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Arlo Parks wins 2021 Hyundai Mercury Prize

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Arlo Parks won the 2021 Mercury Prize with her debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams on Thursday. The singer-songwriter, 21, fended off competition from artists including Wolf Alice, Celeste and Mogwai.

“I am completely speechless. I don’t have the words. I just want to say a big thank you to my family. My mum and my dad are somewhere in the room today,” she said.

The album was released in January to widespread acclaim and The Independents critic Helen Brown called it “a spot of brightness in a dark year”.

Born Anais Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho in west London to Nigerian and French-Chadian parents, Parks began writing to escape into a fantasy life, quickly establishing a style that combines emotional directness with a rich sensory palate.

Inspired by artists as diverse as Elliott Smith, Jill Scott, Frank Ocean and Portishead, she was only 17 when she began sending demos to the BBC. Success came quickly. Her trip-hoppy 2018 debut single “Cola”, which featured heavily in Michaela Coel’s BBC drama I May Destroy You, was written with producer Luca Buccellati and to date has been streamed over 23 million times on Spotify.

Parks performed “Too Good” at the event in London, with host Lauren Laverne revealing that Parks told her she used to cycle past the venue on her way to school.

“This is an artist who demonstrates how to be quietly strong in a world of extrovert noise, who expertly reflects the plurality of contemporary British life in their songs,” DJ Annie Mac said ahead of presenting Parks with her award. “We chose an artist with a singular voice.”

Parks performing at the ceremony on Thursday (PA)
Parks performing at the ceremony on Thursday (PA)

Accepting the winner’s trophy and a cheque for £25,000, Parks said: “This is something that came off a lot of hard work from a lot of different people... it took a lot of sacrifice and hard work to get here and there were moments when I wasn’t sure whether I’d make it through, but I’m here today.”

Speaking on BBC 6 Music after her win, Parks added: “​I’m still coming off my little cloud – speechless for now, but very grateful.” When asked what she was most proud of on her debut album, she added: “The storytelling, the honesty and the humanity and the fact that I was able to talk about things that were really important to me and affected me, in an honest way.​”

Others nominated for this year’s prize were Berwyn, Black Country New Road, Celeste, Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra, Ghetts, Hannah Peel, Laura Mvula, Mogwai, Nubya Garcia, Sault and 2018 winners, Wolf Alice.

At the ceremony this evening, there were live performances from Parks, Berwyn, Black Country, New Road, Celeste, Ghetts, Peel, Mvula, Mogwai, Garcia and Wolf Alice.

In a joint statement ahead of the ceremony, the Mercury Prize judges – who included last year’s winner Michael Kiwanuka alongside Anna Calvi, Annie Mac, Jamie Cullum and more – said: “It is testament to the strength of British music that, during a year which saw musicians face the toughest challenges of their lives, so many remarkable albums came out nonetheless.

“There was an embarrassment of riches for this year’s Hyundai Mercury Prize judges to choose from, but the final 12 show how diverse, vibrant and far-reaching British music continues to be. Choosing one winner out of 12 albums that bring so much hope for the future will be a challenge indeed.”

Speaking about Parks’s win, they added: “It was extremely difficult to choose a winner... There were so many strong albums of such diversity and character. But in the end we decided that Arlo Parks was an extremely worthy winner.

“Addressing such complex issues as mental health and sexuality with real empathy, displaying a lyrical wisdom that belied her 21 years, with Collapsed In Sunbeams Arlo Parks has created an album that has captured the spirit of the year in a positive, forward thinking fashion. It has the ability to reach out and remind a wider audience of the timeless art of the album. Arlo is an artist who connects deeply with her generation and reflects the plurality of contemporary British life.”

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