Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher, Jorja Smith and Lily Allen were among the 12 artists to have secured a place on this year’s Hyundai Mercury Prize shortlist and it has already caused quite a stir.
For one, there’s the continued discussion revolving around the commercial impact of LPs – Music Week has already crunched the numbers for this year’s list – as well as the potential longevity of the album format. That’s not to mention the continued relevance of the legendary awards ceremony, either.
Here, you can read Taylor’s thoughts in full on all things Mercury Prize…
What is your reaction to this year’s Mercury nominations?
“The overriding trend this year is really strong albums by more established artists, whereas last year we had six or seven debut albums. There’s fewer this year, but that’s because some great music has been made by artists who have already achieved a lot, whether it’s Arctic Monkeys or Florence And The Machine, I think it’s cyclical. I’m really pleased we do have Novelist and Jorja Smith coming through with debuts, but I think it shows the strength of British music that we have artists who are well-loved and have had commercial success but are still producing albums strong enough that the judges think they deserve to be one of the 12 best albums of the year.”
What does this list say about the album format and the relevance of the Mercury Awards to the biz?
“I think the industry, and most importantly the artists, care very much about it, as was said during the launch, it’s the equivalent for music of the Booker Prize or the Turner Prize. It sits in a completely different place to the BRIT Awards. When the BPI decided to get involved it’s because we saw it as a complement to the BRITs, which is all about mainstream commercial success. The Mercury is an arts prize, even artists you may have never heard of can get on the list. Sons Of Kemet will be a discovery for many people this year. We think it performs a very important function alongside the BRITs in this world of instant access to all the music you want, we believe that an artist’s expression of a body of work that captures their vision still has enormous relevance. We still see a lot of album consumption on streaming services, so National Album Day and the Mercurys are complementary initiatives that help to shine a light on the album.”
Should the labels be looking at this as a commercial opportunity?
“Very much so. It’s all about engaging the public with the music, that’s the purpose of the prize, to help people discover great British music. Having the BBC and Spotify as partners will mean that a lot more people get exposed to these albums, whether through streaming or purchase. Spotify will have Mercury playlists that will increase not just consumption of the tracks on them but also discovery of the albums, it is about honouring and celebrating the art, and increasing consumption, engagement and commercial success that then leads to greater investment in the next generation. We see it as a really positive thing for the industry and the artists.”
In this world of instant access to all the music you want, we believe that an artist's expression of a body of work that captures their vision still has enormous relevance
Is there a yardstick to measure the gain?
“One has to look at the longer term. Being one of the 12 albums of the year is something that stays with an artist, particularly if you win. It transformed Elbow’s career. It’s a badge of achievement and respect. It’s judged by experts. It has a great deal of credibility and I think it’s very aspirational still for artists. You can look the week after and see a bump in sales and engagement, but more important is the longer term benefit. Journalists still say ‘Mercury Prize winner’… five, ten years later and that’s really important.”
Is it important that albums are given more commercial attention?
“My belief is that in a streaming world, the album still has something to say. Stormzy’s record last year is a perfect example of an overarching theme to a record that meant that if you just consumed two or three of the singles, you really weren’t getting the full effect of the whole message. That’s why the album format has longevity. It’s important to recognise and celebrate that and, in a streaming world, encourage more fans to engage with the whole of an album. Let’s give them the choice and celebrate this as a format that still has real meaning for music fans.”
Finally, does the Mercury need to do something big to surprise people?
“If you look at the press coverage, it’s huge online, in print and on TV, it reaches a lot of people. We are seeing that it is helping to drive consumption so it’s extremely relevant, it’s important for any industry to recognise achievement and the Mercury and the BRITs are the two biggest things you can win in British music and I really think that has a lot of meaning. We hope both commercially and artistically it still has an important role to play.”
Subscribers can read Music Week’s Mercury Prize 2018 nominations debrief in full here.