A Surprise Mercury Prize Victor

Antony, androgynous front man for the Johnsons, snags British music award

A stunned Antony Hegarty of the band Antony and the Johnsons held high the Mercury Music Prize statue Tuesday night in London after scoring the biggest upset imaginable in this year’s hotly contested competition. Antony was recognized for his album, “I am a Bird Now,” out on Secretly Canadian Records.

Since their inception in 1992, the annual Mercury Music Prize awards have aimed to reward the best in British music, regardless of genre or style. An independent panel of judges—music industry experts, journalists, record company bosses, and others—selects twelve Albums of the Year, before choosing one as overall winner on the night of the awards.

Antony, a New York City resident who has become an underground superstar, especially overseas, was even a surprise nomination for the Mercury award.

“I had no expectation of actually winning,” he told Gay City News. “I am shocked to even be nominated. I think it is all a big mistake. But a fun one.”

Antony’s competition included British music chart artist Coldplay, punksters the Kaiser Chiefs, M.I.A., a Sri Lankan hip hop diva now living in London, and Bloc Party, as well as blues chanteuse KT Tunstall, indie folksinger Seth Lakeman, and jazzy popsters Polar Bear.

Antony has a unique vocal style balanced somewhere between Nina Simone, Elizabeth Frazier, Klaus Nomi, and Jimmie Scott. He has an indelible physical presence, which borrows from art provocateur Leigh Bowery, Oscar Wilde, and Nathan Lane when he is most untamed. In performance, Antony’s unique gestalt of gender expression and sexual orientation confronts the listener the moment the spotlight comes on and he begins to sing his luminous lyrical poetry.

In memory of the late West Village black, drag, street activist Marcia P. Johnson, Antony named his band the Johnsons. Like the best out musicians around—including Rufus Wainwright, Melissa Etheridge, Marc Almond, Tracy Chapman, and M’chele Ndegeocello—Antony neither denies the significance of nor gets stuck in identify questions or gender rules. He lets his creativity speak for itself.

The British press is certain to be wagging it tongues about this surprise choice and the honor will launch Antony and the Johnsons even further into the stratosphere than they already are.

The Kaiser Chiefs have begun harvsting sour grapes at losing to this New Yorker and diva M.I.A. made quite a show of walking out of the award ceremony when Antony was announced as the winner.

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