Elliot Baker explores the impending Hyundai Mercury Prize and gives his thoughts on tomorrow night’s nominations.

In a musical landscape saturated with proverbial popularity contests, the Hyundai Mercury Prize stands out as a champion of the underdog and the British. A self-proclaimed musical equivalent to the Booker and Turner prizes, the Hyundai Mercury Prize has proved to be the catalyst of various careers, including PJ Harvey, Elbow and The xx.

I’m taking a look at this year’s nominees, and what follows is an incredibly biased account of how, in my perfect world, the evening will unfold.

Who Shouldn’t Win?

– Ed Sheeran, Divide

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Divide has made it on to this year’s shortlist. The album is a record-breaker: The UK’s fastest selling album by a male solo artist, moving more than 670,000 units in its first week. The official chart company had to change its rules on streaming to accommodate for the album, as all the album tracks ended up in the top 20 of the charts at one point or another.

But it won’t win, for two reasons.

As previously mentioned, this is a competition with a history of celebrating the underdog. The very records he broke are what will hold him back in this competition.

He’s also not British enough. Yes, he’s from Yorkshire, but the commercial image of Ed is too big to feel it anymore. Similarly to Coldplay, Sheeran should now be considered an international force. His songs are geared just as to much to an American market as they are an English one. As much as he may sing about Framlington Castle, his sound has moved too far away from the UK to be a serious contender for this award.

Who Probably Won’t Win?

– The xx, I See You

– Alt – J, Relaxer

– J Hus, Common Sense

– Stormzy, Gang Signs and Prayer

Looking above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that was the top four finalists of the competition. While I don’t feel quite as strongly about these nominees’ inclusion as I do about Ed’s, I still feel that the winner exists outside of these artists.

This is familiar territory for both The xx and Alt – J. They’re both previous winners of the prize; The xx with xx and Alt – J with An Awesome Wave.

Their most recent albums have had quite different responses from their fanbases. Relaxer is Alt – J as we know them. Not much of a change in sound, but enough to keep it from feeling like a retread of old work. They tick their boxes, and tick them well. I See You has garnered critical acclaim, but has left many of their fans scratching their heads – it’s markedly different from xx.

So what’s the issue? With the exception of PJ Harvey who won for both Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and Let England Shake, no one has won the award more than once. I can’t see that changing for either of these albums.

J Hus is an interesting choice, and I’m very happy to see a bit of dancehall on the list. There’s a stigma around the music that simply because it gets played in a club, it can’t be critically respected. As good as it is to see some change on the list, I don’t believe Mercury is ready to give it the headlines just yet.

As for Stormzy – has he become a bit too “big” for the award? Maybe. I think the larger mark against him comes from the fact that Skepta won last year with Konnichiwa. While they have distinctly different sounds, to the untrained ear they are both “just” grime artists, and Mercury will want to keep its image of broad-ranging taste intact. Having said all of this, Stormzy is arguably the most “British” of the list. Grime music has yet to really take off in Stateside for a number of reasons, and as a result his sound is cultivated for an almost exclusively UK market. This could hold him in good stead. That’s why this section title includes: “Probably”.

Who’s got a shot?

– Kate Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos

– Dinosaur, Together, As One

– Blossoms, Blossoms

All three of these names are far more obscure than the five I’ve previously mentioned. However, I do believe that one of these three will walk away with the prize. Were I to put money on it, I would go with Kate Tempest.

On the back of her lauded Glastonbury set, Tempest checks all the Mercury boxes – British, on the rise, and critically acclaimed. She was nominated back in 2014 with her debut Everybody Down, but missed out to Young Fathers’ Dead. Built in the mould of Mercury favourite PJ Harvey, this spoken word poet is a comprehensive artist who’s work contains a clear liberal political through-line. For me, she is the one who makes the most ‘sense’ in terms of receiving the prize.

Dinosaur also have a good chance. Mercury love a debut album, and Dinosaur definitely standout as a jazz entry amongst the better-known pop merchants. Obvious talent aside, they’ll appeal to the prize for simply being so different – similarly to Benjamin Clementine in 2015.

Despite them being an indie act (more on this below) I’ve also decided to include Blossoms on this list. They feel like a band that is just about to burst into the mainstream, which makes them a success story just waiting to be latched on to. Also, they’re from Stockport. With all that has happened in Manchester over the past year, you’d have to have a heart of stone to not want to see the city get as many victories as it can. The band deservedly helped reopen Manchester Arena last week.

Outside bets… AKA Indie bands.

– The Big Moon, Love in the 4th Dimension

– Glass Animals, How to Be a Human Being

Blossoms aside… I simply feel that indie music has passed its sell-by date a little bit in terms of relevancy. I don’t know what’s in it for Mercury to be honouring indie music in 2017. I don’t feel the genre interrogates what’s going on in the world today – it all feels a bit limp. I think both of these bands will be left wanting come Thursday night.

Who Should Win?

– Sampha, Process

– Loyle Carner, Yesterday’s Gone

I know I should only pick one winner, but both of these artists are simply brilliant.

Sampha has been the man behind the scenes for so long (many will know him as the voice behind SBTRKT), that to see him lift the Hyundai Mercury Prize for his solo debut would be such a joy. Process is heartfelt and vulnerable. The musical landscape it walks us through is rich and vibrant. This is Sampha’s time, and we should consider ourselves so lucky to be living through it.

Loyle Carner is the rapper I have been waiting for England to produce. During years of living in the States I was asked about English rappers – about who could stack up against the American hip hop scene. For the longest time, I had nothing to respond with. Many Americans simply can’t connect with grime genre that so many UK lyricists are drawn to.

Loyle isn’t grime, he is hip-hop, and he is the first man that, given the chance, can bridge that gap between the UK and US markets. From the smart soul sample on The Isle of Arran to the smallest of details; the crackling of the record player on Ain’t Nothing Changed – this is the album of someone who will go on to be recognised as a great. The only question is how quickly we’ll all fall in love with him.

The Hyundai 2017 Mercury Prize ceremony begins this Thursday, September 14th at 7:30 PM.