Mercury Music Prize 2020: Can Moses Boyd complete the upset?

Musician Moses Boyd
Moses Boyd has shortened from 50/1 to 6/1

Looking for a Mercury Music Prize wager? Five-time winning tipster Max Liu runs through the odds and tries to recommend a potential winner at a decent price for 2020...

Michael Kiwanuka 7/4 is a worthy Mercury favourite for several reasons.

"Kiwanuka" is the best of his three albums and arguably the most complete work on this shortlist. He was nominated for both of his previous albums and, as a winner, would please committed and casual listeners alike, with the potential for massive sales."

Wow, this has come around fast. The weirdness of 2020 has had a big impact on music, with live performances cancelled and albums delayed. On the other hand, some artists were inspired by the deprivations of lockdown to reach even greater heights of ingenuity and resourcefulness.

The latter point applies to Charli XCX whose chances of winning the Mercury Music Prize 2020 I talked up when the shortlist was announced. Back then Charli, whose Mercury-nominated "How I'm Feeling Now" was written and recorded in lockdown, was trading at 6/1. I said I wanted 10/1 and now she's 8/1, so still a little short.

Charli XCX.jpg

Laura Marling, meanwhile, is now one of the frontrunners at 10/3.

While many artists were delaying albums back in April, the English singer-songwriter released "Song For Our Daughter" to great acclaim. Critics and fans agreed that Marling had released a record that spoke to our uncertain moment. Her voice was a balm. But then it always has been, she's been nominated for this prize three times already (I backed her in 2010) and never won, so I can't go there again.

Kiwanuka sounds like a winner

As well as the pandemic, the other hugely significant event of 2020 has been the Black Lives Matter protests. Cultural awards never take place in a vacuum and the Mercury is no exception.

Michael Kiwanuka 7/4 is a worthy Mercury favourite for several reasons.

"Kiwanuka" is the best of his three albums and arguably the most complete work on this shortlist. He was nominated for both of his previous albums and, as a winner, would please committed and casual listeners alike, with the potential for massive sales.

Michael Kiwanuka.jpg

Last year's winner "Psychodrama" by Dave has outsold the previous six winners by a considerable distance. Maybe that enters the judges' thinking, or maybe it doesn't, but the fact that the winner is being announced on the One Show on Thursday lends the award a more mainstream vibe than usual. Nobody will argue if Kiwanuka wins and it could well be third time lucky for him. There's little excitement to be had, however, in backing the favourite so we need to find somebody else to have a flutter on.

Former-outsider Boyd now among the frontrunners

In its 28 year history this prize has been won by 21 debut albums, so if you're betting against a worthy favourite like Kiwanuka it can pay to bear this key stat in mind. Of the three first-timers on the list - Georgia 12/1, Sports Team 33/1, Moses Boyd 6/1 - it is Boyd who I think is best-placed to win.

A star of London's world-beating jazz scene for the past half-decade, Boyd was making waves as a drummer in several bands before releasing his solo album "Dark Matter" in February. Performing live, he's a captivating improviser, but on his debut he proves to be an astute composer and producer too.

It's long been said that a jazz nominee would win this prize eventually. I have put money on that happening as recently as two years ago and got burned. But Dark Matter is more than a jazz album and comfortably crosses over to the dance floor. Having recommended backing him at 50/1 when the shortlist was announced, and watched those odds narrow steadily, he's still the bet.

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