Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande have bucked decades of Grammy tradition by entering different hits for Grammy consideration for record and song of the year. Swift’s camp entered the frisky “You Need to Calm Down” for record of the year and the hypnotic ballad “Lover” for song of the year. Grande’s camp entered “7 Rings” for record and two songs — the shimmering “Thank U, Next” and “Boyfriend,” her current hit with Social House — for song.
For decades, the prevailing Grammy strategy has been to enter your biggest and/or most noteworthy hit of the year in both categories and hope for the best.
But two years ago, Bruno Mars took a novel approach and entered different hits in the two categories. Mars’ only entry in the record category was “24K Magic”; his only song entry was “That’s What I Like.” Mars wound up winning both awards. (That marked only the second time in Grammy history that an artist won record and song of the year in the same year for different works. Carole King achieved the feat in 1971. See below.)
Jay-Z also succeeded with the strategy two years ago, though to a lesser extent than Mars. The topical “The Story of O.J.” was his only entry in the record category. “4:44” was his only song entry. He was nominated for both awards.
It’s impressive and attention-getting when an artist makes the record and song of the year finals with different hits in the same year. If only because of its uniqueness, it stands out more than if an artist is nominated in both categories with the same hit.
It’s especially impressive if the two works are notably different from each other. In 1984, Cyndi Lauper was nominated for song of the year for co-writing the tender ballad “Time after Time.” She was nominated for record of the year with the zesty “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” She didn’t win in either of those categories, but she did win for best new artist and has gone on to a long and varied career.
Before Mars and Jay-Z, when artists were nominated for record and song of the year in the same year with different works, it was sometimes just the way it worked out, rather than the result of a grand strategy. In 1999, TLC entered its hits “Unpretty” and “No Scrubs” in both categories. “Unpretty” was nominated for song. “No Scrubs” was nominated for record. In 2001, U2 entered its hits “Elevation,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “Walk On” in both categories. “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” was nominated for song. “Walk On” won record.
Last year, Grande attempted the strategy, but it didn’t work as well. “God Is a Woman” was her only track entered for record of the year. “No Tears Left to Cry” was her only song entered for song of the year. Neither was nominated in those categories. (Grande has yet to be nominated in one of the “Big Four” categories, though that is widely expected to change this year.)
Swift has previously used the conventional entry strategy, with great success initially and less success recently. “You Belong with Me” (2009), “Shake It Off” (2014) and “Blank Space” (2015) were all nominated for both record and song of the year. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (2012) was nominated for record and entered (but not nominated) for song. In the last two years, “Look What You Made Me Do” (2017) and “Delicate” (2018) were entered (but not nominated) for both record and song of the year.
Ten times in Grammy history, an artist has received record and song of the year nominations with different hits in the same year. Here’s a complete list of the first eight times it happened. (I’ve already recounted the ninth and 10th times it happened, with Mars and Jay-Z.)
1964: John Lennon and Paul McCartney were nominated for song of the year for writing the title song from The Beatles‘ first film, A Hard Day’s Night. The Fab Four were nominated for record of the year for their earthshaking hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
1971: King won song of the year with the much-covered “You’ve Got a Friend” and won record with the break-up classic, “It’s Too Late.”
1979: Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers was nominated for song of the year for co-writing the group’s “Minute by Minute” and won in that category for co-writing the group’s “What a Fool Believes.” “What a Fool Believes” also won record.
1983: Michael Jackson was nominated for song of the year for writing both “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” “Beat It” won record.
1984: Lauper was nominated for song of the year for co-writing the tender ballad “Time after Time” (which Halsey sang in the In Memoriam spot at the recent Emmy Awards). Lauper was nominated for record with the zesty “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
1999: Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins of TLC was nominated for song of the year for co-writing “Unpretty.” The group’s “No Scrubs” was nominated for record.
2001: U2’s “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” was nominated for song of the year. “Walk On” won record.
2009: Beyoncé won song of the year for co-writing the iconic “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” “Halo” was nominated for record.