With Just 6 Weeks to Go, the 2020 Record of the Year Grammy Race Takes Shape

ISSUE 12 2019 - NOT OUT YET!!! OUT ON MAY 9, 2019 10AM EST
Heather Hazzan
Billie Eilish photographed on April 18, 2019 at SunLight Studios in Los Angeles.

What does it take for a single or track to be nominated for record of the year? Being a hit isn't a requirement, but it never hurts.

We're just six weeks away from the end of the eligibility year for the 62nd annual Grammy Awards. Where has the time gone? The eligibility year runs from Oct. 1, 2018, through Aug. 31 and the show airs Jan. 26, 2020.   

Last year, you may remember, the Recording Academy expanded the number of nominees in each of the Big Four categories (album, record and song of the year plus best new artist) from five to eight.

What does it take for a single or track to be nominated for record of the year? Being a hit isn't a requirement, but it never hurts. This past year, seven of the eight nominees for record of the year were top 10 hits on the Hot 100. (The outlier was Brandi Carlile's "The Joke," which bubbled under the chart at No. 104.)

The Grammy nomination process is long and complicated. The second and final round of the online entry process opened Tuesday (July 17) and closes on Aug. 2. In this round, voting members and registered media companies may submit recordings released in July and August. (Eligibility closes Aug. 31, a month earlier than usual, because the Grammy telecast was moved up to avoid going head-to-head with the Academy Awards.)

The voting members of the Academy then pick their favorites. A Nominations Review Committee then selects the final nominees in the Big Four categories from a list of the top 20 vote-getters. The committee strives for genre, gender and racial balance, and above all, for nominations that will reflect well on the Academy.

Here are the front-runners at this point for record of the year.

LEADERS

Billie Eilish, "Bad Guy": This quirky track is a lock for a nom. The highly touted newcomer turns 18 in Dec. 18, about a month after the noms are announced on Nov. 20. She would be one of the youngest artists ever to land a record of the year nom. Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson ranged in age from 11 to 16 when Hanson was nominated for "MMMBop" (1997). Lorde was 17 when she was nominated for "Royals" (2013). Monica was 18 when she was nominated for "The Boy Is Mine" (1998), her megahit collabo with Brandy (who was 20 at the time, practically over-the-hill). Hot 100 peak: No. 2 (so far).

Ariana Grande, "7 Rings": After six years of pop stardom, Grande has yet to be nominated in a Big Four category. That will change this year. Grande has three strong singles in contention—the shimmering and highly personal "Thank U, Next," "7 Rings," which brought Rodgers & Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things" into the streaming era, and the edgy "Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored." I like "Thank U, Next" the best, but it would be kind of cool to see Rodgers & Hammerstein factor into a top Grammy race. Hot 100 peaks: No. 1, No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

Jonas Brothers, "Sucker": JoBros are vying to become the third brother trio to land a record of the year nom, following Bee Gees ("Stayin' Alive," 1978) and Hanson ("MMMBop," 1997). The biggest problem they'll face is that the Grammys tend to undervalue highly commercial pop music. Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling!" and Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You" were both passed over for record and song of the year noms. But the brothers' comeback this year has surpassed all expectations (including theirs, no doubt). JoBros were nominated as best new artist of 2008. Hot 100 peak: No. 1.

Lizzo, "Truth Hurts": This lighthearted hip-hop smash was first released in September 2017, more than a year before the start of the current eligibility year. But the Academy confirms that it will be eligible. As such, it has an excellent chance of making the finals. Lizzo performed the song on the BET Awards in June.

Post Malone & Swae Lee, "Sunflower (Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse)": Post could be headed for his second consecutive record of the year nom with this warm and appealing smash from the Oscar-winning Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse. Post was nominated earlier this year for "Rockstar" (featuring 21 Savage). Post has two other hits, "Wow." and "Goodbyes" (featuring Young Thug) in contention. Hot 100 peaks: No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 (so far), respectively.

Khalid, "Talk": This bright track is an even bigger hit than the warm ballad "Better," which was the first single from Khalid's sophomore album, Free Spirit. The R&B star was nominated for best new artist and song of the year two years ago for co-writing Logic’s "1-800-273-8255." Khalid, still just 21, is precisely the kind of talented and promising artist the Grammys like to champion. Hot 100 peak: No. 3.

Cardi B & Bruno Mars, "Please Me": This old-school soul ballad could put both of these veterans back in the finals. Cardi B is vying to become the first female rapper to be nominated twice in this category. She was a finalist earlier this year for "I Like It." This would be Mars' sixth nom in this category, a showing equaled or bettered in Grammy history only by Frank Sinatra, who amassed seven noms. Cardi B has a second candidate, "Money," which she performed on this year's telecast. Hot 100 peaks: No. 3 and No. 13, respectively.

Sam Smith & Normani, "Dancing With a Stranger": Smith won four Grammys, including record and song of the year, five years ago. He hasn't been nominated since. Yes, it's hard to follow a classic like "Stay With Me," but Smith has done a better job of it than his Grammy track record suggests. This silky, romantic ballad gave him a huge radio hit. It's not as downbeat as some of his past hits: He's still carrying a torch for someone, but at least he's getting out. Hot 100 peak: No. 7.

CONTENDERS

Dan + Shay, "Speechless" or Blake Shelton, "God's Country": No country hits have been nominated for record of the year since Taylor Swift's pop-minded crossover smash "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" seven years ago. No acts that are primarily country have been nominated in this category since Lady Antebellum, which won nine years ago with "Need You Now." Shelton's smash includes a nifty hat-tip to Charlie Daniels Band's 1979 smash "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (which won a Grammy). Either of these hits, both of which had long runs at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, would bring country back to the party after a too-long absence. Hot 100 peaks: No. 24 and No. 17 (so far), respectively.Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber, "I Don't Care": Both artists have been nominated just once in this category -- less often than you might imagine: Sheeran with "Thinking Out Loud" and Bieber as a featured artist on Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito." Hot 100 peak: No. 2.

Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello, "Señorita": This steamy duet by two of pop music's most appealing young stars is sure to be considered. Ooh la la! If they perform the song on the telecast, the Grammys may have to carry a Parental Advisory. Mendes is also eligible with his solo hit "If I Can't Have You," but the committee isn't likely to nominate both it and the sonically similar "Sucker." Hot 100 peaks: No. 2.

Halsey, "Without Me": Three years ago, the committee members passed on nominating "Closer," Halsey's megahit collaboration with The Chainsmokers, in this category. Maybe they'll be more welcoming to her solo smash. Hot 100 peak: No. 1.

Bad Bunny featuring Drake, "MIA":  Both artists were nominated for record of the year at this year’s ceremony -- for "I Like It" and "God's Plan," respectively. Drake sings in Spanish on this zesty hit. If this is nominated, this will be the third year in a row in which a song sung partly in Spanish is in the running for record of the year. "Despacito" followed by Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin's "I Like It" were nominated the last two years. Drake is also in the mix with "Girls Need Love," his mellow and soulful collaboration with Summer Walker. Hot 100 peaks: No. 5 and No. 37, respectively.

Lewis Capaldi, "Someone You Loved":  This ballad spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Official U.K. Singles Chart. For the year to date, that's second only to Sheeran & Bieber's "I Don't Care," which had eight weeks on top on that side of the pond. Hot 100 peak: No. 36 (so far).

Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, "Old Town Road." This song has logged 15 weeks at No 1 on the Hot 100 and is just a week away from tying the record for most weeks at No. 1 in the chart's nearly 61-year history. Both of the previous singles to log 16 weeks at No. 1 -- Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day" and "Despacito" -- were nominated for record of the year. But the committee may decide that "Old Town Road" has more in common with Los Del Rio's "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)," which also had a long run (14 weeks) at No. 1 but was thought to be too slight for a nom in the top category. Hot 100 peak: No. 1.

Beyoncé, "Spirit": This is from the live-action remake of The Lion King, in which Beyoncé co-stars. The Grammys may want to give the song a nom or two to boost its chances of winning an Oscar. Beyoncé has amassed five noms for record of the year, which puts her in a tie with Barbra Streisand for the most ever by a female artist. Beyoncé is also in the mix with "Before I Let Go," from her acclaimed album Homecoming: The Live Album. Hot 100 peaks: hasn't charted yet, No. 65, respectively.

Taylor Swift, "You Need to Calm Down":  Swift has been nominated four times in this category (though not in the past few years). The song's supportive stance on LGBTQ issues gives it the gravitas that is missing from Swift's other 2019 contender, the pastel pop confection "ME!" (featuring Brendon Urie). Both singles are from Swift's seventh studio album, Lover, which is due Aug. 23. Hot 100 peaks: No. 2.

POSSIBILITIES

BTS featuring Halsey, "Boy With Luv": The South Korean boy band is a global sensation. The Grammys would probably love to have them perform on the telecast. Will this sleek collabo land a nom for best pop duo/group performance? Could it jump into the record of the year finals? Hot 100 peak: No. 8.

Ella Mai, "Trip": The English soul singer was nominated for song of the year, but not record of the year, this past year for "Boo'd Up." She'll be eligible for noms in both categories this year with this follow-up hit. Hot 100 peak: No. 11.

Daddy Yankee & Katy Perry featuring Snow, "Con Calma": Daddy Yankee was nominated last year for "Despacito"; Perry was nominated in 2010 for "Firework." Hot 100 peak: No. 22.

Maren Morris, "GIRL": Morris was nominated in this category this past year with "The Middle," a collaboration with Zedd and Grey. Her new song has a strong feminist theme. Morris was a best new artist nominee three years ago. Hot 100 peak: No. 59 (so far).

P!nk, "Walk Me Home": P!nk has never been nominated for record of the year, though she was nominated for song of the year six years ago for "Just Give Me A Reason," her collaboration with Nate Ruess. Ruess, as it happens, also co-wrote "Walk Me Home." Hot 100 peak: No. 49.

H.E.R., "Hard Place": The singer, a best new artist nominee in February, performed this slow-build ballad on this year's telecast. It is not featured on her compilation H.E.R., which won a Grammy as best R&B album. Hot 100 peak: didn’t chart.

Gesaffelstein & The Weeknd, "Lost in the Fire": The French DJ and the Canadian singer are in the running with this hit collaboration. The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" was nominated in this category four years ago. Hot 100 peak: No. 27.

Several strong singles won't be eligible because they were entered (though not nominated) this past year. Among them: Marshmello & Bastille's "Happier," Panic! at the Disco's "High Hopes," benny blanco, Halsey & Khalid's "Eastside," 5 Seconds of Summer's "Youngblood," Chris Stapleton's "Millionaire," Lovelytheband's "Broken," DJ Snake's "Taki Taki" (featuring Selena Gomez, Ozuna & Cardi B), The Chainsmokers' "This Feeling" (featuring Kelsea Ballerini) and Dean Lewis' "Be Alright."

Note: The original version of this story suggested that Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" would not be eligible. The Academy confirmed on Wednesday (July 18) that it will be.


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