As a refresher, Record of the Year is awarded to the performers, producers, engineers, and mixers of a track. Song of the Year is awarded to the songwriters who wrote the lyrics and melodies to the song. Let’s get to it:
“drivers license” (Olivia Rodrigo); “Fight for You” (H.E.R.); “willow” (Taylor Swift); “Leave The Door Open” (Silk Sonic); “Right On Time” (Brandi Carlile); “Good Days” (SZA); “Heartbreak Anniversary” (Giveon); “Happier Than Ever” (Billie Eilish)
There probably isn’t a song more likely to secure a Song of the Year nomination than Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license.” The histrionic power ballad is the sort of tearjerker that tends to do well in this category. And, the only writers and Olivia and her co-writer Dan Nigro? Sounds like a winner to me. Taylor Swift, arguably the most lauded songwriter of her generation, has been nominated in this category five times over, but she has never won. It looks like “willow” will grant Taylor her sixth trip to the final lineup. The song debuted at #1, drew favorable reviews, and it’s from freaking Taylor Swift. You’d have to have some serious insider info to bet against a “willow” nomination. H.E.R. won this category last year with “I Can’t Breathe,” and she, D’Mile, and Tiara Thomas could be the first songwriters to win in back-to-back years if she triumphs with “Fight for You.” The last time the Academy Award winner for Best Original Song was nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy was in 2018/2019 (Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow”). The last time the Oscar Best Original Song winner won the Song of the Year Grammy was in 1997/1999 (Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”). Needless to say, these crossover stats don’t paint the best picture of H.E.R.’s chances here, but with two Song of the Year nominations in the past two years, I wouldn’t count her out entirely. Billie Eilish is in a similar position. She also earned two Song of the Year nominations in the past two years (she won in 2019 for “bad guy”), and last year she became the third artist in history to win Record of the Year in back-to-back years. Given that “Happier Than Ever” is lyrically superior to “bad guy” and has a stronger arrangement than “everything i wanted,” she could very well be back in the running again. Brandi Carlile was also a 2020 nominee for Song of the Year alongside Billie and H.E.R., and the trio could reunite this year if “Right On Time” scores a nomination. With back-to-back nominations in this category in 2019 and 2020, Brandi’s profile has only risen among Academy members, and, of course, the song itself is excellent.
Three R&B songs could also make it to the final 8, which would be the largest amount of R&B Song of the Year nominees in quite some time. “Leave The Door Open” would be Bruno’s fifth nod in this category; he triumphed here in 2017 with “That’s What I Like.” SZA was nominated here in 2019 for “All the Stars,” and this would be Giveon’s first nomination in this category. “Leave The Door Open” isn’t a lyrical masterpiece by any means, but it’s hard to imagine the song missing out on this category given its success, acclaim, and Bruno’s track record in this category. “Good Days” and “Heartbreak Anniversary” were two of the biggest solo R&B songs of the year, and their lyrics were their primary draw. Both songs could definitely follow in the footsteps of Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” (2019).
“Cold” (Chris Stapleton); “Peaches” (Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar & Giveon); “Jail” (Kanye West, JAY-Z & Francis and the Lights); “camera roll” (Kacey Musgraves); “Pay Your Way In Pain” (St. Vincent); “Stay” (The Kid LAROI & Justin Bieber); “Bad Habits” (Ed Sheeran); “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” (Lil Nas X)
Ed Sheeran, a previous winner in this category for “Thinking Out Loud” in 2015, could be back in the running with “Bad Habits.” Admittedly, “Bad Habits” is a much worse song than “Thinking,” and it was less dominant, but it’s Ed Sheeran, after all. After the inexplicable snubbing of “Shape of You” in the General Field in 2017, the Academy may jump at the chance to bring him back into the fold. Ed also scored a Song of the Year nomination in 2016 for his work on Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.” Justin could be back in the running with either “Peaches” or “Stay,” or both. Both of these tracks feel more like Record of the Year shoo-ins, but after last year’s Grammy nominations haul for the panned Changes, I wouldn’t bet too strongly against the Biebs. “MONTERO” could also make the final lineup, especially since it’s a track that flexes the more serious side of Lil Nas’s pen game as opposed to “Old Town Road” which missed out on a nomination in this category two years ago. On the country front, Chris Stapleton (a former Album of the Year nominee) and Kacey Musgraves (a former Album of the Year winner) could make appearances. In the running with “Cold” and “camera roll,” respectively, the only obstacles the two crooners face is the fact that neither track made much of an impact. They’re both gorgeously written songs, but something tells me that the passion for Kacey and Chris’s most recent output will translate into awards for their albums as a whole. St. Vincent is gunning for her first General Field nomination this year, and the acclaimed “Pay Your Way In Pain” could end up as one of those left-field nominations that double as overdue recognition for consistent forces like her. Finally, Kanye and Jay-Z could both earn their fourth nomination in this category with “Jail.” With a combined 45 wins out of 150 nominations, it’s hard to imagine anything with their names attached missing a nomination.
In recent years, there’s been considerable overlap between Song and Record of the Year. With this in mind, it only makes sense that strong Record of the Year contenders like “Kiss Me More” and “Essence” would also be in contention here. Again, if the Jazmine Sullivan love really reaches a fever pitch, I wouldn’t be too shocked to see “Pick Up Your Feelings” here. Outside of these fairly predictable titles, there are two songs that I would keep a close eye on. First up is Jon Batiste’s “I Need You.” Jon picked up an Oscar for Best Original Score (Soul) this year and he’s been quite visible throughout the eligibility period. He received two nominations at the last ceremony, so he’s clearly on the Grammy radar. There’s also “Shame Shame” from Foo Fighters. The legendary rock band have won 11 Grammys, but they’ve never been recognized in Song of the Year. With a recent Global Icon Award honor at the MTV Video Music Awards and their overall prestige, they could sneak into the final lineup.
“lonely” (Justin Bieber & Benny Blanco); “positions” (Ariana Grande); “Solar Power” (Lorde); “Butter” (BTS); “Dancing with the Devil” (Demi Lovato); “Coloratura” (Coldplay); “The Good Ones” (Gabby Barrett); “I Am Not A Woman, I’m A God” (Halsey); “Hurt” (Arlo Parks); “7 Summers” (Morgan Wallen)
“drivers license” (Olivia Rodrigo)
“Leave The Door Open” (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak & Silk Sonic)
“Happier Than Ever” (Billie Eilish)
“willow” (Taylor Swift)
“MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” (Lil Nas X)
“Fight for You” (H.E.R.)
“Right On Time” (Brandi Carlile)
“Good Days” (SZA)
ALT: “Kiss Me More” (Doja Cat & SZA); “Heartbreak Anniversary” (Giveon); “Bad Habits” (Ed Sheeran)