First-time nominees dominate the 30th anniversary of the Mercury Prize, which celebrates the best British and Irish albums of the year, making up 11 of the 12 shortlisted albums.
Little Simz is the only artist here with Mercury history: Her third album, Gray Area, was nominated in 2019. Her second nod comes for her follow-up, Sometimes I Might Be Introverted, which reached No. 4 of the UK Albums Chart and was widely regarded as one of the best UK albums of 2021.
It ranked No. 3 in the Guardian’s year-end list: “A narrative journey in the truest sense of the word, Sometimes I Might Be Introverted is candid about the heightened sense of self-doubt that so often drives the sweet exhilaration of success,” wrote reviewer Jenessa Williams.
Simz leads a female-dominated pack, with seven of the 12 albums by solo artists or mixed female groups. Isle of Wight indie-rock duo Wet Leg are among a handful of artists nominated for their debut album – a “much more nuanced and three-dimensional than the maddeningly repetitive song that made their name”, wrote Rachel Aroesti from The Guardian in reference to their debut single, Chaise Longue.
“We’ve seen so many bands that we look up to being nominated for this award over the years,” Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers told The Guardian. “It’s so surreal to now be one of the nominees. When we played our first gig just over a year ago at Latitude, we didn’t expect something like this to happen. and we are so thrilled that we continue to do so every day.
London singer-songwriter Joy Crookes is nominated for her long-awaited debut album Skin, released five years after her debut singles. “By pulling the threads of his identity – his Bangladeshi-Irish heritage; growing up in south London – and weaving them into wider socio-political themes, she has created a record that is vibrant, urgent and brimming with life,” said Alim Kheraj of the Observer.
Self Esteem (AKA Rebecca Lucy Taylor) receives her first nomination for her second album, Prioritize Pleasure, which topped the Guardian’s Album of the Year list of 2021. “In a pop landscape that often seems to bottle everything up Inside, Prioritize Pleasure marked an extremely relatable uncorking of not just the past 18 months of festering emotions, but a lifetime,” wrote Michael Cragg of the Guardian.
Elsewhere, Welsh synth-pop artist Gwenno is in the running for her third album, Tresor, her second collection of Cornish-language songs; Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler for their first collaborative album, For All Our Days That Tear the Heart; and London rock duo Nova Twins for their second album, Supernova – one that brought together metal, EDM, horror hip-hop, house music and R&B in a “completely cohesive and authentically powerful,” wrote Guardian pop critic Alexis Petridis.
Guitarist Amy Love told The Guardian she was happy to be nominated for her second album, which she recorded during lockdown. “So much had happened in the world and in our personal lives that creating this album was truly therapeutic: we allowed ourselves to be more vulnerable, to experience more dynamics. We are really proud of it.
Nova Twins are the first black rock band to be nominated for the award. “It means everything to us,” the Georgia South bassist said. “When you start out you think we are two kids who want to make music and make music, but the further we got on and we realized how much diversity was lacking in the music scene and the heavy music scene. When we play shows, people tell us, “we felt so seen” or “we’ve never seen so many people of color at a show.” We’re proud to open doors to more diverse groups – women, non-binary, POC, from the LGBTQIA+ community – saying everyone is welcome.
After several years in which Mercury’s shortlist at least somewhat reflected the fertile UK jazz scene, it seems to have returned to its infamous “token jazz album” years, with only one artist of the genre nominated: pianist Scottish Fergus McCreadie for his third album of the trio, forest floor. He was inspired by the Scottish landscape, in part thanks to the fact that he spent confinement living in his parents’ country house.
“It’s great to represent Scotland and Scottish jazz,” McCreadie told The Guardian. “I’m excited not only for myself, but also for what this could mean for the opportunities in our scene. The Glasgow and Edinburgh Jazz Festivals gave me my debut – two truly amazing places.
Forest Floor also reveals inspiration from Scottish folk music – another genre historically short of love from the Mercury Committee. “Jazz is what I was trained in, but it’s very hard to ignore where you come from as a musician,” McCreadie said. “I grew up with a pipe band in my town, my parents listened to a lot of folk music – you can’t escape that in Scotland. I love music so much and it’s nice to bring that out in a different way than it’s been done before musically.
The price has weakened on representation compared to the past few years. This year, only 33% of the nominees are people of color compared to a peak of 64% last year. And 2020 remains the benchmark for gender diversity, with 66% of women nominated compared to 58% this year.
Sam Fender is perhaps the least surprising of the male nominees. The driving indie rock of his second album, Seventeen Going Under, galvanized festival crowds and political rallying cries.
London rapper Kojey Radical’s nominated debut album, Reason to Smile, had been in the works for nearly a decade. It’s an album reminiscent of former Mercury winner Ms. Dynamite’s A Little Deeper, Kadish Morris of the Observer wrote, both “era-defining works that blend hip-hop with neo -soul and jazz, and a storytelling that paints the black British experience with the best of brushes”.
Those who believe the Mercury should be the preserve of left-field music – as opposed to its mainstream equivalent, the Brit Awards – can squeeze their pearls at Harry Styles’ presence for his third album, Harry’s House, a record of “really good crafted pop songs” that nod to yacht rock and mid-’80s sounds, Petridis wrote.
They are joined by Leeds quartet Yard Act, whose debut album The Overload revolves around “nervous but muscular post-punk funk: hard-hitting disco drums, throbbing guitar, bass-driven melodies”, wrote Petridis. “It all helps, doesn’t it?” singer James Smith informed the Guardian of their appointment. “You don’t expect it when you make an album, so when it happens, you feel grateful.”
The Overload had connected with listeners, he theorized, because it tells “the universal story of a man in his late twenties or early thirties who spent his whole life trying to live by a set of principles that he begins to question and then abandon. for an easier life – selling, basically.
Awards such as the Mercury Prize “help artists in an ever-shrinking financial landscape,” Smith said. “It sheds more light – which you clearly need – on them. There will be acts there that have had similar attention to Yard Act; acts out there who have had a lot more; and acts without any. Putting it all into one TV show and giving it a cover load is helpful.
He added, “For what it’s worth, I don’t think we’re going to win,” tipping Little Simz for the prize.
The judging panel – which includes musicians Anna Calvi, Loyle Carner and Jamie Cullum – said in a statement: “Getting to 12 albums this year was not easy, simply because there were so many standout albums including Choose. It proves that British and Irish music thrives during volatile times in history, with the albums chosen covering everything from imaginative pop to pioneering rap and Cornish-language folk-rock. We believe these 12 incredible albums each have something to say artistically and socially, all in their own unique and rewarding way.
The proportion of independent albums compared to the majors has also decreased: with a ratio of five indies for seven majors this year, compared to eight indies and four majors last year.
This year’s Mercury Awards ceremony takes place on September 8, 2022 at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo, with the winner taking home £25,000. Albums by UK or Irish artists released between July 17, 2021 and July 15, 2022 were eligible.
This year’s Mercury Prize nominees
Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler – For All Our Heartbreaking Days
Joy Crookes – Skin
Sam Fender – Seventeen Below
Gwenno – Treasure
Kojey Radical – Reason to Smile
Little Simz – Sometimes I might be introverted
Fergus McCreadie – Forest Floor
Self-esteem – Prioritizing pleasure
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
Wet leg – Wet leg
Yard Act – Overload