Antony and the Johnsons won the annual Mercury music prize for best album in Britain, but the decision sparked a controversy because of the group’s origin.
The band, fronted by British-born but U.S.-raised Antony Hegarty, was viewed by critics as more of an American ensemble than British.
Regardless of Hegarty’s national heritage, judges said the band’s 2005 album, “I Am a Bird Now,” was the best of the 12 groups nominated, beating out Coldplay and Kaiser Chiefs, among others.
The prize was presented by Jools Holland in a ceremony Tuesday night at Grosvenor House Hotel.
“They must have made a mistake. I’m completely overwhelmed, I think it’s insane,” Hegarty said. “I love so many of the acts tonight and I think it’s a bit bonkers to give the prize to one person. It’s a bit nutty. It’s kind of like a crazy contest between an orange and a spaceship and a potted plant and a spoon — which one do you like better?”
Kaiser Chiefs, who opened the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia in July with their hit single “I Predict a Riot,” were the bookmakers’ favorite for the $35,000 award.
The Mercury prize, now in its 14th year, honors the best album of the year by a British or Irish band. It is judged on talent and innovation rather than commercial sales, and judges have been accused in the past of making deliberately obscure choices. The winner can usually expect a surge in sales and publicity.
This year’s shortlist ran the gamut from Coldplay — whose “X&Y” is the year’s best-selling British album so far — to rural folk musician Seth Lakeman and British-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A.
Other nominees included Bloc Party, The Go! Team, Hard-Fi, K.T. Tunstall, the Magic Numbers, Maximo Park and Polar Bear.
Previous winners include London rapper Dizzee Rascal and Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand.