Arlo Parks Wins Mercury Prize 2021
Indie-soul singer Arlo Parks has won the 2021 Mercury Prize for her debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams.
A tender, intimate record, it draws on painful subjects like depression and anxiety but maintains a sense of hope.
The 21-year-old beat the likes of Wolf Alice, Celeste and Mogwai to scoop the £25,000 prize at a ceremony in Hammersmith, London, where she grew up.
Judges called her a “singular voice” who “demonstrates how to be quietly strong in a world of extrovert noise”.
Parks, who was left “completely speechless” by her victory, is the first Mercury Prize winner to be born in the 21st Century.
“It took a lot of sacrifice and hard work to get here,” she said, after regaining her composure on stage. “There were moments where I wasn’t sure whether I would make it through – but I am here today, so thank you very much.”
Collapsed In Sunbeams, which was released in January, reaching number three in the charts, and selling 43,000 copies to date.
Critics praised its compassion and insight into topics like mental health and sexuality.
“There’s no doubt that this is a universal collection of stories that’ll provide solace for listeners of all ages and backgrounds for decades to come,” wrote the NME in a five star review.
“Parks’ seemingly effortless lyricism and laidback melodies make her songs cosy in winter, and chilled in summer [and] always uplifting and comforting,” added The Line Of Best Fit.
Parks told the BBC she had written the album “about the things I was scared to talk about or the things that moved me” as she grew up in West London – and composed the first song, Eugene, “sitting on the floor eating pasta” while she was still at school.
“The fact that people have connected to it, and feel strengthened and held by it, makes me really happy.”
The Mercury Prize, given to the best British or Irish album of the past 12 months, is now in its 30th year.
Previous winners include era-defining records such as Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, Pulp’s Different Class and Dave’s Psychodrama.
This year’s list of nominees was typically eclectic, including chart-topping records by Celeste and Wolf Alice, alongside more left-field albums by jazz saxophonist Nubya Garcia and electronic composer Hannah Peel.
Ten of the 12 shortlisted albums were debuts, while four were instrumental or partly instrumental – reflecting changing listening habits during the pandemic.
Judge Annie Mac said the list showed “how remarkably creative and diverse British music is at the moment”.
Radio 2’s head of music, Jeff Smith, who chaired the judging panel, said selecting winner “is always difficult, but it was especially difficult this year”.
The full list of nominees was:
- Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams
- Berwyn – Demotape/VEGA
- Black Country, New Road – For The First Time
- Celeste – Not Your Muse
- Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises
- Ghetts – Conflict Of Interest
- Hannah Peel – Fir Wave
- Laura Mvula – Pink Noise
- Mogwai – As The Love Continues
- Nubya Garcia – Source
- Sault – Rise
- Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend