2020 Grammy Watch: Record of the Year

You know the deal. 8 nominees. Must have been released between October 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019. Let’s get to it:

LOCKS

In the past five years, 24 out of the 28 cumulative nominees in this category were Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. 14 of those songs were #1 hits at the time of the ceremony (Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” rose to #1 following its Academy Award win for Best Original Song). Furthermore, in the past ten years, there has never been a group of Record of the Year nominees that included more than two non-Top 10 songs. So, if you keep in mind these quick statistics, it is clear that Record of the Year nominees are often big chart successes.

“7 rings” (Ariana Grande); “bad guy” (Billie Eilish); “Old Town Road” (Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus); “Sunflower” (Post Malone & Swae Lee); and “Sucker” (Jonas Brothers) are all highly successful #1 hits. In fact, I would be quite shocked if any of these songs missed out on a nomination for Record of the Year.

Post Malone (“rockstar”) and Swae Lee (“Formation”) are both previous nominees in this category and their duet, “Sunflower,” is already one of the longest-running Top 10 singles in history. “Old Town Road” is the longest-running #1 song in Billboard history, and it has the perfect combination of a new artist and a veteran and an interesting story to propel it to a nomination and win. Ariana Grande shockingly missed out on a nomination here last year, so a nomination for “7 rings” would remedy that and rightfully reward the song. On the other hand, Grande’s “thank u, next” proved to have more cultural impact, so depending on which smash single her team decides to submit, she should appear on the list come nominations night. Billie Eilish’s “bad guy” is one of the more unconventional hits of recent years, and its success and acclaim should make it a lock. Finally, everyone loves a comeback. Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” debuted at #1 and has stayed in the Top 10 pretty much ever since. It’s a very strong song and an astounding success.

LIKELY NOMINEES

Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” has the story and success to warrant a nomination, but the minor controversy about the two-year-old song being allowed to compete in this year’s ceremony may hold it back. Halsey scored the biggest solo hit of her career with her inescapable “Without Me”; she has one prior nomination (2017, “Closer,” featured artists), so maybe this is the year she gets the recognition she deserves. Khalid scored five nominations last year, and his “Talk” is an instant classic. Not only is it his most successful song as a solo artist, but it is also one of the most sublime pop records of the decade. This could be his golden ticket to a nomination.

While country music lacked massive album moments this eligibility period, there were a couple of songs that made some noise. Dan + Shay’s “Speechless” became their first #1 country hit and stayed at the top for 8 weeks while also being certified double platinum and reaching #24 on the Hot 100. The duo won their first Grammy last year in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category for “Tequila,” so they are on the Academy’s radar. “Speechless” is just as big of a hit and as good of a song as “Tequila,” so they have a great chance at a nomination. Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” was highly acclaimed and subsequently became his 14th #1 country hit while reaching #17 on the Hot 100. Shelton has scored 7 Grammy nominations but he has yet to be nominated in the General Field or win a Grammy. This could be his year. Finally, Luke Combs’ “Beer Never Broke My Heart” has quickly become one of his biggest hits and continued his streak of country radio #1 hits. Combs scored a Best New Artist nomination last year, so I expect more love from the Academy to come his way.

Finally, Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello had a massive hit with “Señorita” (review here). They are two of the brightest and most successful artists of their generation and the song is plain good. Shawn scored a Song of the Year nomination for “In My Blood” last year while Camila has yet to be recognized in the General Field. Look out for them. “EARFQUAKE” was the defining hit from Tyler, The Creator’s Igor and that song is maybe the best-produced track of the year. With the proper campaign, he could make it in.

FAIR SHOTS

J. Cole scored the biggest hit of his career this year with “MIDDLE CHILD” and DaBaby’s breakout hit, “Suge,” dominated the summer. Both of these could sneak into the line up, if the Academy wants to fully embrace trap hip-hop. In the vein of Ed Sheeran and Adele, Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” could be the token ballad of the nominations list. Maggie Rogers; “Light On” is a truly great song and it would be a good look for the Academy to nominate a rising alternative/indie female artist. Normani and Sam Smith’s “Dancing with a Stranger” was a formidable hit and an excellent song. This would be Sam’s second nomination here (he won in 2014 for “Stay with Me”) and Normani’s ticket to her first nomination.

And then there were two. Cardi B and Bruno Mars’ “Please Me” has a fair shot at a nomination. Cardi was nominated here last year for “I Like It” and Bruno has been nominated here five times including two wins for “24K Magic” and “Uptown Funk!” I’m just not sure if “Please Me” was memorable enough to still be an important player. Taylor Swift‘s “You Need to Calm Down” is one of her weaker songs and hits. Swift has scored four nominations in this category, but she has never won. Unfortunately, “Calm Down” is nowhere near as good as any of those previously nominated songs. But when has poor quality ever stopped the Academy?

LONG SHOTS

You may laugh now, but be honest. Would you really be surprised if Blueface’s “Thotiana” scored a nomination? It was the first crossover rap hit of the year and it’s everyone’s guilty pleasure. Plus, it’s the Grammys, they love to be messy. Maren Morris could potentially get a nomination here for “GIRL”; “Common (feat. Brandi Carlile)” or “Redesigning Women” (as apart of The Highwomen). 21 Savage and J. Cole scored a Video of the Year nomination at the VMAs for “a lot,” and the track was widely-acclaimed. Gary Clark Jr.’s “This Land” is a worthy song to represent the rock genre while James Blake’s “Mile High” is the perfect sort of genre-bending odyssey that defines 2019. Solange’s “Almeda” was the defining moment on her When I Get Home record, and the killer production could buoy it to a nomination. Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber both have a prior nomination in this category. Their collaboration, “I Don’t Care,” could possibly make the cut, but it is probably too forgotten to matter at this point. Miley Cyrus’ “Slide Away” was highly acclaimed and the stunning power ballad would be a welcome surprise nominee. Cyrus is also in the running with “Mother’s Daughter.”

Lana Del Rey’s “Doin’ Time” and Beyoncé’s “Before I Let Go” are arguably the two most important covers of 2019. Del Rey’s cover of the Sublime hit has become her biggest chart hit in years and even outperformed the original. Queen Bey’s rendition of the Frankie Beverly & Maze cult classic was inescapable this summer and it also outperformed the original. Cover songs don’t usual fare well in this category, but both artists truly reimagined the tracks and made them their own. Seeing either, or both, of these songs make the final cut would be amazing.

Final Predictions

“Old Town Road” (Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus)

“Truth Hurts” (Lizzo)

“thank u, next” / “7 rings” (Ariana Grande)

“Sucker” (Jonas Brothers)

“bad guy” (Billie Eilish)

“Sunflower” (Post Malone & Swae Lee)

“Talk” (Khalid)

“Light On” (Maggie Rogers)

ALT: “Señorita” (Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello) OR “Someone You Loved” (Lewis Capaldi)

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