The Grammy Award for Best R&B Song honors the best songwriting in the genre, so we often look for overlap with the Song of the Year category for a clue as to who might be out front. This year there are no R&B songs up for that top writing award, but one nominee here does contend for Record of the Year: “Really Love” by D’Angelo, co-written by Kendra Foster. Does that make it the frontrunner?
Record of the Year is not a songwriting award – it goes to the artist, producers, engineers and mixers – but it does indicate strong support from the recording academy. It’s not a total guarantee, however. In 2004, Usher‘s blockbuster hit “Yeah!” was up for Record of the Year, not Song of the Year, and it ended up losing this contest to a song that wasn’t in the general field at all: “You Don’t Know My Name” by Alicia Keys. In 1998 the same thing happened: Record of the Year nominee “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy and Monica lost this prize to Lauryn Hill‘s “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
In both of those cases, Best R&B Song went to an artist who also made a strong impact in the general field – Hill and Keys were up for Album of the Year at those awards. That could be good news for The Weeknd, who’s nominated in this category for “Earned It” but also competes for the top album prize for “Beauty Behind the Madness.” And unlike “Really Love,” “Earned It” also picked up a nomination for Best R&B Performance, which may be a sign of weakness for D’Angelo in this contest. It doesn’t hurt that this song, which was featured in the film “Fifty Shades of Grey,” also picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Song. Its songwriters are the Weeknd, along with Ahmad Balshe, Stephan Moccio and Jason Quenneville.
Also watch out for Miguel‘s “Coffee,” which he co-wrote with Brook Davis. In 2012 Miguel took the Grammys by surprise by earning a Song of the Year nomination for “Adorn,” for which he won Best R&B Song. “Coffee” isn’t nominated in the general field, and Miguel only has one other nomination this year (Best Urban Contemporary Album for “Wildheart“), but he’s one of the only past winners in contention.
However, he doesn’t hold a candle to another past champ: Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, the legendary R&B hit-maker behind Boyz II Men‘s “End of the Road” and “I’ll Make Love to You” and Whitney Houston‘s “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” all of which won this award. He also wrote hits for TLC, Toni Braxton and Brandy, among others. In total, Babyface has 16 nominations in this category, far more than any other songwriter.
This year, Babyface co-wrote Jazmine Sullivan‘s “Let It Burn” with Sullivan and Dwane M. Weir II. This is Sullivan’s third nomination in this category, following bids for “Bust Your Windows” in 2008 and “Lions, Tigers & Bears” in 2009.
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Photo credits: D’Angelo by Stephanie Paschal/REX; Babyface by Benjamin Lozovsky/BFA.com/REX; The Weeknd by Matt Baron/REX