The Mercury Prize: Who's nominated and who should win?

Our writers discuss the Mercury Prize nominees and debate who should win

multiple writers
3rd August 2020
Images: Instagram (@georgiauk, @mercuryprize, @sportsteam, @dualipa, @therealkano, @charli_xcx, @michaelkiwanuka)
The Mercury Prize, one of the few awards in music that makes us think, "Hang about, I want at least half of the nominees to win!" It's a nominee list so rife with talent that it's incredibly hard to pick who you want to take it home. Our writers have come together to tell us a little bit about the acts nominated, and why they feel they should win the prestigious Mercury Prize.

Porridge Radio - Every Bad

From the string-filled, screaming refrain of 'Born Confused' to the crashing sadness of closer 'Homecoming Song', Porridge Radio's debut album takes a world of swirling emotions and bottles them into gorgeous gut punches of indie rock.

The Brighton-based band specialise in powerfully personal songs, pushing the conventional guitar/bass/drums indie setup with unique song structures and incantation-like repetition. Lead single 'Give/Take' pairs a driving rhythm with lyrics treading the line, as much of the record does, between self-aware, sarcastic and heart-felt. It is also stupidly catchy, and the perfect soundtrack to feeling like you're the star of a movie's existential crisis moment.

Songwriter Dana Margolin said that if they were nominated for the Mercury Prize she would "shave a rat into the back of her head" - I'm excited for more dramatic rodent-themed antics if Every Bad gets its well-deserved win.

Leonie Bellini

Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA

KIWANUKA is a celebration Michael's own heritage and culture. Its a "Fuck you" to those who mocked him for his "hard to pronounce name" as well as a "Fuck you" to his own self confidence issues. It's an incredible act of resistance and - in my opinion- the best album of 2019

For me, Michael Kiwanuka is the only possible winner for this years Mercury Prize. On his third studio album, Michael pays homage to a plethora of different artists, spanning from Kendrick Lamar to Gil Scott-Heron, creating a beautiful combination of psychedelic tinged soul and blues. From the mellow flute found in 'Solid Ground', to the soul tinged keys on 'Piano Joint (This Kind of Love), KIWANUKA is an effective display of Kiwanuka's growth as both a person and artist. He's not afraid anymore and he wants the world to know his name.

Joe Smith

Sports Team - Deep Down Happy

Sports Team is certainly not a name I had ever expected to see shortlisted for a Mercury award. With their success stemming from chaotic live shows, they are associated more with their raucous reputation than with any level of musical prestige. Despite this, their debut album Deep Down Happy gained huge support and landed at #2 in the charts (damn you, Gaga), proving the surprising success of this untamed act.

The record gives off a feeling of confusion at and unchained passion for a range of weird and somewhat unconnected issues, although this seems somewhat intentional. Wearing their privilege on their sleeve and expressing their desire for commercial success unlike most indie bands, this ambitious debut has struck a chord with many and it’s always good to see an until-now ‘underground’ act be recognised in a way that was certainly within their wildest dreams.

Finlay Holden

Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

Since the release of FUTURE NOSTALGIA on March 27th , Dua Lipa has been ‘’the name on the tip of people’s tongues!’’ During lockdown, people have gone wild on TikTok and the ‘Break My Heart’ routine went viral. ‘Don’t Start Now’ has received more than 1 billion streams on Spotify alone and, after spending months at the top of the charts, Lipa was destined to be shortlisted for the Mercury Prize.

Thematically, the foundations of her second album are built on the concept of feminism, and Dua uses this album as a stark reminder that people ‘’ain’t used to a female alpha’’, but she shows no hesitation when challenging this perception; in the ultimate song ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, she sarcastically claims ‘’I should’ve stuck to ballet’’, addressing stereotypical female activities. As a female artist, she deserves to be awarded for being bold enough to challenge these ideals, which still linger in society. If Lipa doesn’t win, ‘Break My Heart’ will be on repeat!

Louise Cusine

Charli XCX- Charli

When Charli XCX announced that she was going to record an entire album in self isolation back in April I’m fairly sure that 99% of were in a state of shock. However, that initial state of shock paled in comparison to the feeling listeners experienced when they actually listened to the project for the first time- we were all so shocked at just how good it was. How I’m Feeling Now is undoubtedly Charli’s most experimental album to date, taking influences from various subgenres of electronica- a testament not only to Charli but also her team of producers including A.G. Cook, BJ Burton and 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady. The record is immaculately produced throughout with cascading synths and bass beats creating trance-like instrumentals. Brady’s fingertips are all over this album, even on tracks where he is not a direct contributor with his signature pitch-distorted vocal effects featuring prominently on the album. How I’m Feeling Now is arguably the signature album of a chaotic 2020 and given its short timescale it’s hard to argue that there’s a better album on the nominations list.

Georgia- Seeking Thrills

Second albums are always difficult. The fans want to hear the same stuff you’ve come out with on your first album and the critics want you to go to the next level. Georgia decided to ignore both and transitioned from her dance rock debut to a house inspired follow-up. Seeking Thrills is a stunningly brave sophomore album, representing a huge stylistic shift from the Northwest Londoner’s debut. Georgia has undoubtedly found her home on the club dancefloor, with sumptuous vocals and huge beats Seeking Thrills is arguably the perfect electropop album. On Seeking Thrills, Georgia has definitely announced herself as not only one of the most experimental popstars in the UK at the moment but also one of the best. The highest compliment I can give Georgia, is that I haven’t liked a pop album as much as Seeking Thrills in a very long time…

Anna Meredith- FIBS

Anna Meredith is perhaps better known for her contributions in the field of classical music than for her foray into electronica. The experimental composer is also no stranger to winning awards, having been awarded with an MBE for her services to music in 2019. It’s fitting then that FIBS received a nomination for this year’s Mercury Prize. FIBS is a magnificently precise electronica album with just enough pop elements to spice it up. The production and instrumentals sound obsessively perfect, as to be expected from a composer. Sonically, FIBS is exceedingly bright and fun and provides a joyous listening experience. Meredith’s distinct taste for the experimental has also seeped into her solo work, as FIBS slides in and out of sub-genres of electronic music effortlessly. Anna Meredith’s daring second album is a fantastic entry on the nominations list and is one of the staple albums of the last year in British electronic music.

Moses Boyd- Dark Matter

I had no idea what to expect once I had pressed play on Dark Matter, the debut album from British Jazz musician Moses Boyd. Jazz is one genre I’ve always tried to get into but never had the patience to do so. However, what I can say about Dark Matter is that it is a remarkable album which manages to adapt the genre for listeners in 2020. Here we find subtle hints of dub and hip-hop beats which bring a nice freshness to the record. Dark Matter is an incredibly easy listen, especially considering that jazz is somewhat of an acquired taste in 2020. Boyd has collaborated with vocalists on certain tracks on the record, which shows off Dark Matter’s versatility perfectly as Boyd manages to create a vibe which fuses pop elements onto a distinctly jazz-oriented record. Another takeaway from Dark Matter which jumps straight off the record is that Moses Boyd is a VERY talented musician, each track is meticulously thought out and the ability is obvious. Jazz may be a niche genre but if it were to make a comeback it would probably have Dark Matter to thank.

Laura Marling- Song For Our Daughter

Very few of the artists on this list have the longevity of Laura Marling, the singer-songwriter’s Mercury Prize nominated album Song For Our Daughter is the seventh in her discography. Even fewer are as decorated as the singer-songwriter, she won Best Female Solo Artist at the 2011 Brit Awards and has been previously nominated for three Mercury Prize awards and one Grammy- for her 2017 album Semper Femina. Song For Our Daughter is addressed to an imaginary daughter, as the singer songwriter imparts words of wisdom to a would be listener on love, loss and even misogyny in the music industry. On this album Marling has clearly demonstrated her strong ability as a songwriter, as on Song For Our Daughter she delivers an earnest album with a solid concept.

Dominic Lee

Lanterns on the Lake - Spook the Herd

On their fourth studio album, Lanterns on the Lake fully embrace their signature style of melancholic indie-rock. It's their first album to be nominated for the Mercury Prize, and it's very well deserved. Spook the Herd is an existentialist commentary on the current state of the world. From politics to climate change, to social media to grief, this album beautifuly captures the struggles we face in this modern world. We're rooting for some of Newcastle's finest underrated acts to scoop up the prize and get the recognition they deserve.

Kano - Hoodies All Summer

Grime legend and superb lyricist Kano returned in 2019 with his masterpiece Hoodies All Summer. It's a emotional social commentary with some funny bars dashed here and there. Kano trades traditional grime beats for more soulful, experimental ones and infused blues piano sits perfectly behind a vast collection of magnificent vocal samples. It's harrowing and humorous. Two words that can't often be used to describe the same album. It's class, and is surely a top contender for the prize.

Stormzy - Heavy is the Head

"Heavy is the head that wears the crown" sings Stormzy on his world class second album. We can only imagine how heavy his head would be if he scooped up this years Mercury Prize - and put it on his head.

Stormzy's signature fusion of gospel and grime is fresher now, more subtlety intertwined with his music and less preachy more punchy. H.I.T.H also harbours some fantastic collabs, displaying the talents of H.E.R and Headie One. He's unapologetically himself making an ultimatley incredible album, and arguably the record that cemented Stormzy as the king of the UK scene.

Joe Smith

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