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If Social Media Popularity Won the Mercury Music Prize

 

The Mercury Music Prize shortlist was announced last Wednesday; the winner will be announced on the 29th October, but who would win if it was purely a popularity contest?

 

Wednesday 10th September saw the annual announcement of the shortlist for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize albums of the year and in our music-loving office, there has been much heated debate as to who we think deserves the coveted accolade. Ever since the first award took place back in 1992, it’s been positioned as the musical version of the Man Booker Prize and has been renowned for celebrating artistic creation, regardless of chart popularity. In their own words:

 

“The main objectives of the Mercury Prize are to provide a snapshot of the year in music, to encourage debate and discussion about music, and to help introduce new albums from a variety of musical genres to a wider audience….”

 

The list of previous winners includes albums which have gone on to hold pride of place amongst the pantheon of classic British works, notably (for us at least); James Blake - Overgrown (2013), The xx – XX (2010), Roni Size/Reprazent – New Forms (1997) and Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1992). 

 

This year’s shortlist (with odds from the bookies) is;

 

  • FKA Twigs – 'LP1' (3/1)
  • Kate Tempest – 'Everybody Down' (4/1)
  • Damon Albarn – 'Everyday Robots' (8/1)
  • Royal Blood – 'Royal Blood' (9/2)
  • Nick Mulvey – 'First Mind' (8/1)
  • East India Youth – 'Total Strife Forever' (8/1)
  • Jungle – 'Jungle' (10/1)
  • Young Fathers – 'Dead' (12/1)
  • Bombay Bicycle Club – 'So Long, See You Tomorrow' (12/1)
  • Anna Calvi – 'One Breath' (14/1)
  • Polar Bear – 'In Each And Every One' (16/1)
  • GoGo Penguin – 'v2.0' (16/1)

 

Now, I am not here to give my opinion on who should pocket the £20,000 prize money and, more importantly, gain the right to plaster ‘Mercury Prize Winner’ stickers on the front of every album cover; I will leave that to the ‘professionals’ - the NME, The Independent, The Guardian… etc. (although, if our office had a say, Jungle and FKA Twigs would be leading contenders).

 

I did, however, think it would be interesting to take a look at who would be victorious if it were purely a popularity contest. So, I decided to trawl a selection of social platforms - Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify and Last.fm - to see who had the biggest digital following.

 

The first table (below) shows the combined number of fans/followers/subscribers across Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify:

 

 

If the decision was made based on the above totals, Anna Calvi would be taking the prize. If you were to look at the first, second, fourth and fifth columns alone, however, you would not expect to see Anna Calvi sitting pretty in first place. The position is based on her impressive, yet slightly suspicious, 2.4 million SoundCloud followers. What makes this increasingly suspect is the fact that the second highest SoundCloud fanbase belongs to Nick Mulvey’s with (a still impressive) 461,813 followers. As a result of this contentious variable, SoundCloud was excluded from the results, which left the table looking a bit like this:

 

 

Anna Calvi drops to 5th place and Bombay Bicycle Club storm into the lead with the nearest competition, Damon Albarn, 1 million+ followers behind. Looking further down the table, the exclusion of SoundCloud also resulted in FKA Twigs moving up 3 places, and Nick Mulvey moving down 3.

 

It is worth bearing in mind though that the number of followers/fans does not always give a straightforward comparison (consider, for example, that Bombay Bicycle Club joined Facebook in 2007 and FKA Twigs only joined in March of this year), and so the third table solely considers Last.fm metrics:

 

 

N.B. Scrobbles are plays of tracks and Listeners represents individual listeners.

 

Bombay Bicycle Club top the charts again and, considering, they are the most established act on the nomination list this comes as no surprise. The top 3 reflects that of the previous table, Nick Mulvey and Young Fathers have swapped places, Royal Blood have slipped a coupled of spots - albeit still holding their own in the middle - and Anna Calvi and Jungle have slipped one place respectively. The foot of the table also sees movement but GoGo Penguin is still bottom, sadly. Yet, Polar Bear has leapt ahead of East India Youth, Young Fathers and Kate Tempest, leaving Kate in 11th place.

 

If LP listeners alone was taken into consideration, the table would look more like this:

 

 

In this analysis, Jungle move ahead of Anna Calvi whilst Nick Mulvey and Young Fathers switch place, and Polar Bear come crashing down to their place of comfort, 11th spot.

 

It looks like Bombay Bicycle Club are running away with this. There is no question that they are the most popular act on the list. Damon Albarn is also popular amongst the public, being second for all but one of the tables. Unfortunately, there has not been much change at the foot of the table. The real battle lies in the middle; who will creep into the top half and who will gain 3rd place?…

 

To determine this, I cleverly devised an (obvious) scoring system across each of the four tables. 12 points are awarded to 1st place, 11 points to 2nd place, and so on, even awarding a single point to the act in 12th place.

 

So who will win…?

 

 

  • To no one's surprise, Bombay Bicycle Club is the most popular, most listened-to act on the 2014 Barclaycard Mercury Prize Albums of the year shortlist.
  • FKA Twigs took 3rd place, and, although tied on 37 points with Anna Calvi, had a higher average position overall.
  • 5th place was a close battle between Royal Blood, Jungle and Nick Mulvey, with Royal Blood taking it by one point.
  • The bottom 5 places were as they had been throughout the various tables.
  • The Mercury Prize has a reputation for being awarded to outside chances rather than the favourites, so with that in mind Young Fathers, Kate Tempest, East India Youth, Polar Bear, or even GoGo Penguin may always be in with a shout. The odds from the bookies clearly reflect this fact.
  • We will have to wait until October 29th to find out whether the Mercury panel does indeed fly in the face of social media popularity. Until then, good luck to one and all (especially Jungle & FKA Twigs!).

 

*Figures shown were gathered on 12/09/2014

 

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