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From Bruno Mars to Billie Eilish, Why Record of the Year Grammy Winners Are Back to Being Big Hot 100 Hits

Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy" is the 11th consecutive winner to have reached the top five, a new record streak.

Grammy voters and music fans are in sync again.

At the 62nd annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 26, Billie Eilish‘s “Bad Guy” became the 11th consecutive winner for record of the year to have been a top five hit on the Billboard Hot 100. The feat establishes a new record streak, surpassing the 10 consecutive record of the year champs that doubled as top five hits from Eagles‘ “Hotel California” in 1977 through Steve Winwood‘s “Higher Love” in 1986.

The current stretch of record of the year winners to have hit the top five began with Kings of Leon‘s “Use Somebody” in 2009. (For the purposes of this research, years reflect those in which songs became hits and for which they were nominated, as opposed to when Grammys were handed out.)

Here’s a recap of the record run:

Year, Hot 100 peak, Record of the Year winner
2009, No. 4, “Use Somebody,” Kings of Leon
2010, No. 2, “Need You Now,” Lady Antebellum
2011, No. 1 (7 weeks), “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele
2012, No. 1 (8 weeks), “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye feat. Kimbra
2013, No. 2, “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams (Although Nile Rodgers, who played on the record, didn’t officially have billing on the single, the Recording Academy lists him as sharing in the win.)
2014, No. 2, “Stay With Me,” Sam Smith
2015, No. 1 (14 weeks), “Uptown Funk!,” Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
2016, No. 1 (10 weeks), “Hello,” Adele
2017, No. 4, “24K Magic,” Bruno Mars
2018, No. 1 (2 weeks), “This Is America,” Childish Gambino
2019, No. 1 (1 week), “Bad Guy,” Billie Eilish

Now, compare that streak to the nine years that preceded it, dating to the start of the 2000s:

Year, Hot 100 peak, Record of the Year winner
2000, No. 21, “Beautiful Day,” U2
2001, Did not chart, “Walk On,” U2
2002, No. 30, “Don’t Know Why,” Norah Jones
2003, No. 29, “Clocks,” Coldplay
2004, Did not chart, “Here We Go Again,” Ray Charles & Norah Jones
2005, No. 2, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” Green Day
2006, No. 4, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” Dixie Chicks
2007, No. 9, “Rehab,” Amy Winehouse
2008, Did not chart, “Please Read the Letter,” Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

Thus, in addition to all record of the year winners in the last 11 years having been top five Hot 100 hits, six reached No. 1 (with four leading the chart in the last five years alone).

Comparatively, in the prior nine years, just two titles hit the top five, and one did so only after it won: Dixie Chicks‘ “Not Ready to Make Nice” soared to No. 4 in March 2007, easily besting its previous No. 23 highpoint reached in May 2006.

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To better understand the current stretch of smash hits snaring Grammy gold in the record of the year category, let’s look at the Grammys historically since their May 4, 1959, inception, when the first awards were presented honoring the best music of 1958. (The Hot 100 began on Aug. 4, 1958.)

Of the 62 record of the year winners to date, all but 11 have been top 10 hits on the Hot 100, a sum that demonstrates a strong connection between hit records and record of the year victories. Meanwhile, 33 of the 62 winners — more than half — have hit No. 1 on the Hot 100.

The binding Grammy/Hot 100 ties were strongest between 1968 and 1990, when just six of 115 singles nominated for record of the year missed the top 10. The outliers: Peggy Lee‘s “Is That All There Is” (1969, No. 11); Charlie Rich‘s “Behind Closed Doors” (1973, No. 15); Kenny Rogers‘ “The Gambler” (1979, No. 16); Frank Sinatra‘s “Theme From New York, New York” (1980, No. 32); Winwood’s “Back in the High Life Again” (1987, No. 13); and Paul Simon‘s winner in the category, “Graceland” (1987, No. 81).

Plus, in 1968-86, all record of the year winners were top five Hot 100 hits except for 1976, when a still-impressive No. 10-peaking track, George Benson‘s “This Masquerade,” took top honors.

Further, in four years, 1971-72, 1983 and 1986, all five nominees for record of the year had been Hot 100 No. 1s. The winners in those years, respectively: Carole King‘s “It’s Too Late,” Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It” and Winwood’s “Higher Love.”

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In two eras, however, that correlation weakened and consecutive winners failed to reach the Hot 100’s top 10.

In 1961-63, three winners in a row fell shy of the top tier, as in those years voters saluted a pair of Henry Mancini film songs, “Moon River” (which peaked at No. 11) and “Days of Wine and Roses” (No. 33), and Tony Bennett‘s elegant signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (No. 19).

Grammy voters of that era clearly weren’t comfortable with the hottest sounds on the Hot 100, which included girl-group, Motown and Beach Boys hits, so they reached back to classy, traditional pop sounds. (That thinking continued even after The Beatles‘ and The Rolling Stones‘ breakthroughs, as easy listening hits by  Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and Sinatra all won for record of the year in 1964-66.)

Then, in 2000-04, as noted above, five consecutive winners failed to hit not only the Hot 100’s top 10, but the top 20: U2‘s “Beautiful Day” (No. 21) and “Walk On” (which didn’t chart), Norah Jones‘ “Don’t Know Why” (No. 30), Coldplay‘s “Clocks” (No. 29) and Ray Charles and Jones’ “Here We Go Again” (which also didn’t chart).

Voters in that period didn’t appear to be comfortable with hip-hop and contemporary R&B, even as those sounds were dominating the Hot 100. Among the losing record of the year nominees from those five years: Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” Alicia Keys‘ “Fallin’,” OutKast‘s “Ms. Jackson” and “Hey Ya!,” Eminem‘s “Without Me” and “Lose Yourself,” Nelly‘s “Dilemma” (featuring Kelly Rowland) and Beyoncé‘s “Crazy in Love” (featuring Jay-Z). All were Hot 100 No. 1s except for “Without Me,” which still rose to No. 2. It took until last year’s ceremony for a hip-hop hit to finally win record or song of the year, when Childish Gambino‘s “This Is America” took both trophies.

Thus, record of the year Grammy coronations have most often followed lofty Hot 100 success, with those stretches in the early ’60s and ’00s representing aberrations.

In the last two years, the Grammys have aggressively recruited new members, with a special focus on bringing in more female, minority and younger members. The Grammys are sensitive to criticism that they could be considered out of touch, so they have redoubled their efforts to make sure that their nominations are inclusive and representative of what’s happening in contemporary music, and on the charts.

2020 Grammy Awards