Mercury Music Awards 2020 – The Ups and Downs

The Mercury Awards. My favourite music awards of the year. The underdog of music awards. The night every musician waits for. The moment every aspiring musician strives for. This is the award to win if you want to be recognised as a reputable musician. A dream come true to even be shortlisted! I have a bad habit of trying to guess the albums which will be shortlisted every year, but this just highlights my narrow-mindedness to weird and wonderful genres of British music time and time again. But, time and time again, I am pleasantly surprised at the Mercury Awards’ ability to woo me into loving every single one of these nominees entries.

When the shortlist was announced, I had to say I had doubts. I definitely went into this with a very narrow-minded attitude, forgetting that the awards are purely about the music and not at all about the sales or success of each entry. Dua Lipa’s 2nd LP ‘Future Nostalgia’ has been met with critical acclaim, but pop albums are very often overlooked when it comes to the prestigious awards. It’s a shame, considering this is a strong album with nods to Chic, Daft Punk and Madonna. The same goes for Stormzy’s ‘Heavy is the Head’. This was 100% one of my favourite albums that came out of 2019, he smashed it there. It was a massive hit – definitely the biggest artist of 2019. This is probably why he didn’t win it; he’d already gained everything from that record, a Mercury Prize would add absolutely nothing to the praise he received for that album. He’d accomplished everything!

Sports Team’s ‘Deep Down Happy’ was probably my least favourite record on the shortlist. It’s mostly indie guitar simplicity, but is lyrically intelligent and playful, making it a strong candidate for the prize. These guys were the only indie addition on the shortlist this year – and maybe for good reason. The Mercury Award has had the tendency to overfill their previous shortlists with indie rock, so this year was a breathe of fresh air when it came to more colourful and exotic genres making the majority. This isn’t to say Sports Team’s debut LP wasn’t a success! They had the highest sales for an indie band upon its release in four years. The other guitar based band, Porridge Radio, shortlisted with their ‘Every Bad’. This is a crazy album, drawing influences from the likes of the Cranberries and Charli XCX, who was another one of the nominees. This was a win in itself for the Brighton based, woman dominant band. It is genre bending, with punk or garage rock sort of vibes. I love seeing a predominantly female punk outfit…

If there’s one thing I’m going to take away from the awards this year, its to listen to more Moses Boyd. ‘Dark Matter’ was a jazz masterpiece. I wish I had listened to him more, but I got a great fix every time I turned on BBC Radio 6 Music (they love that guy!). To be honest, though, I have a soft spot for jazz drummers – especially those who have worked with Floating Points, Four Tet and the one and only Beyonce. I know! Beyonce!! Lanterns On the Lake’s ‘Spook the Herd’ is a sort of concept folk LP. They touch on heavy subjects like emotions, and shine a light to the country’s current situation, making this a beautiful, eye-opening LP.

The album that was a stand out for me was Kano’s ‘Hoodies All Summer’. This album was all over the place in terms of genre. He reminded me of Kanye West, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ era in places, of The Streets in others. He definitely gave his all for this record, possibly why he was such a strong candidate for the prize – and possibly a favourite to win. Anna Meredith’s was an inventive album. It is her second record, and draws influences from classical music, heavy electronic music and experimental rock. She is the most experimental, clever, and eclectic entry on this list of extremely strong candidates.

My only quarrels with this year’s Mercury Awards was that they were so full of amazing artists with outstanding albums, that obviously some were going to miss out. The three I feel sorry for are Georgia, Charli XCX and particularly, Laura Marling – I’ll get onto her in a bit. First off, I remember seeing Georgia live at Leeds Festival in 2019. She really was something special. She blends dance with disco, and plays her drums live, sings live, basically does everything live. Honestly, she is one of my favourite up and coming acts – but, her album wasn’t the strongest and she is still very new on the dance scene, and I feel like she has a lot more to give. We will most likely be seeing her on future shortlists where she will have improved and will be showing her full potential.

Charli XCX has been releasing music now for a long time, and she is still relevant in popular culture, meaning she is definitely here for the long run. I feel sort of guilty that she was shortlisted, but didn’t get much recognition as hers is an art pop, electronic pop album – which, previously, I said that these factors are usually overlooked. However, she wrote this album is 39 days over lockdown… that’s got to be outstanding in itself? All I can think of is that maybe if she took a little more time to write, record and master her record she might have had a better shot, but who knows?

My heart is so very heavy for Laura Marling, as this year was her 4th time being nominated for the prize and not winning. If there was anyone that had a great chance at winning this year, it was Marling. Her record, ‘Song for Our Daughter’ had such a raw and heartfelt concept, based on an imaginary child that Marling had. The first time I ever heard of her I watched her play an acoustic version of ‘Strange Girl’, a fast folk, country tune at Glastonbury this year (obviously, just the highlights). It resonated with me how raspy but rich her voice was, and her obvious musical intelligence that was prominent as she stood there playing her guitar. The standout track on this record for me is the opener, ‘Alexandra’. She is so beautiful in this LP that it’s hard to think that it wasn’t a winner. I have no doubt in my mind that we will be seeing her make the shortlist again, and possibly winning this time… maybe 5th time lucky?

It’s hard to describe your emotions when you’re feeling proud. Its even harder to describe your emotions when you’re feeling proud for someone you’ve never even met. I have pride for Michael Kiwanuka, right now. I am utterly overjoyed at his win at the 2020 Mercury Awards, even if the show didn’t take place in its usual form. If there was one year we needed him to win, it was this year. I absolutely wish I put money on him winning, though – I think I told every man and his dog that Kiwanuka was definitely this year’s prize wielder. Damn it. He has been nominated 2 other times for this prestigious prize, but 2020 had to be Kiwanuka’s year. His soulful voice is so gorgeous throughout this album, he combines folk, indie rock, and gives us a taste of traditions borrowed from his Ugandan heritage. I am in awe over this entry for the prize, and he definitely deserved to win. Without a shadow of a doubt.

But this doesn’t mean he was a mile in front of the other nominees; this was by far the most eclectic, diverse and colourful list of potential Mercury Prize wielders I’ve ever seen, not to mention an even more diverse judge panel. Brimming full of strong female figures and people of colour, in both categories, this year has been a total success for British music in a year that has been total garbage for the music industry as a whole. You could say that the awards was a beacon of light in an, especially dark time.