Honoring a song’s writing, including lyrics and melodic composition, the Grammy for Song of the Year is one of the most coveted honors for songwriters in the music industry. This year there are eight nominees that could join an elite list that includes iconic winners like Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” to name just a few.
This category tends to overlap with Record of the Year, unless the Record of the Year winner isn’t nominated here (or vice versa). In fact, in 62 years of Grammy history, the only true split was in 1995, when Sheryl Crow (“All I Wanna Do”) won Record of the Year and Bruce Springsteen (“Streets of Philadelphia”) won Song of the Year despite both of their songs being nominated in both categories.
With that in mind, Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” has a pretty good chance of pulling off a win this year. The track is a disco empowerment anthem after a break-up, and would end the three-year streak of non-ballads winning here. That said, Lipa has strong competition from her other big Record of the Year rival Billie Eilish (“Everything I Wanted”). If Eilish manages to upset, she’ll be the first songwriter to win two years in a row, along with her brother and co-writer Finneas; they just won in 2020 with “Bad Guy.” Eilish would also break a streak of top-three hits winning the category (“Everything” peaked at number-eight on the Billboard Hot 100), with the last winner that didn’t peak in the top-three being Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” almost 13 years ago.
Eilish and Lipa are not the only ones with a fighting chance of taking this award home, though. The most nominated female songwriter in the history of this category, Taylor Swift (“Cardigan”), could get enough love to win here. Her biggest hurdle is that “Cardigan” was not as big a hit as her previous songs or other winners here. Despite an impressive first week in which it debuted at number-one, the song quickly fell from its perch and failed to chart long enough to make the year-end Hot 100, probably due to being a more alternative song than Swift’s past radio-friendly hits.
Swift might also be hurt if Dua Lipa gets most of the pop vote here, while Eilish might get the most rock and alternative support. That said, if the “Folklore” love among voters is huge (it’s the front-runner to win Album of the Year), the song could definitely go along for the ride. If it does, it would give Swift her first Song of the Year victory on her fifth attempt, and it would be the first winner since The Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” to not chart on the year-end Hot 100, perhaps signifying a move back to more artistic choices over the huge hits that ruled the Grammys in the ’90s and ’00s.
This year two politically-charged songs are also in the hunt for a win. The first is H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe,” which is moving, timely, and features a two-minute spoken word section sure to touch voters’ hearts. However, since the song wasn’t a mainstream hit (it didn’t chart at all on the Hot 100), it’s hard to know if enough voters will know it and give it a vote. Beyoncé’s “Black Parade” is in a similar boat (topping out at number-37 on the charts), though it might have a higher profile due to it being co-written and performed by superstar Beyoncé of all people. A win for either wouldn’t be a shock, but the two political R&B songs might split each other’s votes.
Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” is also nominated here, a rare feat considering the Grammys don’t nominate rap in Song of the Year that often, and when they do they’re usually inspirational or political songs (like Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” or Logic’s “1-800-273-8255”). So Ricch’s nomination is welcome, possibly marking an era when hip-hop can compete in the big leagues without the need for a “message.” After all, “The Box” was one of the most lyrically creative songs of 2020.
Ricch also has no other rap song to split votes with, which is a positive, but history still isn’t on his side. The only hip-hop SOTY winner in history was Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” (2019) Then again, maybe “This is America” wasn’t a fluke, and hip-hop will start seeing more wins now that that song set the precedent. After all, we didn’t get any rap nominees in SOTY last year, so this year is gonna be crucial to see if hip-hop can keep winning in the top categories when it makes the cut. With three big, evenly matched pop stars fighting it out, Ricch could gather enough support as the lone representative from his genre to pull off an upset.
Then we have Post Malone’s “Circles,” which voters might not be that passionate about judging from Malone’s shocking Pop Solo Performance and Pop Vocal Album snubs. “Circles” is the biggest hit nominated, though, so keep an eye on it. There’s also Julia Michaels and JP Saxe with “If the World Was Ending,” which just like “Circles” missed a nomination in the pop field. The song wasn’t as prominent a hit as the other nominees here (peaking at number-27), so these lovebirds might have to settle for the nom. But hey, at least the world ain’t ending … yet.
Will Win: Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now” or Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted”
Dark Horse: Taylor Swift, “Cardigan”
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