With the usual caveats—Grammy does what Grammy wants, etc., etc.—we present a list of songs that should be considered for Record and Song of the Year. The differences between the two and the reasoning behind whether a particular song is a contender for either or both are nuanced; yes, we know SOTY is a “songwriter’s award” and ROTY is about the recording and performance, but sometimes you need to drill down into a release’s DNA to figure out its appeal. Is it the melody? Lyrics? Vocal? All of the above? We take our best shot below; hit “play” on the playlist and let’s go.

Olivia Rodrigo, “drivers license”: Listen, people: If Olivia’s breakout cut isn’t on the shortlist for Record and Song, we may as well pack up the tents. The Geffen superstar is still the biggest new-artist story of 2021, and this intimate, heartsick anthem drove the train.

Lil Nas X, “MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)”: LNX’s transformation from one-megahit unicorn to cultural fixture was completed by this soaring, sexy, candid and deep declaration (via Columbia). A socially important moment and a killer pop song all at once? That’s a ROTY/SOTY must.

GIVĒON, “Heartbreak Anniversary”: The biggest R&B song of the year lifted the Long Beach native with the distinctive baritone to the front ranks of soul crooners and essentially has the “adult” lane to itself. This one should be strongly considered in both Record and Song.

Justin Bieber, “Peaches”: It was obvious from the outset that Biebs’ loping, cannabis-infused earworm (on RBMG/Def Jam) featuring Daniel Caesar and GIVĒON would fly into the stratosphere. This cut got so big that it inspired a branded weed strain—you’d have to be high to exclude it from the shortlist.

Saweetie, “Best Friend”: Thanks to this irresistible song featuring Doja Cat, Warner’s brand-savvy hip-hop siren claimed a vital spot at the pop party. “Friend” should certainly be invited to the ROTY fete as well.

Doja Cat, “Kiss Me More”: 2021 saw this versatile RCA entertainer complete her transformation to full-on star, with multiple big hits as both primary artist and feature. The disco-sparkly “Kiss” is the likeliest of her feline frolics to earn ROTY consideration.

Taylor Swift, “willow”: Though she is arguably the most important songwriter of her generation—and boasts a shelf full of Grammys and dozens of noms—Republic’s shape-shifting pop genius has somehow never won for SOTY. This slinky, evocative entry from the Americana-leaning chartbuster evermore could be the tune to break that inexplicable streak. 

The Kid LAROI, “Stay”: The Columbia kid’s smash featuring Justin Bieber is a bona fide juggernaut, having earned north of 837m streams on Spotify alone—not that the Academy wants you to consider stats like that. But as both composition and star-making performance, “Stay” should be a frontrunner.     

Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever”: This stadium-sized torch song epitomizes the Darkroom/Interscope phenomenon’s role as our premier chanteuse of melancholy. Its whisper-to-a-scream dynamics connect the bedroom-pop movement to the smartest and most unflinching records of the grunge era.

Polo G, “Rapstar”: If a hip-hop record has a shot for either Record or Song, the smart money is on this Columbia giant (nearly half a billi on the Spot, but, you know, whatevs). Funky and melodic, it’s a prime example of the Chicago native’s substantial gifts as a storyteller.

Kacey Musgraves, “justified”: Musgraves has long been beloved in Grammy circles, despite having been pushed out of the Country Album category by backroom agendas this time. Interscope/UMGN’s gifted Cosmic American troubadour is bigger than genre, though, and this aching tale of separation packs a surprising wallop.

Ariana Grande, “positions”: Republic’s Ari's a rarity among pop divas who achieved fame before streaming truly ruled the marketplace in that she has confected a pop/R&B approach that's catnip for playlisters and programmers alike, foregrounding her brilliant vocals. She’s earned her spot.

Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”: This jaunty, playful country number at first looked like a TikTok flash in the pan—but it quickly became a runaway monster. “Fancy” (Monument) is such a big cultural moment now that it could well muscle its way into the inner circle; the remix featuring Kesha might be the cherry atop that Applebee’s sundae.   

Glass Animals, “Heat Waves (Live)”: Want an example of a song that just won’t quit? Consider this pulsating tale of yearning, which has amassed nearly 700m Spotify streams (not that stats matter). It’s probably too big to be called a “dark horse,” but given that most Academy members couldn’t pick this Republic band out of a lineup, it could claim the “quirky outlier” spot in ROTY’s final round.

BTS, “Butter”: This DSP/radio bullet (via Big Hit/Columbia) melted any remaining obstacles in the mega-charming K-pop group’s path to Grammy glory. Recalling the gleeful bounce of NSYNC and late-period Michael Jackson, “Butter” is a concentrated dose of pop appeal that’s ideal for the ROTY field. Resistance is futile.

Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez, “Dakiti”: Ritmas’ Bad Bunny has blown up well beyond the Latin world, and this thrumming electro throwdown with the brilliant Cortez (helmed by the unstoppable Tainy)—a Latin Grammy winner—would be a perfect way to significantly diversify the ROTY shortlist.

Måneskin, “Beggin’”: An Italian rock band covering a Four Seasons tune from 1967 was on nobody’s Bingo card for world domination. We are pleased to say that the music marketplace still has the capacity to defy expectations, and this balls-out rendition (via Arista/Sony Latin), which took a wrecking ball to DSPs and radio, deserves a spot among the ROTY noms.

Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown”: A nasty stumble by Big Loud/Republic’s country giant is one of the bigger elephants in the screening-committee room. Will a dumb mistake keep this talented and hugely successful artist from the top rung? Perhaps, but “Hometown” is a helluva good song; in a world without Ring cameras, it would probably be a shoo-in for ROTY and SOTY looks.

Tate McRae, “You Broke Me First”: Among the latest wave of bedroom-pop practitioners with a laser-like focus on youthful angst, RCA’s McRae stands out as one of the most successful and accomplished. With a killer chorus and tight arrangement, this electro-lament has the goods to go all the way—but it faces a field crowded with strong contenders.

24kGoldn f/iann dior, “Mood”: A seamless fusion of hip-hop and pop that perfectly encapsulates the sound of the moment, “Mood” is absurdly catchy and a playlist VIP—hence the 1.2 billion+ Spotify streams, not that that matters. Is it too big to be passed over?

Up next: Kanye.

You know it's not the same as it was. (12/1a)
Republic is glowing in holiday cheer. (12/1a)
IGA and Republic are on top. (11/30a)
A Bunny, a Taylor and a Morgan walk into a bar... (11/30a)
It's the most wonderful time of the year. (12/1a)
Artists sound off on the prospect of being nominated
They're changing the game... for some.
You're helping with the runoff, right?

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