Arlo Parks: west London singer-songwriter wins Mercury Prize with Collapsed In Sunbeams

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The west London-raised singer-songwriter has taken home the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for 2021.

Arlo Parks has won the 2021 Mercury Prize with her debut album, ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’.

The west London-raised singer, 21, fended off competition from artists including Wolf Alice, Celeste and Mogwai.

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Accepting the award on stage, she said: “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.”

After thanking her record label and team, she added: “It took a lot of sacrifice and hard work to get here and there were moments where I wasn’t sure whether I would make it through – but I am here today so thank you very much.”

But just who is Parks? And what is the story behind her and her award-winning record?

Here is everything you need to know.

Who is Arlo Parks?

Arlo Parks, real name Anaïs Marinho, grew up in Hammersmith, west London, with Nigerian, Chadian and French heritage.

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The singer and poet rose from bedroom producer to Mercury Prize winner and Generation Z spokeswoman in just two years.

The musician released her debut EP, titled ‘Super Sad Generation’, in April 2019.

Since then her profile has grown exponentially, and 2020 saw her win the “one to watch” gong at the AIM Independent Music Awards, and be named BBC Introducing’s artist of the year.

She cites an eclectic mix of artists as her inspiration, including Harry Styles, Frank Ocean, Solange, and Massive Attack.

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Michelle Obama, former first lady of the US, shared a playlist of songs on Instagram that had inspired her during the recording of her Spotify podcast in August 2020.

Parks featured on the list alongside established artists such as Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar.

What’s the story behind Collapsed In Sunbeams?

‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ was released in January and charted at number three behind ‘Not Your Muse’ by Celeste and ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’ by London rapper Fredo.

She booked an Airbnb in London to record the album and worked with the Los Angeles-based songwriter and producer, Gianluca Buccellati, remotely.

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Critics praised the 12-track offering’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics and maturity.

Following her chart success she was booked as the music act on The Graham Norton Show singing her track, Caroline, and later appeared as the main guest on Later… With Jools Holland.

In May, she won the award for best new artist at the Brit Awards.

Arlo Parks poses for a portrait at The Church of The Holy Innocents in west London in February 2021 (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)Arlo Parks poses for a portrait at The Church of The Holy Innocents in west London in February 2021 (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Arlo Parks poses for a portrait at The Church of The Holy Innocents in west London in February 2021 (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

The Mercury Prize judging panel said: “It was extremely difficult to choose a winner of the 2021 Hyundai Mercury Prize. 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.

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“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.”

Who else was up for the Mercury Prize?

The 12 shortlisted artists also included grime star Ghetts, jazz saxophonist Nubya Garcia, electronic composer Hannah Peel and rapper Berwyn.

Albums by British artists with a UK release date between July 18 2020 and July 16 2021 were eligible for the prize.

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Hosted by radio DJ Lauren Laverne at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, west London, the ceremony saw live performances from many of the nominees and was broadcast on BBC Four.

Last year’s Mercury Prize was won by Michael Kiwanuka with his third album ‘Kiwanuka’, fending off competition from Stormzy, Laura Marling and Dua Lipa.

In a break from tradition, his win was announced live on the BBC’s The One Show due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kiwanuka featured among the judging panel for 2021, alongside industry figures such as DJ Annie Mac, musician Jamie Cullum and songwriter Anna Calvi.

Where can I listen to Collapsed In Sunbeams?

You can stream Collapsed In Sunbeams through all of the usual services, such as Spotify.

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