Why Ed Sheeran should win the Mercury Prize

In the run up to this year's Mercury Prize we've got our writers to tell us who they think should win and why starting with the Ginger Menace himself, Ed Sheeran.

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Massive musical accolades are a familiar thing for Ed Sheeran. With two Grammy’s already under his belt, Ed’s next victory could well be the coveted Mercury Prize.

Well, maybe not.

Ed has already come out on Instagram to say that he’s “aware [he] won’t win” and that he’s also very conscious that he’s not the most critically acclaimed artist in the industry today. To be honest, he MAY have a point.

The Mercury Prize is renowned for celebrating all things underground, niche and acquired in the British music industry. Just take a look at the past four winners: James Blake with Overgrown, Young Fathers with Dead, Benjamin Clementine with At Least for Now and Tottenham’s very own power of grime, Skepta with Konnichiwa. It feels somewhat wrong to put Ed’s name after all those mentioned above.

Or does it?

If there’s one thing that can be said about Ed Sheeran it’s this; throughout his career, the acoustic lovebird has made consistent waves in the industry with his three albums, +, x and ÷. From classics such as ‘A Team’ to the Irish jig, ‘Galway Gal,’ he has definitely built a permanent presence and will always be known and loved, if not respected for it.

He isn’t afraid to take a step out of his comfort zone and experiment with somewhat different sounds. Have you listened to Divide? Yes, it all sounds like what you’d expect Ed Sheeran to play (to a certain degree) but at the same time, the album draws on unexpected influences with a credibility few would be willing to concede.

Take his track ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’ for example – he somehow manages to fuse his sound and aesthetic directly with Ghanaian culture while singing lyrics in a Ghanaian language, Twi. The song itself now receives serious airplay on Ghanaian radio stations – a territory that is known for playing songs within the genres of Afrobeats and Highlife. If Sheeran can get props in Ghana then why does he struggle at home?

Even the hype itself around Ed is an interesting one. At face value, he looks like the type of person that you could potentially bump into at your local Sainsbury’s while he’s picking up a carton of milk for his cereal or something. That’s why people fall in love with him. Ed Sheeran’s whole image is based on his audience believing he really is your average guy. There isn’t this hyperbolic superstar aura about him. No fireworks, no show tricks, and no over the top gimmicks. What you get is a man and his guitar and to be honest, it works. People don’t flock to him for the image; they flock for the sound.

While much has been made of his busking roots, his back story shouldn’t be overlooked either. Sheeran moved to London four years before his debut album was released, staying on sofas and playing tiny venues to sparse crowds, slowly but surely building an organic fan-base. One that, by the way, included many of the grime MCs (Ghetts, JME, Wiley) now held in such high regard. Surely an artist who has gone from playing for spare change to selling out stadium tours is exactly the kind of artist the Mercury prize was invented to reward?

While the Mercury is about far more than record sales, any claim that Sheeran is not one of the most successful British male singer-songwriters of all time would genuinely be absurd. Just look at the receipts. Ed’s got the statistics to back it up.

In early July, Forbes named Divide as the best-selling album of 2017 at that point. Throughout its run, Divide was breaking records with pace and soon became the fastest selling album by a male artist in history. The album then went on to go four times platinum.

One big issue that Sheeran may face with this nomination is that though it may be both lyrically and statistically strong, it hasn’t really made the same impact as some of the other nominations such as Stormzy’s Gang Signs and Prayer or Sampha’s Process. Both of which are groundbreaking debut albums and have really pushed boundaries when it comes to genres and lyrical content.

Ed’s major hurdle for the win is down to the fact that he’s just a bit too mainstream and familiar, but why should that stop him? The boundaries between underground culture and the mainstream have all but eroded, as evidenced by his inclusion in the nominees in the first place. Plus, if all previous winners of The Mercury Prize have been somewhat underground and/or of an acquired taste, then an Ed Sheeran win would definitely be something new and different to the prize, and as any keen observer of its history knows, the Mercury loves a controversy.

Tickets are available to buy now for The Hyundai Mercury Prize Awards Show taking place on September 14th at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith. The BBC Four show will start at 9 pm featuring performances from the artists and the live winners announcement.

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