It was always typical of the Grammy Awards that when considering the Record of the Year and Song of the Year contenders to draw similar conclusions between the near identical lists for the track categories. Every few years though we see two very different lists of songs in each category, ideally proving the difference between a big hit and a well written song. This year sees just one song appear in both categories, with two other artists submitted different tracks for Record than they did here. Only one can win on the night, will it be the same as I predicted for Record?
Despacito – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber
(Ramón Ayala Rodríguez, Justin Bieber, Jason Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton Jr)
4: 44 – Jay-Z
(Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson)
Issues – Julia Michaels
(Benny Blanco, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter)
1-800-273-8255 – Logic ft. Alessia Cara & Khalid
(Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury, Khalid Robinson & Andrew Taggart)
That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars
(Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip)
Looking down the list of nominees, at least Song of the Year manages to include some tracks written and performed by women. There’s also a nice mixture of fresh writers – 3 Best New Artist contenders appear here – and modern legends of the industry; Bruno Mars and especially Jay-Z & No I.D. are Grammy stalwarts at this point. I personally would have loved to have seen Miranda Lambert or Kesha make their general field debut here, while my prediction that Lady Gaga would make it in with Million Reasons proved ill advised. The absence of both Shape of You and HUMBLE. really surprised me too, especially when the category is very commercial this year. Overall though I’d say I was less surprised by this category than I was with Record of the Year.
Let’s start with that song that appears in both lists, the inescapable and surprisingly well rewarded Despacito. No song with lyrics in a language other than English has won this award since The Beatles with Michelle all the way back in 1967, with no song mainly in another language winning since Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare) won at the debut Grammy Awards in 1959. Despacito winning here would be a huge deal, not just for that certain Canadian popstar who has somehow manage to wangle a writing credit on a song that was already huge before his remix, but for Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and the rest of the Latin music community. Do I think it’s the most well written song above? Definitely not, but I can still totally see Grammy voters going for the most uptempo and danceable Song of the Year winners since Beyoncé’s Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) 8 years ago.
The other massive #1 commercial smash above is That’s What I Like from Bruno Mars. Submitting two different songs for the big categories can be risky, but it has paid off for the likes of Beyonce before now and does for Bruno in 2018. For me, That’s What I Like is nowhere near as infectiously funky as the superior ROTY nominee 24K Magic, but there’s still something genius about the song. That hook is undeniably catchy and it’s no wonder that Bruno lodged himself at the top of the charts and across US radio last year with his ‘sex by the fire’ jam. The Grammy voters obviously love Bruno but he’s yet to win a songwriters award having previously won both Record and Album of the Year for his features/production on other people’s work. Part of me thinks this is the safer bet than even Despacito, the enormity of that hit may drag it under when the songwriting itself is considered.
There are just two songs that I correctly predicted would appear in and the most confident of any songs I predicted was that 1-800-273-8255 would resonate with voters for it’s extremely important message. Probably the most successful ‘statement record’ we’ve seen in many years it follows in the footsteps of the likes of Alright and Same Love in being socially conscious. The song itself is extremely powerful, all 3 of the acts here deliver career best emotive performances thanks to the obvious true feelings behind the song. The fact that these 3 artists are all relatively new and received their first Grammy nominations this year is sure to get voters on side too; voters love to reward young promising songwriters here.
The other new artist I predicted would be here is Julia Michaels with her debut hit Issues becoming one of the sleeper hits of 2017. It’s not a massive sounding record, but it sounds unlike anything else that was released last year. Issues is the sort of awkward, alternative pop song that sees great success in this category, it’s similarities to something like Royals by Lorde are obvious. The writing duo behind Issues, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter are behind some of the biggest hits of the last few years and a win here would feel like a justified reward for all of those songs. I think it’ll fall away in the end next to some of the bigger hits here, but maybe that will end up working in the song’s favour after all.
That said, the final song that appears in the list above is just one of two songs that never made the Billboard top 20 (The other in fact being The Story of O.J. from the very same album). 4:44 is the song that caused Twitter to go into meltdown on June 30th when Jay-Z released his take on his much publicized adultery. Has there ever been a couple that have been nominated for songs/albums about their relationship in consecutive years like this before? Probably not, but of course Jay-Z and Beyoncé are unique in every sense. ‘You risked that for Blue?/If I wasn’t a superhero in your face/my heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes/And the mask goes away/And Santa Claus is fake/And you go online and see/For Blue’s tooth, the tooth fairy didn’t pay’ is as stark and honest as any other song from last year. As a song, 4:44 has this gut wrenching quality to it, like the words are just falling out as it’s surrounding by the piercing vocal sample that’s chopped and screwed into the production in its own melody. No I.D.’s work on production is important enough to the song that he’s mentioned among the writers, a testament to a duo who have made so much incredible music together. For me, 4:44 gives me the most of any of the songs in the category, even if I think its chances of winning in the end are slim at best.
Most Likely to Win
1) That’s What I Like
5) That’s What I Like