Kelly Clarkson has never had a problem connecting emotionally with songs, whether or not the lyrics are based on her personal life. But co-writer Kara DioGuardi's lyrics for "Heartbeat Song" -- inspired by her own infant son -- were especially meaningful: After Clarkson recorded the song, she told DioGuardi the lyrics struck a chord with her because of her newborn daughter. "I know Kelly, and we have a good connection," DioGuardi told Billboard. "Whatever I was feeling, she felt too." "Heartbeat Song" peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and soared to No. 2 on Adult Contemporary. Three-time Grammy winner Clarkson is nominated twice this year, for "Heartbeat Song" as well as its parent LP,: Parent LP Piece by Piece is also up for best pop vocal album.
"Love Me Like You Do"
From Fifty Shades of Grey (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Label Republic Records
Like the film itself, the music for Fifty Shades of Grey had to strike the right tone: One misstep and it would have been a field day for haters. Yet Goulding, one of Britain's most successful pop stars, found both intimacy and power in the lyrics of "Love Me Like You Do." The song gave Goulding the second-biggest U.S. hit of her career (a No. 3 peak on the Hot 100, just one spot behind 2012's "Lights") and her first Grammy nomination.
Grammy Reactions From Meghan Trainor, Ed Sheeran & More
"Thinking Out Loud"
Label Atlantic Records
Sheeran has said that Van Morrison's Irish Heartbeat is the album that made him fall in love with music, and Van the Man's influence is profound in this song, which has received three 2016 Grammy nominations (record and song of the year in addition to this category). But there is also a healthy dose of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." Sheeran's blue-eyed soul helped "Thinking Out Loud" spend eight weeks at No. 2 on the Hot 100, giving the West Yorkshire-born artist his biggest Stateside hit to date: The song went to No. 1 on Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 -- and was the No. 2 song of 2015 on Billboard's year-end Hot 100 chart.
Label Big Machine Records
Self-deprecation has long been one of Swift's strong suits, and it's on full display in this track from her 1989 album. The song's unhinged video has racked up more than 1.3 billion views on YouTube to date, making the Gone Girl-camp clip the all-time most-viewed video ever by a female artist, and it's also her most successful single on the Hot 100, with a seven-week reign at No. 1. "Blank Space" joins Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" as a nominee for both song and record of the year as well as this category -- and it's one of two pop solo performance nominees to feature the work of 2015 Grammy producer of the year Max Martin.
"Can't Feel My Face"
From Beauty Behind the Madness
Label Republic Records
Traces of Prince and R. Kelly can be heard throughout "Can't Feel My Face," but there's little question that the barely disguised drug ballad borders on a Michael Jackson tribute: From his vocal tone to his staccato phrasing, the man born as Abel Tesfaye wears his MJ influence with pride. But perhaps most of all, the euphoric song -- and its attendant album, Beauty Behind the Madness -- found The Weeknd swinging for the fences in a way he hadn't on his comparatively gloomy previous releases, particularly the dark and downbeat mixtapes collected on his 2012 compilation Trilogy. And while the song was The Weeknd's first Hot 100 No. 1, it was the 21st for co-writer/co-producer Max Martin.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of Billboard.