Often, Song of the Year overlaps with Record of the Year, but this category is specifically dedicated to awarding songwriters. Last year three songs received nominations in both categories and Billie Eilish ended up taking both awards home for “bad guy.” This year, Black Lives Matter protests and pandemic-induced lockdowns have yielded a ton of “conscious” songs. In recent years, Beyoncé’s “Formation,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” have all been nominated for this award and the latter actually won. If the Academy decides to reflect the times with its nominees, Song of the Year could look quite different from Record of the Year.
Of the Record of the Year frontrunners that will likely show up in this category, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” and Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande’s “Rain On Me” all seem safe. Fiona Apple could also show up with “Shameika” a genius track that allegedly was only submitted to the General Field — a smart, but gutsy, choice that could end up paying off. Maren Morris’ “The Bones” is also a likely bet; she’s already a two-time nominee for Best Country Song and she’ll have the goodwill of The Highwomen to boost her profile. Of the Black Lives Matter themed tracks that dropped this year, H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe,” Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture,” and Anderson .Paak’s “Lockdown” could all make it in. In fact, I’m inclined to think that all three of these tracks will get nominations here. H.E.R. was nominated here last year for “Hard Place,” Anderson is a three-time winner and five-time nominee who has yet to be recognized in the General Field for his music, and Lil Baby gives the Academy the perfect chance to truly embrace the new generation of rappers.
A number of Record of the Year frontrunners could very well show up in Song of the Year as well. Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” Post Malone’s “Circles,” Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Megan Thee Stallion & Beyoncé’s “Savage (Remix),” and Harry Styles’ “Adore You” are all in good standing. This would be the first nomination in this category for all of these artists with the exception of Beyoncé who has been nominated here three times before. Beyoncé is actually the last Black woman to win Song of the Year (2010’s “Single Ladies”). Speaking of talented Black women, Alicia Keys, another previous winner of this award (2004’s “Fallin”), has a serious dark horse contender with her uplifting “Underdog.” Co-written with Ed Sheeran, a three-time nominee in this category and previous winner for “Thinking Out Loud” (2016), “Underdog” could not only score the nomination, but also the win. Mickey Guyton recently made history as the first Black woman country artist to perform at the ACM Awards and her “Black Like Me” could also be a surprise nomination if it is submitted for consideration. Fellow new country artist Gabby Barrett could very well show up in the Final 8 with “I Hope.” Billie Eilish is gunning for a back-to-back win in this category with “everything i wanted.” Taylor Swift is a four-time nominee in this category with her most recent nod being earlier this year for “Lover.” With the lead single from folklore, “cardigan,” Taylor could find herself in the running for this award for a fifth time. Finally, Julia Michaels, a previous nominee in this category (2018’s “Issues”), could return with her JP Saxe duet, “If The World Was Ending.” The song is a perfect portrait of a year marked by quarantine, so watch out for her.
Justin Bieber has been nominated in this category twice before with “Love Yourself” (2017) and “Despacito (Remix)” (2018). He could return with either his Ariana Grande-assisted “Stuck With U” or “10,000 Hours,” his collaboration with Dan + Shay. The lyrically focused ballads show a more mature side of the singer in the same way that “Love Yourself” did. The Highwomen (“Crowded Table”) and Luke Combs (“Six Feet Apart”) could also show up in this category. The former is a woman empowerment anthem from a quartet of Grammy winners and the latter is a quarantine-inspired ballad from a two-time nominee. Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani’s “Nobody But You” was one of the earliest smash hits of the year, but their chances are admittedly slim. “Caution” by The Killers should also be on your radar. I also wouldn’t count out Brittany Howard’s “Stay High”; she could definitely be the Academy’s left-of-center to sweep the nominations in the General Field. In terms of R&B and rap, there are certainly a few wildcards. The General Field has seem to be more receptive of R&B recently so Giveon’s “Favorite Mistake” or John Legend’s “Preach” could pull off a surprise and land in the Final 8 — via pure passion votes or the blue ribbon committee. Other longshots that could potentially make it in with the right combination of campaigning and narrative? BTS‘ “Dynamite” and Selena Gomez’s “Lose You To Love Me.”
- “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd)
- “The Bigger Picture” (Lil Baby)
- “Lockdown” (Anderson .Paak)
- “I Can’t Breathe” (H.E.R.)
- “The Bones” (Maren Morris) [or “Crowded Table”; I think Maren is getting in here, just not with both songs]
- “The Box” (Roddy Ricch)
- “Underdog” (Alicia Keys)
- “Shameika” (Fiona Apple)
ALT: “cardigan” (Taylor Swift) OR “If The World Was Ending” (Julia Michaels & JP Saxe)