It’s been a weird year so far, has 2020. It’s now late September and we’ve almost reached the point where little can shock. When the Hyundai Mercury Prize confirmed they would be announcing the winner live on family-friendly telly show The One Show, you could only shrug and say: ‘Yeah, sure’. But if that gets a few grans into Porridge Radio when the winner is revealed on September 24, then all the better for it.
This evening (September 23) BBC Four will kick off programming around the awards, with the show Hyundai Mercury Prize 2020: Album Of The Year featuring new and archive performances from all 12 nominees. Then, on September 25, a special edition of Later… with Jools Holland will be aired on BBC Two, featuring an interview with this year’s winner.
Nominees for the Hyundai Mercury Prize 2020 include the likes of Stormzy, Charli XCX, Dua Lipa, Kano, Laura Marling, Porridge Radio and more, but here’s a look back at every single album to win the coveted prize over the years – and what happened next.
1Primal Scream – ‘Screamadelica’ (1992)
The inaugural Mercury Music Prize went to Primal Scream for their influential, acid-house tinted third album ‘Screamadelica’, helping the band sell 650,000 copies of the record. Nowadays it’s held up as a true classic and the band are still going strong.
2Suede – Suede (1993)
The jury is out on whether Suede’s self-titled album is their best work – that arguably came with the following year’s ‘Dog Man Star’. Either way, their Mercury scoop in 1993 cemented them as one of the era’s most buzzed-about new bands; not to mention it was one of the fastest-selling debut records in British history.
3M People – ‘Elegant Slumming’ (1994)
Bagging a Mercury over two ’90s classics – Prodigy’s ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ and Blur’s ‘Parklife’ – easy-listening dance outfit M People ruffled a few feathers when they won the Mercury Prize in 1994. The naysayers weren’t happy, but their Hacienda-infused dance-pop and 759,000 sold copies of ‘Elegant Slumming’ suggests otherwise.
4Portishead – ‘Dummy’ (1995)
Another Mercury success, Portishead’s seminal debut ‘Dummy’ has sold just shy of a million copies since winning – and what a beast of a record it is. Trip-hop trailblazers, the band went on hiatus in 1999 after releasing a self-titled follow-up but eventually returned in 2008 with ‘Third’. Though another new record is yet to materialise, the band’s Geoff Barrow has hinted at their enthusiasm for years. In 2012 he joked that it might take another decade – eyes on 2022!
5Pulp – ‘Different Class’ (1996)
Pulp’s ‘Different Class’ is the second most successful Mercury Prize winner after Arctic Monkeys, according to figures from Official Charts. The Number One record won the award in 1996 and has achieved sales of 1.33 million to date – in 2016 Jarvis Cocker returned as a Mercury judge. The band released two more albums, 1998’s ‘This Is Hardcore’ and 2001’s ‘We Love Life’, while reunions – albeit mightily fun – have been sporadic.
6Roni Size/Reprazent – ‘New Forms’ (1997)
Bristol drum’n’bass pioneer Roni Size and his collective Reprazent saw off competition from Suede, Primal Scream and The Spice Girls (yes, really) to pick up the prize in 1997. Afterwards, Roni Size branched out alone, collaborating with the likes of Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, Method Man, Beverly Knight, Jocelyn Brown, and Rodney P. In 2008, Reprazent got back together to revisit ‘New Forms’ with a triumphant lap of some huge festivals.
7Gomez – ‘Bring it On’ (1998)
Gravelly-vocaled Southport band Gomez took home the Mercury Prize in 1998, after seeing off competition from the likes of Pulp, The Verve and Robbie Williams. ‘Bring It On’ subsequently sold a whopping 480,000 copies, and post Merc, the band also bagged an NME Award and BRIT nomination. Platinum certified follow-up ‘Liquid Skin’ was their most successful album to date and more recently the group has branched out into solo records with Tom Gray of the band fighting for a fairer music industry with his Broken Record campaign.
8Talvin Singh – ‘OK’ (1999)
Talvin Singh’s debut album ‘OK’ achieved the mean feat of beating Blur’s ’13’ to the 1999 Mercury Prize. A fusion of Indian classical and ethereal, gliding electronica, his victory took techno to Number 41 on the charts – while Blur bagged Number One anyway. Ah well.
9Badly Drawn Boy – ‘The Hour Of Bewilderbeast’ (2000)
Badly Drawn Boy’s debut ‘The Hour Of Bewilderbeast’ has sold 450,000 copies since his 2000 win. He saw off competition from Richard Ashcroft, Doves and Coldplay – and though he’s been releasing records fairly consistently ever since, this has to be Damon Gough’s defining work.
10PJ Harvey – ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ (2000)
PJ Harvey holds a rare accolade – she’s the only musician to win the Mercury twice. Originally, the musician became the first woman to win the prize back in 2001 with her fifth album ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ – but was unable to pick up her award because she was touring in the US, and got stranded in Washington D.C. amid 9/11.
11Ms. Dynamite – ‘A Little Deeper’ (2002)
Like fellow Mercury victor Dizzee Rascal, 2002’s winner Ms. Dynamite first gained popularity on London pirate radio – and when she scooped the award, she donated her prize money to the NSPCC. ‘A Little Deeper’ is a genre-hopping gem of a record that reached platinum status. Ms. Dynamite released its follow-up in 2005 before focusing on other outlets; including presenting on 1Xtra and occasional collabs. In 2018, she was given a well-deserved MBE for services to music.
12Dizzee Rascal – ‘Boy In Da Corner’ (2003)
Dizzee Rascal was only a teenager when he picked up a Mercury for his debut ‘Boy In Da Corner’ – an assured first statement from a soon-to-be mega star, and packed full of future classics like ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ and ‘Jus’ A Rascal’. In 2018, the record gained platinum certification, meaning over 300,000 copies had been sold.
Dizzee would go onto embrace pop on his fourth album ‘Tongue’N’Cheek’, and while it attracted some detractors, it established him as one of the nation’s most beloved hitmakers. A new album, ‘E3 AF’, is due next month.
13Franz Ferdinand – ‘Franz Ferdinand’ (2004)
There were no surprises in 2004 – Franz Ferdinand’s million-selling debut stormed to victory as predicted by the bookies, beating off competition from The Streets, Basement Jaxx, Amy Winehouse and Belle & Sebastian. The accolade didn’t cause their breakthrough moment, though – they were well on the way already. Four studio albums followed – and a team-up with pop legends Sparks – each embracing the wonkier end of disco and electronica; ‘2018’s ‘Always Ascending’ remains a triumph.
14Antony and the Johnsons – ‘I Am A Bird Now’ (2005)
Featuring guest appearances from Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, Boy George, and Devendra Banhart, Antony & The Johnsons’ ‘I Am A Bird Now’ beat Kaiser Chiefs, M.I.A and Bloc Party to the top prize. A thing of beauty, ANOHNI’s vocal is hypnotic – the album and win brought with it far more well-deserved attention.
15Arctic Monkeys – ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ (2006)
Arctic Monkeys have been nominated for four Mercurys in total – but didn’t mess about in bagging the trophy first time around. Their era-defining debut album ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ didn’t exactly need the leg-up, but either way, the Sheffield boys flogged a cool 1.35 million copies. To be expected for the British band of their generation though, right?
16Klaxons – ‘Myths of the Near Future’ (2007)
In the scene kid history books, 2007 will be remembered as the year neon-clad nu-rave accidentally infiltrated the mainstream. Few people expected Klaxons’ gloriously racket-filled debut album to beat Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’, but the London band only went and did it anyway. Sales increased by an astronomical amount – 486 per cent. Two increasingly psychedelic records followed; these days the band are on hiatus.
17Elbow – ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ (2008)
Perhaps it’s due to their Mercury win in 2008, maybe it’s down to the staggering popularity of Elbow’s emotive orchestra-banger ‘One Day Like This’ – either way 2008 was a big year for the Bury band. Previously nominated for debut album ‘Asleep in the Back’, they eventually claimed victory seven years later – and ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ shifted 775,000 copies. Sunset slots on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and BBC montages have been soundtracked by them ever since.
18Speech Debelle – ‘Speech Therapy’ (2009)
Perhaps unfairly Speech Debelle is frequently billed as the winner who never benefited from her Mercury win – after beating Bat For Lashes, Florence and The Machine and La Roux, ‘Speech Therapy’ only sold modestly and tours after the award were sparsely populated.
You have to wonder how an artist as talented as Speech Debelle might’ve fared a decade later – you can hear the imprint of ‘Speech Therapy’s subtle delivery and jazzy inflections in a great deal of UK rap, and her two subsequent records (‘Freedom of Speech’ and ‘Tantil Before I Breathe’) are well worth your time.
19The xx – ‘xx’ (2010)
Nowadays The xx are alt-pop superstars – easily headlining festivals and writing increasingly club-ready bangers. Jamie xx is an influential producer and DJ in his own right, and Romy Madley-Croft has an eclectic selection of strings to her bow. As well as a forthcoming solo album, she’s got a Rihanna writing credit on ‘Drunk on Love’ to her name and made a guest appearance on Jehnny Beth’s solo album.
That story all began with their stark and minimal debut album – a masterclass in leaving empty space. Originally a sleeper hit, ‘xx’ shot straight up to Number Three in the charts after its Mercury victory, and was later certified platinum with 325,000 copies flogged. Numbers like that are virtually unheard of from indie bands in the age of streaming. Their third album ‘I See You’ nabbed a nomination in 2017, as did Jamie’s debut solo ‘In Colour’ a year prior.
20PJ Harvey – ‘Let England Shake’ (2011)
A decade after her first win, ‘Let England Shake’ – a cinematic album inspired by the devastation of war – PJ bagged her second trophy. Afterwards, Amazon reported a 1,190 per cent sales increase, in 2015, the musician recorded the follow-up ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ in front of a live audience at London’s Somerset House.
21Alt-J – ‘An Awesome Wave’ (2012)
Two-time Mercury nominees Alt-J won the prize in 2012 with their brilliantly bizarre debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’. After winning, sales of the group’s debut album increased by 400%, and along with a handful other snarling wonky-poppers – Wild Beasts and WU LYF to name two – their off-kilter approach arguably helped to influence a whole other wave of bands. Subsequent records took their inherent knack for weirdness even further – follow-up ‘This is All Yours’ entered the charts at Number One, no messing about. These days, Alt-J are firmly at festival headliner level.
22James Blake – Overgrown (2013)
South London artist James Blake didn’t go into the 2013 awards with high hopes – when he snagged the top prize ahead of bookies favourites Arctic Monkeys, David Bowie and Laura Mvula, he joked that he’d lost his bet. Two years previously, he’d been nominated for another Mercury with his glitchy self-titled debut – but it was warmer-sounding follow-up record ‘Overgrown’ that bagged him a victory.
Since then Blake has become a hotly in-demand collaborator, working with the likes of Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar, and continuing to work with early adopters Bon Iver and Kanye West. He also enjoyed a significant sales boost. Ahead of the awards, he’d sold 27,000 copies of ‘Overgrown’ – these days its silver certified.
23Young Fathers – ‘Dead’ (2014)
When Edinburgh trio Young Fathers won the Mercury Prize in 2014, it was a pleasant surprise. Before the awards took place, their debut album ‘Dead’ – though critically celebrated – wasn’t a commercial hit, and sold around 2,500 copies in the UK. Their win took ‘Dead’ straight to the Top 40, and streams increased by 625%.
Instead of turning Young Fathers into overnight superstars, their Mercury nod seemed to cement their status as respected innovators. Since winning they’ve collaborated with Massive Attack, played M.I.A’s Meltdown festival, and in 2018, scored their highest charting album yet. Third album ‘Cocoa Sugar’ entered the UK charts at Number 28.
24Benjamin Clementine – ‘At Least For Now’ (2015)
Benjamin Clementine had a challenging time before becoming a cult musician. In his teens, he became homeless and was first discovered busking in Paris with a half-broken guitar. His Mercury-winning debut ‘At Least For Now’ tells the story of train-hopping and trying to make ends meet. “Now as he sits on the back of this grey caravan, tomorrow he will probably be jumping Parisian Metro barriers with a bottle in his hands” he sings on ‘London’. His voice is striking and grand.
After winning the Mercury, sales of Clementine’s debut doubled, bagging him a Top 40 record. Last year he was made a knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government to mark his contribution to art and culture.
25Skepta – ‘Konnichiwa’ (2016)
Notably, Skepta won the Mercury over David Bowie’s final album ‘Blackstar’ – the legend had died earlier that year and was a favourite for the prize. The first grime artist to win since Dizzee Rascal’s victory back in 2003, Skepta seemed like the perfect choice when it came to looking towards the future instead of commemorating icons from the past. “We, as a jury, decided that if Bowie was looking down on the Hammersmith Apollo tonight, he would want the 2016 Hyundai Mercury Music Prize to go to Skepta,” explained judge and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker.
Fiercely independent, the Tottenham artist didn’t exactly need the Mercury to give him a leg-up – ‘Konnichiwa’ bagged a Number 2 album spot and he’s been unstoppable since.
26Sampha – ‘Process’ (2017)
South Londoner Sampha first became known for his dance-leaning collaborations with masked-up producer SBTRKT, and later teamed up with the likes of Solange, Kanye West and Frank Ocean. But in 2017, his debut solo album ‘Process’ showed his softer, more contemplative side. The musician saw off competition from a list of nominations including Alt-J, Glass Animals, J Hus, Kae Tempest, Loyle Carner, Stormzy, and The xx to win the Mercury that same year.
Shortly after his victory, the popularity of ‘Process’ skyrocketed – in the Official Album Charts, it zoomed from Number 152 right up to 7. It marked the first time that a Mercury Prize-winning album has entered or re-entered the Top 10 after failing to chart in the Top 100 the previous week. Sales, meanwhile, boosted by 500%.
27Wolf Alice – ‘Visions of a Life’ (2018)
If Wolf Alice’s debut album was the record that bottled the raw energy and excitement of a rapidly emerging band, its successor ‘Visions of a Life’ was the moment the London four-piece proved their knack for writing stadium-ready slow burners. Here at NME we gave it the full 5-star treatment. “With ‘Visions Of A Life’ Wolf Alice are removing any doubt about their status in the UK music scene,” wrote Rhian Daly. “Best band in Britain? 100 per cent.”
Ahead of their Mercury victory, Wolf Alice were beaten to the Number One album spot by none other than Shania Twain. And afterwards, ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ – which the band performed at the ceremony – enjoyed a spike in sales. The following summer, the group headlined their first major festivals; if it wasn’t for the pandemic, we might’ve seen them stepping into some very impressive line-up spots in 2020.
28Dave – Psychodrama (2019)
A masterclass in rich storytelling, the Streatham rapper’s atmospheric debut record was a scrapbook of spoken word excerpts, taped phone conversations and candid honesty. Within telling Dave’s story it also explored race, mental health, the prison system, abuse and critiqued the pitfalls of sudden fame.
Upon its release in March 2019 ‘Psychodrama’ charted at Number 1, and has clung on in the charts ever since. At time of writing, it’s sitting at 46 well over a year later. After Dave scooped the Mercury Prize, the debut went onto win Best British Album at the 2020 BRIT Awards and his performance of ‘Black’ was one of the most impactful moments of the ceremony. Outside of music, Dave also made his acting debut in the third season of Top Boy.