Group of the year
Bring Me the Horizon
Speaking from the venal, artistically disinterested, industry-beancounter point of view that is appropriate for the Brits, groups are nothing compared with solo artists in 2020. None of the acts up for group of the year has received any other nominations; it’s only the second time ever that no group has been up for album of the year, and none are scheduled to play live tonight. Which is a shame because there is some middling-to-good talent here. Coldplay are perhaps too big to fail, with their album Everyday Life a spirited, adventurous and – by their standards – politically engaged record. But given Academy members could give two votes to Foals, for each of their two robust albums last year, Chris Martin et al are likely to lose out. Bastille continue to slip down the zeitgeist like a lubed toboggan, and D-Block Europe, while a heartening independent British success story, rely too much on trap cliche. Bring Me the Horizon deserve this – their album amo was a towering confection of pop, emo and hard rock, like a cloud of black candy floss.
Will win: Foals
Should win: Bring Me the Horizon
Female solo artist
There are so few women on this year’s ballots that you half expected the Brits to try and put a shaved Ed Sheeran forward for this category. Much ink has been spilled here on this topic but suffice to say, it is shameful that Mabel is the only British woman to appear elsewhere. It’s likely she will win after a year in which she broke through into proper pan-demographic pop success (even if she hasn’t yet matched Finders Keepers), though FKA twigs deserves it – and in a perfect world, album of the year – for her emotionally forthright Magdalene. Mahalia deserves her nod but will make better records; Freya Ridings doesn’t deserve her nod and will perhaps make less awful records. The evergreen Charli XCX, meanwhile, has that particularly horrible kind of fame that means you’re so famous to your fans that they feel they own you, while you remain totally unknown to nearly everyone else.
Will win: Mabel
Should win: FKA twigs
Male solo artist
As the BPI’s chairman tried to spin it, these shortlists are merely what voters, who are nearly 50% women, went for. Well, yes, but Academy members were given 26 women to pick from in British female, versus 84 men in this British male category – an imbalance that could be addressed immediately by the Brits, and more profoundly by labels who should be bringing more female talent through to make it to the longlist (which is currently dictated by chart success). All that said, there is some formidable male artistry at this year’s awards and every kind of good male charisma: lawful-good from social consciences Michael Kiwanuka and Dave, neutral-good from statesmanlike sex magnets Stormzy and Harry Styles, and chaotic-good from larky emotional wreck Lewis Capaldi.
Will win: Lewis Capaldi
Should win: Lewis Capaldi
As if to prove the efficacy of the major-label assembly line that is the Brit awards, one former rising star award winner (Sam Fender) and two former nominees (Mabel, Lewis Capaldi) make it to the big leagues. Capaldi has this sewn up: he had the biggest-selling album of last year in the UK, topped the singles charts in the US and UK, and did it all with the demeanour of a substitute teacher who can’t really be arsed. In a Britain that is allergic to pretension and addicted to really sad ballads, Capaldi is our god. Aitch will have to console himself with a new award at the Brits this year, the Ben Beaumont-Thomas Memorial Award for Troublingly Childlike Rappers Who My Girlfriend Would Nevertheless Risk It All For.
Will win: Lewis Capaldi
Should win: Lewis Capaldi
Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber – I Don’t Care
Mabel – Don’t Call Me Up
Calvin Harris and Rag’n’Bone Man – Giant
Dave ft Burna Boy – Location
Mark Ronson ft Miley Cyrus – Nothing Breaks Like a Heart
AJ Tracey – Ladbroke Grove
Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved
Tom Walker – Just You and I
Sam Smith and Normani – Dancing With a Stranger
Stormzy – Vossi Bop
Over the last few years mainstream pop songs have gone from being galumphing EDM brutes crashing on to the dancefloor with a tray of Jägerbombs to sleek wallflowers slipping through the crowd with an espresso martini. Location, Ladbroke Grove and Vossi Bop flirt lightly; Giant and Don’t Call Me Up bang politely; and Dancing With a Stranger and Nothing Breaks Like a Heart stoically hold their tears back even though they’ve just seen their ex getting off with someone by the loos. In the end, it’s likely to be a big ol’ traditional blubfest that wins, though AJ Tracey could perhaps pull an upset.
Will win: Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved
Should win: Sam Smith and Normani – Dancing With a Stranger
International female solo artist
Lana Del Rey
Traditionally a powerhouse category, and even more so in 2020. In any other year, Ariana Grande would win for an album that expertly flips between flippancy and seriousness, Camila Cabello for releasing the song of the summer, Lana Del Rey for releasing the critical darling album of the year, and Lizzo for being a flute-huffing, glute-quaking, pop-cultural life force. However, they’re up against Billie Eilish, a fount of pop invention who makes it feel like the wind has changed whenever she comes on the radio.
Will win: Billie Eilish
Should win: Billie Eilish
International male solo artist
Tyler, the Creator
A much less predictable but no less high quality field here. Tyler, the Creator rightly won a Grammy for his album Igor, but he remains a much more cult artist in the UK; Burna Boy is British pop’s brilliant sideman du jour but is yet to have a solo breakthrough in the UK beyond the Afro-swing faithful. Springsteen is the equivalent of the dad waiting in the car outside the O2 while the kids have their fun. Post Malone has more streams than a Welsh mountain in February and his Lords of Anarchy: The Musical shtick is really quite brilliant, but, a bit like Eurovision, Academy voters might go for just-across-the-water Irishman Dermot Kennedy, whose raw talent powers his standard-wattage songcraft with a steady glow.
Will win: Dermot Kennedy
Should win: Tyler, the Creator
Album of the year
Stormzy – Heavy Is the Head
Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
Lewis Capaldi – Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent
Dave – Psychodrama
Harry Styles – Fine Line
Capaldi’s utterly cleaved psyche – allowing him to sing of devastating heartbreak one minute and record fish-out-of-water comedy for Instagram the next – might trouble his therapist, but it is surely catnip for Academy voters. He is the whole entertainment package, like Kevin Bridges and Adele spliced together by a nefarious Live Nation promoter. Yet he shouldn’t really win the big prize here, as his album – while containing some really strong songs, such as Hollywood, Grace and of course Someone You Loved – lacks range compared with the rest here. Styles is unlikely to win despite the excellent quality of his microdosed soft rock, but Kiwanuka, Stormzy and Dave are all heavyweight contenders, artists knitting together the personal and social. There is the tiniest bit of daylight between all of them in one of the strongest ever fields in this category, but ultimately, it feels like Capaldi’s year.
Will win: Lewis Capaldi – Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent
Should win: Dave – Psychodrama