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Mercury Prize 2020: why the shortlist is a pivotal moment for female artists

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Hollie Richardson
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Female artists and female-fronted bands have outnumbered the number of men on the shortlist for the Mercury Prize 2020 – here’s why this is a pivotal moment in music.

It’s been an exciting day for female musicians. Firstly, Taylor Swift has announced her unexpected eighth studio album, Folklore, will be released tonight (Thursday 23 July) along with a video for its first single release. And secondly, for the first time in the Mercury Prize’s 29-year history, the 2020 shortlist includes more female artists and female-fronted bands than men. 

The prestigious £25,000 prize has celebrated the best new albums from a wide range of genres since 1992. Past winners include Arctic Monkeys, Ms Dynamite, PJ Harvey, James Blake, Franz Ferdinand and Portishead. 

Basically: it’s a pretty big deal in the industry and has catapulted many a mega band and artist. 

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Out of the 12 nominees, a total of seven female or female-fronted acts made the 2020 shortlist. The previous highest total was five. 

Mercury Prize 2020 shortlist

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

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This year’s shortlist also noticeably celebrates the pop genre, compared to the more alternative selections in the prize’s history. In fact, the BBC reports that if Charli XCX, Dua Lipa or Georgia win, it would be the first time a pop record has won the prize since M People’s Elegant Slumming in 1994.

Lipa, who this week also became the first female artist with four songs over 1 billion streams on Spotify, has shared what being on the shortlist means to her, saying she didn’t think she was “cool enough”. 

Charli XCX, who recorded her shortlisted album in lockdown, told BBC 6 Music: “This album was like therapy to me. It was a real emotional release. I decided once quarantine began that I could not really sit still, and I had to create something for my own piece of mind.

“I feel honoured to have my little corner of experimental pop music be recognised.”

This year’s award ceremony will be held at London’s Hammersmith Apollo on 10 September (depending on government guidelines surrounding Covid-19).

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…