Expert Comment: Mercury Music Prize 2016Friday 16 September 2016
Dr Veronica Skrimsjö, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Popular Music, discusses this year's Mercury Music Prize and asks are music awards really fit for purpose?
Last night’s Mercury Prize saw Skepta take home the prize. A grime act, Skepta has been hovering around the edges of public, mainstream recognition since 2008 when his single ‘Rolex Sweep’ was released (which, coincidentally, was also the same year Wiley promised the world to a brand new girl he didn’t even know yet in ‘Wearing My Rolex’).
The Guardian live-blogged from the event, which kind of says it all really, and both Radiohead (with A Moon Shaped Pool) and David Bowie (with Black Star) were regarded as strong contenders to win beforehand. Tellingly Radiohead decided not to attend the event.
During the event Skepta performed ‘Shutdown’, and rarely have I seen a more uncomfortable performance. To put it into context, grime is, by and large, an angry response from Black East London towards injustice and the privileged, white middle and upper classes. Last night Skepta was delivering lines like “This ain’t a culture, it’s my religion/God knows I don’t wanna go prison/But if a man wanna try me, trust me listen/Me and my G’s ain’t scared of police/We don’t listen to no politician/Everybody on the same mission/We don’t care about your -ism and –cisms” to a room full of – dare I say – the elite, sitting at their exclusive tables, celebrating their excess.
Well done to Skepta and his crew, but Boy Better Know last night only subverted the core issues of the genre. Or in the words of Casey Gerald: Skepta’s success is the dialysis for a problem that needs a new kidney. His story is now the success story we offer kids who are told to pull themselves up by the bootstraps when they don’t even have boots. There are better ways of acknowledging grime. There are better ways of acknowledging Skepta. There are better ways of diversifying popular music. There are better ways of celebrating popular culture. Ultimately, I believe it’s time all these prizes we dish out are reviewed – are they actually serving a purpose? Who are they servicing? Who do they speak to?
This year I have mainly commented on bad news, and great losses to culture and music. Today I’m afraid to bring much of the same as 2016 has wreaked another victim: last night’s Mercury Prize saw Skepta take home the prize, and I can’t help but feel we’ve just killed off grime.