Unlike the songwriter-focused Grammy for Song of the Year, Record of the Year aims to award the performance and recorded aspects of a song, like the mixing, mastering, and producing. But while the award doesn’t go to the songwriters, the chances of winning one award are very high when you win the other. This year a select group of 10 year-defining hits from multiple genres are battling it out in what could be a race of familiar favorites versus fresh successes. Let’s take a look.
This award definitely has its clear favorites. The biggest hit of the year is always a factor here, so it’s safe to say one of the front-runners is Harry Styles’s “As It Was.” The track is right up the Grammys’ alley, being a pop-rock jam that will appeal to most sectors of the Recording Academy. Styles is also not unknown to voters, winning his first Grammy two years ago for “Watermelon Sugar” in the pop field, an award he won against the eventual Record of the Year winner that year, Billie Eilish (“Everything I Wanted”).
However, when it comes to artists known to voters, Adele easily tops that list. The singer-songwriter is gunning for a historic third Record of the Year win for “Easy On Me,” a powerhouse ballad you’ve probably heard at least a dozen times (to date the only artists who have won ROTY three times are Paul Simon and Bruno Mars). Styles and Adele both have their pros and cons: Adele might feel overrewarded against a newer, buzzier artist like Styles, but voters might also be more comfortable going for Adele’s tried-and-true formula.
A Styles versus Adele split might help some other artists slip through, especially the ones who aren’t purely pop. Beyoncé is a winner across fields like R&B, rap, and pop, so it wouldn’t be a shocker to see her pick up a win for her banger “Break My Soul.” Similarly, Steve Lacy is one to blur the lines of genre, so it’s possible that his alternative-pop crossover hit “Bad Habit” becomes a silent favorite to win.
But perhaps the person who could benefit from a pop split the most is Brandi Carlile, who is nominated with Lucius for her breezy “You and Me On the Rock.” Carlile has proved to be a Grammy favorite in recent years, netting nominations in the pop, rock, country, and Americana fields and winning in the last two of those. As such, the track could enjoy a wide range of support, which could end in a possible win. If you’re looking for another plausible winner, Lizzo is always a threat, so don’t rule out “About Damn Time.”
There are a few artists here who might have to settle for the nomination. I wouldn’t put too much money on a possible Doja Cat win, especially since “Woman” wasn’t her biggest or most memorable track; her best shot at a win is Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “I Like You (A Happier Song)” alongside Post Malone or Best Music Video for “Woman.” Similarly, while it isn’t impossible that ABBA scoops up those older voters, “Don’t Shut Me Down” didn’t make enough noise to win in a lineup of Grammy favorites and smash hits.
And speaking of Grammy favorites, Kendrick Lamar might have to sit this one out as well, since “The Heart Part 5” may not be a top pick beyond hip-hop voters, although it would be deserving. Likewise, Mary J. Blige’s “Good Morning Gorgeous” is not a likely winner, although she will probably get her due in the R&B field.
Ultimately, Adele might take the cake here. It is definitely going to be a close battle, but it’s probably smarter to bet on such a Grammy favorite, though Styles will likely win something come Grammy night. Watch out for Brandi Carlile taking this award, though, which could be a signal of her strength as a contender for Album of the Year.
Will win: Adele, “Easy On Me”
Likeliest upset: Harry Styles, “As It Was”
Dark horse: Brandi Carlile feat. Lucius, “You and Me on the Rock”
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