GRAMMY CHEW: RECORD AND SONG OF THE YEAR

When we say Record and Song of the Year are tough categories this year, that’s not to say they aren’t always hotly contested. But this time around, it’s widely agreed that five contenders should be locks for one or both categories (apart from a couple of exceptions, we’re not going to distinguish between ROTY and SOTY as the difference, for Grammy-consideration purposes, is often minimal). Of course, as you may have heard us say once or twice, nothing is certain in Grammyland. In any case, because these five records/songs are consensus picks across the music world, we’re looking at a brutal fight for the remaining five spots.

This is how things look to us as first-round voting concludes; your mileage may vary.

THE “LOCKS”

Adele, “Easy on Me”: Last holiday season, the Columbia megastar stopped the world when she dropped this soulful salvo, an immediate smash at DSPs and everywhere else. Her powerhouse delivery still brings crowds to tears and would certainly do the same on the Grammy stage.

Beyoncé, “BREAK MY SOUL”: The campaign for Queen Bey’s stellar dance-music fantasia RENAISSANCE (Parkwood/ Columbia) began with this thundering, chart-slaying jam, which has become an anthem of post-pandemic life changes. A bold new chapter in the career of one of music’s boldest artists.

Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Part 5”: The Pulitzer-winning rapper has long been among the most contemplative and sophisticated creators in the musical mainstream, and with “Heart” (pgLang/TDE/Aftermath/Interscope), his flow feels at once like an urgent news bulletin and the deepest sort of catharsis—sweetened with uplifting R&B sonics.

Harry Styles, “As It Was”: One of the year’s biggest songs by any metric, Harry’s percolating pop monster (via Columbia) wraps up '80s vibes and current angst into a package that’s somehow bittersweet and propulsive, turning pain into something danceable. Which is what the very best popular music has always done.

Taylor Swift, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”: Red: Taylor’s Version, the Republic superstar’s ambitious reworking of her 2012 giant, was highlighted by this sprawling, virtuosic take on “Well,” which she performed to riveting effect on SNL in one of the year’s most sensational pop-cultural moments. There’s still nobody out there who more effectively brings intimate emotions to stadium scale.

STRONG CONTENDERS

Anitta, “Envolver”: The Brazilian artist has achieved global renown with this stylish come-on, a huge streaming cut that has helped her become a major live act. Warner’s Anitta is considered a lock for a BNA nom. She should certainly be in the mix for this seductive cut.

Bad Bunny & Chencho Corleone, “Me Porto Bonito”: Bunny may have a better shot at AOTY with 2022 chart champ Un Verano Sin Ti (Rimas). But this woozy jam about two guys vying for the same girl distills much of what makes that set so compelling, shifting gears from one intoxicating groove to the next.

Em Beihold, “Numb Little Bug”: This crafty singer-songwriter is likely to be in contention for BNA, and the main reason is this madly catchy song about feeling paralyzed by mental-health issues. That Republic’s Beihold can make something this energizing about feeling “broken and broke” is a pop miracle.

Zach Bryan, “Something in the Orange”: Warner’s “red dirt” country breakout seems like a superstar in the making—as his streams and road triumphs confirm—and this gorgeously desperate ballad captures his intense authenticity like lightning in a bottle. He’s a must for BNA and a strong candidate for all major categories.

Billie Eilish, “TV”: The Darkroom/Interscope phenom has been a Grammy darling from the jump, and this heartsick acoustic ballad underscores her ability to take the culture’s emotional temperature. (Spoiler alert: We’re feverish.) It’s fair to assume Grammy wants her in this year’s mix—and on the stage.

Encanto cast, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”: This witty, slightly spooky strut from Disney’s animated blockbuster takes Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius to new places. It was also among the year’s top tracks, so recognizing it would be more than a make-good for the Academy’s short-changing of Hamilton.

Future, “WAIT FOR U” f/Tems & Drake: If you think the Freebandz/Epic star took it to another level over the last year, you’re right. This streaming juggernaut from the artist GQ dubbed “Best Rapper Alive” was a creative milestone and a commercial whopper. It deserves serious consideration.

HARDY & Lainey Wilson, “Wait in the Truck”: This startling tale of spousal abuse avenged plays like a country-rock murder ballad, with a goosebumps-inducing gospel chaser. Penned in fire and performed with fury, Big Loud troubadour HARDY’s breakthrough is a proud heir to the very best in country storytelling.

Jack Harlow, “First Class”: The Range-managed rapper’s meteoric single is utterly irresistible hip-pop, with a killer refrain and appealingly playful lyrics. Harlow may have an uphill climb in this category for a variety of reasons, but with a song this big he’s still dangerous.

Steve Lacy, “Bad Habit”: This fabulous mélange of styles, from R&B to alternative rock, is also one of the big streaming songs of the year and marks the arrival to the mainstream of a brilliant, quirky, protean artist. L-M/RCA’s Lacy should be a contender for multiple major categories.

Lizzo, “About Damn Time”: With an ability to blend dance-floor bliss and women’s empowerment, Lizzo has become a pop-culture fixture with countless media properties. But she returned to her wheelhouse with this disco-flavored romp. Grammy loves that joyous performance energy.

Muni Long, “Hrs & Hrs”: A stellar R&B songwriter stepped in front of the microphone with material on indie Supergiant, scoring a smash (and a Def Jam deal) with this sexy reverie. The erstwhile Priscilla Renea shows here that she has vocal dexterity and verve to match her ample tunesmithing talents.

Sam Smith & Kim Petras, “Unholy”: Capitol’s crooner just disrupted the conversation big-time with this debauched bombshell, which instantly became the biggest song in the world. Saucy, dirty and distressing to cultural conservatives trying to turn back the clock, this hedonistic blast deserves a big Grammy look.

Lauren Spencer Smith, “Fingers Crossed”: This incandescent heartbreak ballad exploded online and catapulted the precocious young Canadian singer-songwriter up the DSP charts before she landed with Island/Republic. It’s somehow tender and furious at once and shows why LSS is a strong BNA possibility as well.

Morgan Wallen, “Wasted on You”: The controversy hasn’t entirely disappeared from the Big Loud/Mercury country star’s rep (especially for the diversity-minded Academy), but it’s dissipated—perhaps enough for folks to really hear this great song from one of the planet’s biggest live acts. Don’t they want him on the show?

OTHERS WORTH CONSIDERING

Brent Faiyaz, “All Mine”: The indie R&B wonder, whose Lost Kids/Venice set WASTELAND made a stunning chart showing, finds a beguiling pleasure palace between R&B and hip-hop on this sexy cut. While Faiyaz may be a stronger bet for AOTY, there’s no denying he’s the real deal.

Florence + the Machine, “King”: It’s hard to believe this brilliant Republic band has never won a Grammy. On this, the leadoff track from their fine 2022 album, Dance Fever, they’re typically evocative, soulful and emotionally direct. Will Grammy finally give them the crown they so richly deserve?

Lady Gaga, “Hold My Hand”: This soaring ballad from the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack makes ample use of the Interscope superstar’s powerhouse pipes. There aren’t a lot of singers whose voices could stand up to the movie’s aeronautic spectacle, but Gaga pilots this one right into the stratosphere.

John Legend, “Wonder Woman”: The Republic piano man has one of the best voices in music, period, and with this slab of heart-on-sleeve soul, replete with panty-peeling falsetto, he could have the right formula to seduce the Grammy faithful.

Lil Baby, “In a Minute”: A commercial dynamo who’s also shown his ability to shine a light on powerful social issues, QC/ Motown’s Baby rhymes in a more personal mode here. As he's up against Kendrick and Future for a limited number of spaces, this category might be a big lift for Baby, but don’t count him out.

PJ Morton, “Be Like Water” f/Stevie Wonder & Nas: A multitalented artist and musician well known to Grammy, Empire’s Morton was an MVP on Jon Batiste’s AOTY-winning album and plays with rock stalwarts Maroon 5. Here he crafts strong R&B material. On ROTY contestant “Water,” he’s aided by two bona fide legends. His “My Piece” f/JoJo could also be up for SOTY.

Post Malone, “I Like You (A Happier Song)” f/Doja Cat: The Republic streaming giant had another heater with this bouncy ditty, which highlights both his way with a hook and his playful side. Doja’s sassy assist kicks things up a notch. Could good will for Post hoist this onto the shortlist?

Marcus Mumford, “Grace”: The British singer-songwriter faces down his demons on his first solo effort (out via Capitol), and he brings the vocal fireworks here with folk-rock flair. Though he’s a dark horse in this crowded field, the Mumford name likely has clout with many in Grammyland.

OneRepublic, “I Ain’t Worried”: Another Top Gun track, this sprightly pop gem from the House of Tedder (via Interscope) flew up the DSP charts like an F15. With a snaky guitar line, whistled riff and percolating beat, it’s an instant earworm—can it break through the dense crowd of competitors?

A COUNTRY POSTSCRIPT

We’re keeping an eye on the CMAs as we ponder possible Nashville ROTY/SOTY candidates like Miranda Lambert’s “If I Was a Cowboy” (Vanner/RCA Nashville), Ingrid Andress f/Sam Hunt’s “Wishful Drinking” and Bailey Zimmerman’s “Fall in Love” (both Warner Music Nashville), Kane Brown’s “Thank God” (RCA Nashville) and Carrie Underwood’s “Ghost Story” (Capitol Nashville).

Grammy Chew cartoon by the late, great Van Arno

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