It’s the industry’s ultimate tipping of the hat to artists and feels a hell of a lot cooler, and more credible than winning a Brit. The Mercury Music Prize 2020 nominations were announced last week with 12 albums fighting it out to win the £25,000 prize.
This year’s list is unexpectedly pop fuelled and female focused with female-fronted bands and female solo artists outnumbering the men for the first time. There’s Charli XCX’s lockdown album ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, Dua Lipa’s disco-inspired ‘Future Nostalgia’ and the haunting, velvety vocals of Hazel Wilde from Lanterns on the Lake.
Stormzy makes the list for the second time with his critically acclaimed drill, rap and R&B focused ‘Heavy is the Head’, and there’s a fourth nomination from the dreamy Laura Marling for her seventh album, the concept masterpiece, ‘Song for Our Daughter’. Plus a balanced dose of indie rock records if that’s more your thing.
Read on for all of this year’s nominations and get listening before the winner is announced in September.
Anna Meredith – ‘FIBS’
Released in October 2019, Anna Meredith’s second album is a force of musical talent and perhaps the most complex and creatively weird of this year’s list.
The Scottish solo artist’s sound flips between acoustic and electronic with influences from her role as the composer-in-residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
It’s not as easy on the ears as the like of Dua or as of-the-moment as Stormzy, but it’s a unique offering and one definitely worthy of the nomination.
Charli XCX – ‘How I’m Feeling Now’
Recorded over a five-week period during April and May’s lockdown period, Charli XCX’s ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ is very much a product of our times and a record that simply could not have been created in a studio.
The London-based artist calls it “very much a do it yourself” project as the album is a product of self-isolation, being released just a week after she finished it at home.
Expect themes of anxiety and confusion executed with evocative, gutsy lyrics all set to her usually brash pop sound.
Dua Lipa – ‘Future Nostalgia’
With already sedimented pop bangers in there, ‘Physical’, ‘Don’t Start Now’ and ‘Break My Heart,’ Dua Lipa’s disco-fuelled album is the antidote to lockdown melancholy.
The pop star may be one of the biggest names on the list and feel a little commercial for the Mercury accolade, but you can’t deny the record, that cites Outkast, Gwen Stefani and Blondie as influences, makes you want to get on the dancefloor, even though we’re living in times when you can’t.
Georgia – ‘Seeking Thrills’
Released in January before the world knew what was about to hit, this poppy, disco-beat record is an ode to hedonism and the parties, dancefloors, raves and hook ups everyone’s missed out on. Even the album cover looks plucked from a different time, when in reality it was just months ago.
There are references to 1980s Chicago house and Detroit techno in there with hit singles ‘Started Out’ and ‘About Work the Dancefloor’.
Kano – ‘Hoodies All Summer’
One of Grime’s biggest names, Kano makes the list with his sixth album, ‘Hoodies All Summer’ but it’s not for the first time. Back in 2017 he missed out on the prize with ‘Made In The Manor.’
The artist told Apple Music, “I feel like we’re resilient people and there’s always room for a smile and to celebrate the small wins and the big wins,” in reference to the album’s highlighting of black culture in this country, drawing on important topics from Windrush to knife crime and racial injustice.
Lanterns on the Lake – ‘Spook the Herd’
Geordie indie rockers, Lanterns on the Lake could not be anymore 2020 if they tried, swapping the usual rock ‘n’ roll prescription of sex, drugs, etc for songs about social media and environmentalism.
The dreamy, velvety vocals of front woman Hazel Wilde and her powerful lyrics is a combo that makes you want to listen front to back in a dark room. One for the Sunday afternoon playlist.
Laura Marling – ‘Song for Our Daughter’
Crashing onto the scene over a decade ago as an impish teenager with a delicate voice but powerful message, Laura Marling has become one of our most treasured female artists.
‘Song for Our Daughter’ is her seventh studio album and was co-produced by Marling and her longtime collaborator Ethan Johns.
It’s a concept album of sorts, as Marling imagines writing it to her figurative daughter, hence the title.
It’s her fourth time on the list but this record is no less intoxicating. It’s really about time she nabbed one of these.
Michael Kiwanuka – ‘KIWANUKA’
The third record from the superb Michael Kiwnauka is also his third consecutive Mercury nomination, putting him in an elite category of artist that have received the acknowledgement for all three works, alongside Coldplay and Anna Calvi.
The psychedelic, soulful work is simply stunning, raising issues around identity and self-confidence.
Moses Boyd – ‘Dark Matter’
Moses Boyd isn’t new to awards having already won two major MOBO Awards as part of the free-jazz duo Binker and Moses.
This is his first solo work, however, to be recognised, as he guides the listener through sounds of West African and Caribbean rhythms, UK garage and electronica, culminating in a truly unique offshoot of the jazz genre.
Porridge Radio – ‘Every Bad’
Scratchy guitar riffs and a generous helping of angst make the setting for this worthy contender from Brighton rockers, Porridge Radio.
With ‘Every Bad’ they have created an album that details the hardship of navigating life in your twenties in an ever disappointing world.
It’s only one of two artists on the list making their Mercury nomination debut.
Sports Team – ‘Deep Down Happy’
If raucous indie is more your thing, Sports Team are a favourite to take the shiny gong.
Their debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ went straight to number one, making it the highest first-week sales for a debut album by a British band in four years.
Filled with Britpop, post-punk and indie rock references and themes of Tory bashing and middle England satire, it’s one to check out if you’re a fan of previous Mercury prize winners such as Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and Pulp.
Stormzy – ‘Heavy is the Head’
The bookies favourite to win, Stormzy gets his second Mercury nomination with the epic ‘Heavy is the Head.’
It’s been a stellar year for the south Londoner who’s had hits with ‘Vossi Bop’, ‘Crown’ and ‘Own It’; his first number one single; the launch of his own publishing house; a critically acclaimed album and a 2019 headline spot that will go down in Glastonbury history.