"The Mercury Prize, formerly called the Mercury Music Prize and currently known as the Barclaycard Mercury Prize for sponsorship reasons, is an annual music prize awarded for the best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland. It was established by the British Phonographic Industry and British Association of Record Dealers in 1992 as an alternative to the Brit Awards. The prize was originally sponsored by Mercury Communications, a brand owned by Cable & Wireless, from which the prize gets its name. It was later sponsored by Technics, from 1998 to 2001, Panasonic, in 2002 and 2003, and the Nationwide Building Society, from 2004 to 2008. Barclaycard became the Prize's current sponsor in March 2009.
Nominations are chosen by a panel of musicians, music executives, journalists and other figures in the music industry in the UK and Ireland. Presentation of the award usually takes place in September after the nominations are announced in July. It is often observed that bands whose albums are nominated, or win the prize, experience a large increase in album sales, particularly for lesser known nominees. However, despite being regarded by many as highly prestigious, it has been suggested that having an album nominated for or winning the Mercury Prize could be a curse on a career in music.
The Mercury Prize has a reputation for being awarded to outside chances rather than the favourites. The 1994 award winner was Elegant Slumming by the pop act M People, a controversial decision considering the shortlist included popular albums from Britpop figureheads Paul Weller, Blur and Pulp, and electronica band The Prodigy. Other music journalists critical of the awards stated that the 2005 award should not have been given to Antony and the Johnsons for their album I Am a Bird Now as, while they were British-born, they were based in the United States. In 2006, Isobel Campbell's collaboration with Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas, was included in the shortlist, despite Lanegan being American while Guillemots, whose album was also nominated in 2006, contained band members from Brazil and Canada. The presence of classical, folk and jazz recordings has been cited by some as anomalous, arguing that comparisons with the other nominees can be invidious. Classical acts to have an album nominated have included Sir John Tavener, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Gavin Bryars and Nicholas Maw. None has ever won, and there has not been a shortlisted classical album since 2002.
To date, PJ Harvey is the only artist to have won the award on more than one occasion (in 2001 and 2011). She was also the first female solo artist to receive the award and ties with Radiohead as the most nominated artist, though Radiohead has never won the prize."