Analysis: Who will win the Mercury Prize?
September 2021 marks the 30th year of the Mercury Prize, which is awarded to the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act.
Established in 1992 as an alternative to the Brit Awards, the recipient of the accolade is determined by a judging panel who select a winner from a shortlist of 12.
To predict which album will win this year, we’ve analysed all of the 340 previous nominees to work out what the successful ones have had in common.
What genre has won the most Mercury Prizes?
While every genre of music is considered for the prize, some have been more successful than others. Over 40 per cent of past winners have been indie albums, with another fifth from the world of hip-hop.
While hip-hop has produced fewer winners, a higher proportion of its nominees have won the prize than those of any other genre.
None of the 36 jazz or classical albums to have been shortlisted has won while folk and soul compositions have also fared poorly.
Indie’s dominance may be coming to an end as only one of the last eight winners – Wolf Alice’s Visions of a Life in 2018 – was from this genre.
Wolf Alice are in the running again in 2021 but three of the last seven prizes have gone to hip-hop albums and there are two shortlisted this year: Berwyn‘s Demotape/Vega and Conflict of Interest by Ghetts.
How often do debut albums win the Mercury Prize?
Mercury Prize judges appear to have a soft spot for new artists, having selected a debut album almost two-thirds of the time.
Eighteen of the previous 29 winning albums were the debut offering from that artist, suggesting the prize is geared towards rewarding the efforts of less established acts.
Does a previous Mercury Prize nomination influence the judges?
While previously nominated artists have only won seven of the last 29 awards, being composed by a former nominee gives an album a slightly higher chance of success overall.
Those seven wins came from a total of 70 albums whose artists had made an earlier shortlist, meaning they had a collective success rate of one in 10.
Meanwhile, less than eight per cent of first-time nominees have won the prize, making them less successful overall.
This is good news for Laura Mvula and Wolf Alice, who are in the running for the 2021 prize and have both been nominated before.
If Wolf Alice get the nod this year, then they would become only the second artist to win the prize more than once after PJ Harvey.
Does it matter when you release your album?
Don’t worry about your record having faded from the judges’ memory – nominations recorded in the last quarter of the previous year have the best success rate while those recorded in the first quarter have produced the most winners.
For example, six of the last seven winning albums were released at least six months prior to the award ceremony, including all of the most recent four.
With Wolf Alice and Laura Mvula both having released their albums this summer, this could count against them.
Do the Mercury Prize judges prefer solo acts?
Overall the prize has gone to a group more often than it has a single performer – 16 times to 13 – although in recent years solo artists have dominated.
All of the first seven awards were won by a group, followed by five solo wins and then another five for collective efforts.
However, solo artists have been in the ascendancy lately, with five of the last six prizes claimed by a single performer.
Seven of the albums on the 2012 shortlist have been recorded by solo acts, including Pink Noise by Laura Mvula, who has been nominated twice before.
Is there a gender bias in the Mercury Prize?
Of the 29 previous winners, only four have been exclusively female acts and two of those were the same woman: PJ Harvey.
The others were also solo artists: Ms. Dynamite and the surprise 2009 winner Speech Debelle.
This compares to 19 male-only winners – almost five times as many – and six groups with both male and female members.
It has been a decade since the last female artist took home the award – PJ Harvey’s second prize in 2011 – and five of the nominees are capable of ending that run this year.
Who will win the Mercury Prize this year?
If the patterns we’ve unearthed here hold for 2021 then the signs point to Berwyn’s Demotape/Vega winning the prize.
This is a debut hip-hop album by a male artist that was released last year, so it ticks most of the boxes we’ve established.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication