite the fact that the prize is so open about allowing every kinda genre the chance to win.

On the subject of how in-your-face the Mercury is about allowing all genres some kind of equal chance, it's kind of weird how it always has a token jazz record and a token folk record. No matter how 'good' every release that year is, there will always be one jazz LP and one folk LP. The 100th 'best' album could be the best jazz album of the year, whilst at the the same the 'best' two albums of the year could be jazz albums and only one would make the list. It's kinda weird.

But overall, the Mercury Music Prize is flawed, almost elitist and for me, it's pretty irrelevant; irrelevant being that it used to be pretty cutting edge and it's defunct. It's not like I can't understand why bands enter it, but it's so far removed from being an actual prize rewarding the best musical album of the past year, that I don't understand why it should have any credibility at all.

(written by calum cashin)