Mercury Prize 2023 comp

2023 Mercury Prize: meet this year's nominees

From RAYE to Loyle Carner and Arctic Monkeys to Jessie Ware, the competition for the 'Album of the Year' prize is fierce.

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  • By Will Richards
  • 27 Jul 2023
  • min read

After Little Simz’s win last year, the Mercury Prize is back for 2023 with an eclectic list of 12 nominees all jostling for the prestigious ‘Album of the Year’ accolade. From the stadium-dwelling likes of Arctic Monkeys to the brightest British rap and doom-laden Irish folk, this year’s list is one of the most varied the Mercury Prize has ever produced.

Heading up the shortlist – alphabetically, at least – are Arctic Monkeys, whose seventh album The Car pushed them further into the luxurious, relaxed sounds they first introduced with 2018’s Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. This latest nomination is the band’s fifth Mercury nod, tying with Radiohead for the most nominations in the prize’s history. Without a win, though, since their 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, this could be the Sheffield band’s year.

Another returning nominee is the PRS Foundation-funded Young Fathers, who won the Mercury Prize for their 2014 debut album Dead and are back this year with a nod for their fourth LP Heavy Heavy. An irresistibly restless trio who never rest on their laurels, Heavy Heavy took the Scottish band to the outer extremities of their sound. On Geronimo they’re the sweetest and most melodic they’ve ever sounded, but then the likes of Holy Moly and Sink Or Swim showed the band at their most propulsive, adding a punk energy.

It’s also been a great year for UK soul and R&B, with Olivia Dean’s Messy and RAYE’s long-awaited debut studio album My 21st Century Blues both making the shortlist. The latter’s inclusion is particularly heartwarming given her well-publicised label troubles, which led to her debut album being released independently. This move has also widened her songwriting scope, with the likes of Body Dysmorphia telling deeply important stories through a radio pop lens. Dean, meanwhile, has emerged as a bright new voice in British soul, and her debut album has set her on a path towards becoming a critical darling.

Elsewhere in the list, Jockstrap fly the flag for weird and wonderful alt-pop with their kaleidoscopic LP I Love You Jennifer B, which lurches from sweet and classically-minded songs to deconstructed, gloopy electronic noise. The songwriting partnership between Taylor Skye – a dance-orientated wizard – and classically trained violinist and vocalist Georgia Ellery is one that is constantly evolving, and their Mercury-nominated debut is surely just the start.

These three debut albums undoubtedly mark the start of a trio of exciting careers, and the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Arlo Parks, Sampha, Young Fathers and alt-J can all attest to the huge boost a Mercury Prize win can have on a burgeoning career.

'This year’s nominations list is one of the most varied the Mercury Prize has ever produced.'

Lankum’s fourth album False Lankum is another standout on the list. Though the Dublin band mostly cover traditional folk songs from the English-speaking world that have been around for decades (or even centuries), their approach is far from ordinary. Each rendition of old classics such as Go Dig My Grave and The New York Trader are given new shading and texture through deliciously dark drone sounds and warped, extended outros. This blend of tradition and innovation make Lankum a worthy nominee, as well as providing an overdue representation for trad(ish) folk at the Mercury Prize.

 Another big hitter in the 2023 shortlist is J Hus, who returned just weeks ago with his new record Beautiful And Brutal Yard, an album that solidified his status as one of the UK’s most vital rap figures. After a three-and-a-half year gap between albums, his Mercury-nominated third LP saw him tackle toxic masculinity with nuance and great character, turning to funk and pop-leaning sounds to soundtrack these personal excavations. Loyle Carner also indulged his inner introvert on his third album hugo - his second Mercury-nominated record - and deeply personal narratives define this year’s shortlist.

Despite this, there is still plenty of room for escapism thanks to the likes of Jessie Ware’s That! Feels Good! and the PRS Foundation-funded Ezra Collective’s Where I’m Meant To Be. Though one is sparkling disco at its finest and the other is a dazzling modern take on jazz, both invite you to dance uncontrollably – ensuring the two records each stand out as masters of their respective crafts.

Looking to the future, one undoubted superstar-in-waiting on the 2023 Mercury Prize shortlist is Shygirl, who emerged during the pandemic as a frank, filthy and fantastic new pop star. Her nominated debut album Nymph teamed club-ready beats with more atmospheric and intimate sounds. Shygirl, who is also PRS Foundation-funded, sounds perfectly at home in both guises, and is a new breed of pop star willing and able to dance between genres with abandon. Though her artist moniker may not reflect her personality, Shygirl’s signature energy and vocal style has already set her up to be a star of the future.

On the other end of that spectrum, Fred again.. is already an undoubted star. With four instantly sold-out Alexandra Palace shows coming up, he’s been duly rewarded for his success with a Mercury nod for the third album in his Actual Life series, titled Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022). Fred Gibson became one of the defining artists of the pandemic era, and his diaristic music, which features mangled vocal samples teamed with pop-house beats, has undoubtedly struck a chord.

With its 2023 shortlist, the Mercury Prize has distilled the breadth and depth of music being made in Britain and Ireland right now. Though post-pandemic escapism is represented by Jessie Ware, it’s the deeply personal and exploratory stories told by J Hus, Loyle Carner, Young Fathers and more that feel like the defining characteristic of this year’s shortlist. It makes for a near-comprehensive portrait of where music on these shores is at right now – and that’s everything the Mercury Prize should be.

The 2023 Mercury Prize ceremony will take place on 7 September at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith.