All entries for Tuesday 08 September 2009

September 08, 2009

Mercury Ranting Time Is Here Again

It’s the Mercury Prize tonight. Can you feel the excitement? Really? In fact this year there don’t even seem to be quite as many rants from newspapers and zines about how there are bands who sell well, who have gotten some coverage in the media, although reliably there are some.

I suspect the reason why there are fewer rants is because the rants themselves are just as repetitive and unoriginal as they claim the award itself is. The grumble that it gives too many spots to the mainstream at the expense of supposedly more deserving ‘low profile’ acts, who normally turn out to be just as well known as about half the list but just happen to be the preferred record of whoever is grumbling. Thus is feeds back into the repeated claims that the Mercury has moved away from its supposed beginnings as a champion of indie success.

But as the media eye and public taste expands, mostly due to the internet, innovative and unusual stuff is becoming mainstream faster than before so the Mercury looks like it follows when it actually hasn’t changed that much in terms of what is nominated.

Check out the 1999 list:
Talvin Singh – OK
Thomas Adès – Asyla
Denys Baptiste – Be Where You Are
Black Star Liner – Bengali Bantam Youth Experience!
Blur – 13
The Chemical Brothers – Surrender
Faithless – Sunday 8PM
Manic Street Preachers – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
Beth Orton – Central Reservation
Kate Rusby – Sleepless
Stereophonics – Performance and Cocktails
Underworld – Beaucoup Fish

For Adès, Baptiste and Black Star Liner read Led Bib, The Sweet Billy Pilgrim and The Invisible, the real unknowns to the mainstream, although Adès was a pretty big name in classical, arguably bigger than any of the class of 09 are in their areas.

Then there’s Faithless, Underworld and Chemical Brothers. Three stonking albums of the current trendy music of 1999, dance. If anything they were bigger sellers than most of the 09 list, certainly bigger than 09’s trendy trio whether you wish to argue this is BFL, Florence and La Roux representing ladies in music, or The Horrors, Friendly Fires and Glasvegas representing NME indie.

TIMTTMY and Performance and Cocktails are more mainstream records than West Pauper…, and I suspect even 13 was also.


From guardian.co.uk – Arctic Monkeys are perplexed by previous nominees as we are.

What’s interesting is that many of the journalists and bloggers now commenting on the Mercury were quite young in 1990s, thus names like The Auteurs, PJ Harvey (‘93), Therapy? (‘94), Elastica (‘95), Asian Dub Foundation (‘98) might have seemed exciting and exotic to a teenager at the time, but they were actually pretty well known. Certain early years, like 1995 are startling for how mainstream they are, 1995 and 1996 in particular were packed with Britpop and associated acts.

The last overt mainstream pop act nominated was arguably Jamelia (although it could equally be argued she doesn’t fit this description) in 2004, but the 90s saw Robbie Williams, Take That, Spice Girls, U2 and Simply Red nominated. If anything the Mercuries are now more insular, there has not been a mention of Girls Aloud, for instance, never mind the reincarnated Take That.

“The Mercury isn’t indie or obscure enough”/”Mercury is veering from its original intentions” line gets trotted out every year, but increasingly there’s a lack of appreciation of what went before in these awards, and a lack of appreciation of the changing nature of music consumption and reportage which alters how the Mercury are perceived.


From bbc.co.uk – Elbow win, Hollyzone approves.

Let’s face it, when people say they believe the Mercury should be for low key but innovative music, or music which is regarded as brilliant in its genre but overlooked by the mainstream, what they actually mean is whichever indie band they were listening to last week. They would recoil in horror at the suggestion that it go to Darren Styles (http://open.spotify.com/track/7s923ZIFRdJEV0YzYPXMff) who perfectly represents the genre (Scouse House/Hard House) pinnacle who gets overlooked by the mainstream, or N Dubz who struggled against major label attempts to change them before going with an independent and realising their vision their way. Heck, where are Girls Aloud and the Sugababes who both shifted the pop spectrum?

Taking the Mercury too seriously is the same as taking the Brits too seriously, people need to accept their complaints with it come when people they don’t like are nominated, not necessarily because it has betrayed some original purpose.

Fercrissakes, M People have won it, y’know!


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