Manager Robert Swerdlow talks Mercury Prize favourite Michael Kiwanuka

Manager Robert Swerdlow talks Mercury Prize favourite Michael Kiwanuka

Starwood Management’s Robert Swerdlow has told Music Week that he’s “spooked more than comforted” by Michael Kiwanuka’s position as the favourite to win the Hyundai Mercury Prize 2020

Kiwanuka is signed to Music Week Awards champions Polydor and is shortlisted for Kiwanuka, which peaked at No.2 and has sold 74,928 copies, according to the Official Charts Company. The winner is set to be revealed live on BBC One’s The One Show tonight (September 24).

“[Being the favourite] probably spooks me more than it comforts me if the truth be known, it’s just a bit too presumptuous to go on a betting odd,” Said Swerdlow. “There’s a dynamic group of judges who all have their own personality and their own ideas of what makes a great record, but obviously I’m very, very biased. I think Michael has made the best record. [Laughs]”

Swerdlow also manages Little Simz, who won an Ivor Novello award last month, and stressed the importance of the Mercury Prize to the music business.

“I’m happy that the Mercury is there to acknowledge artists like Michael and the record labels that support them to make the records that, 99.9 times out of 100, are all about the artist’s vision,” he said.


I’m happy that the Mercury is there to acknowledge artists like Michael

Robert Swerdlow


“These records are all about celebrating what the artists want to do, rather than the other side of the industry, which is cynically made pop records or A&R records,” Swerdlow continued. “It’s just brilliant for Michael, it’s always brilliant for an artist to be recognised for their art, no doubt about it.”

The manager said that Kiwanuka’s place on the shortlist had added an extra dimension to the campaign, particularly in light of restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

“It’s allowed us to think creatively about things we can carry on doing in the limitations of lockdown,” he said. “We’ve done a few really cool things with partners and it’s kept Michael front and centre and able to ride the wave of opportunities. It gives us an international and American story, not necessarily into huge streaming numbers or sales, but just relevance. It just cuts through the noise.”

Swerdlow said the album deserves its place on the shortlist because “it’s poetic, uncompromising in arrangement, tone and choice of melody and incredibly inventive from a production point of view”.

He added that the record has “provocative, activist” lyrics and reflects “all music culture”.

Swerdlow said that he will “have a shandy and be on Zoom with Michael” tonight, and praised the BBC coverage.

“The One Show is a big TV look that wouldn’t happen in a non-pandemic time,” he said. “It’s a very big profile for whoever the winner is. Winning would be steroid dose of confidence into Michael and the team.”

Read our interview with Warner Records president Phil Christie on Dua Lipa’s Mercury chances here.

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