David Bowie has been honoured with a posthumous place on the Hyundai Mercury prize shortlist for his final album, Blackstar, which was described as a “parting gift” for fans.
The nomination, Bowie’s third – after Heathen in 2002 and The Next Day in 2013 – comes almost seven months after the singer’s death from cancer. He had released Blackstar to the surprise of fans worldwide just two days earlier, to coincide with his 69th birthday.
Blackstar received wide critical acclaim on its release and was described by the Guardian as “ambiguous and spellbinding … a rich, deep and strange album that feels like Bowie moving restlessly forward”. Initially, the album’s mysterious lyrics confounded critics but after news of Bowie’s cancer diagnosis 18 months earlier emerged, songs such as Lazarus – which saw Bowie sing “Look up here / I’m in heaven” – were widely interpreted as the singer saying goodbye.
This year’s shortlist sees the return of several Mercury favourites, as well as first-time nominations for artists such as the 1975, Skepta, Kano and Jamie Woon. Radiohead have picked up their fifth Mercury nomination for A Moon Shaped Pool, making them the most nominated artist in the history of the prize, though they have yet to win.
The inclusion of both Skepta’s Konnichiwa and Kano’s Made in the Manor in the nominations is testimony to the resurgence of grime over the past few years and its move into the mainstream. Dizzee Rascal was the first grime artist to win the Mercury, in 2003 for Boy in da Corner, but the Mercuries have been criticised in recent years for failing to recognise grime artists.
Anohni – formerly known as Antony Hegarty – is also up for a nomination for Hopelessness, her heavily political album, dealing with subjects such as Obama’s drone wars, climate change and Guantanamo Bay. This is her second time among Mercury award nominees, having won the prize back in 2005 before her transition, when she was performing as Antony and the Johnsons.
This is also the third nomination for singer Natasha Khan, known as Bat for Lashes, for her concept album The Bride, which follows the tragic story of a bride on her wedding night whose fiancé then dies in a car crash. Khan, who produced much of the album herself, said The Bride had been “the most emotionally enjoyable and joyful to execute” out of all her albums.
“I feel emotional and overwhelmed and just really flattered to be nominated again,” she said. “This album was a body of work that really took a long time and has been such an event for me that it’s really lovely that it’s been recognised.”
Khan recorded much of the album in upstate New York, down the road from where David Bowie owns a house, and said she had listened to Blackstar while recording The Bride. Speaking about being nominated alongside the singer, Khan said it was “very surreal”.
“I started listening to Bowie songs when I was really small and the fact that his career has spanned for so long that it overlaps with mine is an amazing testament to him and his relevance.” She added: “I absolutely loved that album so I wouldn’t mind at all if I don’t win and he does.”
In a Mercury nominee list noticeably absent of the usual contingent of indie bands, holding up the baton for guitar music is the 1975 for their much lauded, and lengthily titled, second album I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. The follow up to their platinum-selling debut was described by the Guardian as “a collection of fantastic pop songs full of interesting, smart lyrics, but also peppered with self-conscious lunges for gravitas.”
Ladbrokes have named Bowie as favourite to win this year’s prize. Bookies make him 2/1, with Radiohead and Anohni at 5/1.
“Bowie is bound to be the emotional choice for the award, but after last year’s 25/1 surprise in Benjamin Clementine, we’re not ruling out another shock,” Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes said.
The full shortlist
Anohni – Hopelessness
Bat For Lashes – The Bride
David Bowie – Blackstar
Jamie Woon – Making Time
Kano – Made in the Manor
Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Savages – Adore Life
Skepta – Konnichiwa
The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
The Comet Is Coming – Channel the Spirits