What do this year’s nominations say about our music industry?

First published on: 24th July 2020

It’s one of the most coveted prizes in the British music world. So who’s album is in the running for the 2020 Mercury Prize? And what do this year’s nominations say about our music industry right now? By Sarah Bradbury.

Yesterday afternoon, the much-anticipated shortlist for the 2020 Mercury Prize was announced via BBC Radio 6. 12 albums whittled down all the releases from UK and Irish artists over the last year which we have come to view as reflecting something of the zeitgeist.

In a massive coup for gender equality, the female-fronted acts outstripped the male nominees for the first time in the prize’s 28-year history.

However, despite the progress made on the gender front, the shortlist wasn’t universally welcomed. Alexis Petridis from the Guardian asked why we didn’t see more albums “dragged from the fringes.” Making reference to tweets posted by Nadine Shah (who wasn’t nominated and accurately thought The 1975 was) he highlighted that the raison d’etre of the prize was to celebrate the “underdog” in contrast to the more mainstream Brits.

And it’s a fair point. The women leading the pack are all very much established voices, including Charli XCX for quickly thrown together lockdown album How I’m Feeling Now, Laura Marling for her stunning Song for Our Daughter, her fourth time being nominated, and Dua Lipa’s pure pop-fest and UK no.1 album Future Nostalgia.

Batting for the boys is Stormzy with his massive Heavy is the Head, Michael Kiwanuka with his critically-acclaimed soulful third album Kiwanuka, and godfather-of-grime artist Kano with Hoodies All Summer. There’s a good dose of indie with female-fronted bands Brighton-born Porridge Radio and Lanterns On the Lake plus six-piece Sports Team.

We’re keen to have a listen to lesser-known former footballer Georgia’s Seeking Thrills and southeast London jazz artist Moses Boyd’s Dark Matter (he’s apparently worked with Beyonce on the soundtrack for The Lion King…).

You could argue the list lacks something very radical, left-field or provocative to get our teeth into. There were also some omissions – some felt FKA Twigs was overlooked for Magdalene, Rina Sawayama for her debut album and J Hus for Common Sense and only one-non English artist with Welsh Anna Meredith for FIBS.

All 12 artists receive an album of the year trophy while the overall winner will bag a cash prize of £25,000. Previous winners include Dave for Psychodrama last year, who blew audiences away with his rendition of “Black”, as well as the likes of Wolf Alice, Smapha, James Blake, Alt-J PJ Harvey, Pulp and Portishead.

Former nominee Anna Calvi was on the panel of judges this year, alongside Annie Mac, Jorja Smith, Jamie Cullum and Gemma Cairney. She told Sky News the significance of making the list:

“If you’re a small artist, it’s massive because it means so many more people are going to hear of you, which can be a real career changer. But I think also, if you’re already a big band, it just shows that people are respecting you for your artistry, it’s not just about how many records you sell.”

The prize also comes at a time when the arts industry is in crisis, with many criticising the government’s lack of clarity and offering too little support too late. On the flip side, the arts and music in particular have emerged as a great source of respite and comfort during dark times, showing they are more in demand than ever and therefore worth protecting.

In a statement judges said: “In these difficult and uncertain times the Hyundai Mercury Prize is proud to celebrate the remarkable power of music to inspire and exhilarate. The albums on the 2020 shortlist showcase a great diversity of sounds, styles, ambitions and experience. What these albums share is an irresistible urgency, a belief that their music matters more than ever.”

Here are the 12 shortlisted albums:

Anna Meredith – Fibs
Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Georgia – Seeking Thrills
Kano – Hoodies All Summer
Lanterns on the Lake – Spook the Herd
Laura Marling – Song for Our Daughter
Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
Porridge Radio – Every Bad
Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
Stormzy – Heavy is the Head

The announcement will be made on 10th Sep at a ceremony at London’s Hammersmith Apollo (who knows what will be happening with COVID-19 by then!).

Who do you think deserves to win?!