The 65th annual Grammy Awards will include the first-time category of songwriter of the year, with five nominees who are behind some of 2022’s biggest hits across genres. Below, each one in the running discusses the importance of spotlighting songwriters and their contributions, why this addition is long overdue and the bigger-picture impact the award will hopefully have on the industry moving forward.
Nominated writing credits: Lizzo, Harry Styles, King Princess, Alexander 23, Charli XCX, Sabrina Carpenter
How did you feel when you heard about the new songwriter of the year category?
Songwriting is my dream job, and I’m so grateful to do it every single day, but I think you could ask any songwriter and I feel like we’ve all been waiting for this to happen, and we are just so excited that it’s finally a reality. It’s a massive win for us.
What was your reaction to being nominated?
I didn’t watch the livestream because I was too nervous. I was on a run and my manager called me mid-run and I thought it was a prank, I was like, “Stop, it’s not funny.” And I stopped for a minute and saw a bunch of text messages coming in from my family and friends. It was a very surreal feeling, for sure.
How does it feel to not only be nominated, but be nominated in a historic category?
I just feel so grateful to be representing songwriters for the first time, and I feel so grateful for every songwriter that has made this a possibility. I’m excited for songwriters in the future that this now exists. There’s definitely more of a weight to it than having a song chart [or play on] the radio or something. It’s more monumental.
How do you think this first year of the category will positively impact the industry?
When I was in high school, I didn’t even know this profession existed, really. So now, every time something gets added, like Spotify adding songwriter credits, it’s busting the door wide open for songwriters to come to the forefront and take this seriously and have faith that, “People are doing this, I can do this,” which I think is the greatest thing possible.
How might this nomination affect your career?
It’s just a lot of validation [that I’m] doing the right thing with my life. I think a lot of songwriters can relate to the fact that every day is an emotional roller coaster as a songwriter. It’s the greatest joy to be able to do what you love and what you’re passionate about, but that also comes with having pretty intense conversations every day with new people and carving out a piece of yourself and giving it away. It can be such a thankless career, in a lot of ways, so I’m really excited for the boost of confidence that it’s giving.
Nominated writing credits: Beyoncé, Summer Walker, City Girls, Lil Durk, Anitta & Missy Elliott, Meek Mill, Megan Thee Stallion & Dua Lipa, Kehlani
What did you feel when you heard about the new songwriter of the year category?
Relief. I felt like it was a huge win for every single one of us because every year we only have a slim chance to win a trophy. So when I heard about the songwriter of the year category, it actually made me want to work harder because I’m like, “OK, now we have a real shot of being recognized for our work.”
How did you react to being nominated?
Oh my gosh. I was on the sprinter on tour watching via Instagram Live and my heart was pounding. I mean, pounding. I haven’t felt that way in such a long time. It was Smokey Robinson and I’m like, “He’s about to announce songwriter of the year. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.” And then he mispronounced my name but I knew as soon as I heard it, I let out this big scream because my heart couldn’t take it. It was like I won a raffle or something. Or Bingo. It was like that moment when you’re just so surprised, like, “Oh my God, it’s me!”
How does it feel to not only be nominated, but be nominated in a historic category?
It makes it feel heavier. I even cried with my mom because we talked about history being made. It took a while to hit me, because it didn’t feel real. I’m one out of five of the first people ever to be songwriter of the year nominated. This is crazy.
How do you hope this affects the songwriting community going forward?
Everyone watches the Grammys, so when you see someone win a certain category, even if it’s someone you know, you look them up. So for songwriters, it gives us recognition and also lets the world know that songwriters are a thing … and to know that we’re all equal in the collaboration process.
What are your plans for the Grammys?
I plan to bring both of my grandmas — grannys and the Grammys. With this being such a big category, I realize I got to handle it like all the producers do for producer of the year, so I really want to go all out and celebrate. I want both my grandmothers to see what I’ve worked so hard for. I can’t wait.
Tobias Jesso Jr.
Nominated writing credits: Harry Styles, Adele, FKA twigs, Orville Peck, King Princess, Diplo & TSHA, Omar Apollo
How did you learn you were nominated for songwriter of the year?
I just started getting a flood of texts. Julia Michaels was the first person to text me and tell me that I’d been nominated, and I just could not believe it. It was so outside of what I was expecting. It was amazing to be like, “Woah, this is a really tight group of people who have done a lot of songwriting therapy together, and everyone is rooting for each other.” I know I would be if it wasn’t my name on the list.
How might this nomination affect your career and help people discover your own work?
My biggest joy is getting the artist what they want, my joy was never being the artist, so I don’t know that I’m ever hoping anyone dives into the stuff that I’ve done. But if it leads people to the artists who I love that I’ve worked with that would be awesome. I get uneasy with the idea that people are even looking me up. My whole thing is trying to just be there for the artists and blend into the background and hopefully be of some use to them.
How do you think adding this category will positively affect the industry?
It’s a huge moment for songwriters. I think it’s going to continue to get bigger as people realize how much work songwriters put in and for the reasons that they do — songwriters don’t really get paid to go to work, they only get paid based on their work. And that’s based on what artists choose, so it’s a really risky business to be in and you have to really love it. It’s more of a therapy [than a business] for everyone I’ve worked with. And I think that’s the important part: people who have really poured their heart and soul into creating something that literally didn’t exist before they came around are getting recognized for the seed of the thing that gets produced and turns into an album. It’s almost like we were judging the plants based off the beauty, but it’s really the seeds that were being overlooked.
What does this first class of nominees represent?
Most of the time, I’m in a session and it’s a woman’s story [that] is driving the thing. I think what’s going to become pretty obvious to people over time, especially with this category in the mix now, is that women are running the songwriting world.
Nominated writing credits: Beyoncé, Brent Faiyaz, Pusha T
Why was it so important to add the new songwriter of the year category?
I’ve been lobbying for it for a while, just based on the idea that there’s a producer of the year every year. And even though I produce as well, it’s one of those things I’ve been fighting for on the songwriter front because of how much work goes into it. Because it’s not just melody and lyrics, it’s ideas about what to say and giving people an identity. I don’t feel that a category can really cover the bases of something that cultural. It’s like we start things first and we get paid last.
What was your reaction to being nominated? Were you watching the livestream?
Oh no, I can’t take it. I’m like a baby, nobody realizes. I think it’s worse for me to win. This blackout thing has happened in the past where I’m like, “What?” It’s a psychological thing, but I’m so afraid that they’re going to say I won that my mind just goes blank. You’re trying to keep it cool and get to the stage and do your thing but you’re still blank. So I wasn’t looking at the livestream, that would give me a heart attack. And I’m definitely older than when I won my first one, so I’m trying to take it easy. I don’t want them to have to drag me to the Grammys.
How might this nomination help people discover your own work?
That’s number two. I only did an album as an artist [starting with 2007’s Love/Hate] to highlight songwriting, that was the main purpose of it. For me, I had this plan, but everybody can’t do that. So it’s really about this category highlighting the ones that you don’t see, but still understanding and respecting them when they show up. No matter who wins, take a deep dive into that person.
What do you think of this first class of nominees?
We’re just a sampling that represents something happening for the first year, but it doesn’t represent how many great years came before ours, before this one. That’s the bittersweet part. It’s a representation of years past, this year and the years going forward. There’s really a lot riding on it.
Nominated writing credits: Maren Morris, Demi Lovato, Ingrid Andress
Where were you when you learned about your songwriter of the year nomination?
I had just walked into a co-writing session, and I started getting so many text messages that just said, “Congratulations!” It took me a full three minutes to get the tea of what I actually got. Then I just fell to the ground. I was so shocked. [My co-writer Alysa Vanderheym] was getting like 50,000 phone calls just like I was, so our [other] co-writer was like, “You guys should just go celebrate.” So we did. We bailed on the session and celebrated and then I went home and hugged my husband. It was so special.
How do you think this category will positively affect the industry?
It’s just such a change for my community and such a change for the industry at large to have this on the ballot. It’s wild, too, because it’s such a community-driven thing. I’m watching my friends nominated in song categories. The song [of the year] nominations were really all we had for a long time. Then people like Ross Golan and so many others expanded it to having a larger body of work on an album that we suddenly are credited in that way. So seeing all these people getting these nominations and now the crown jewel of it — having its own very own category — it’s very humbling and beautiful. Then, when it comes to things on Capitol Hill and such, this might begin a new era where the recognition of the beginning of music — the writing of a song — might be a little bit more seen, [which] might lead to it being a little bit more valued.
Why is the timing of this new category so crucial?
I truly feel that the value of what a songwriter is could very well go extinct if we don’t put some actual value on what it is to write a song. Kids that are writing songs that are getting streamed millions of times, but they can’t keep their lights on at home, that’s not OK. I’m just grateful that this category is in play, and I’m really hoping it traces itself to how songwriters are paid.
Additional reporting by Jessica Nicholson.