We should start by pointing out that in a year with a surplus of strong contenders, Grammy has reduced the number of nominations in these and other top categories from 10 to eight, making the competition even tougher.

Also, have we mentioned that Grammy does what Grammy wants? Well, it bears repeating—thus any of the records we single out as “semi-locks” below could be unaccountably snubbed, while stuff from way off the radar might be weighed down with noms. In any case, these are the records and songs on our radar so far. Your mileage may vary.


Miley Cyrus, “Flowers” (Columbia): Miley’s ebullient, funky kiss-off was bigger than a pop mega-smash, though it was that; the song became a cultural phenomenon, an anthem of self-care and resilience recalling such defiant touchstones as “I Will Survive.” By any measure—message, performance, production, arrangement—it is exactly the sort of recording that belongs in both ROTY and SOTY.

SZA, “Kill Bill” (TDE/RCA): The last year saw the brilliant artist-songwriter graduate from R&B goddess to full-on superstar, and her triumphant run on the charts was highlighted by this incendiary earworm and key contender for both Record and Song. We can’t recall a fantasy of bloody revenge sounding so sweet, but like the Tarantino flick for which it’s named, it makes us reach for the popcorn every time.

Taylor Swift, “Anti-Hero” (Republic): Tay is ruling the universe so unremittingly these days that it’s easy to lose focus on the specifics of her artistry. On this streaming giant, Tay’s supple wordplay and sparkling melodicism serve an especially introspective idea: “I’m the problem—it’s me.” Her self-description as a “lurching” monster captures at once the pangs of mega-fame and romantic doubt. Fittingly, this song (which surely deserves both ROTY and SOTY consideration) is a beast.

Luke Combs, “Fast Car” (River House/Columbia Nashville): The immensely likable country star’s version of Tracy Chapman’s 1988 breakthrough smash (and thus eligible for ROTY only) is the very definition of a no-brainer, galvanizing multiple generations of listeners at once. Chapman’s folky underdog tale plays like it was written five minutes ago, and Combs delivers it with real fire.

Billie Eilish, “What Was I Made For?” (Darkroom/Interscope/Atlantic): Beneath its Day-Glo surfaces, the Barbie movie plays with some serious ideas about gender and identity. Eilish’s hushed, gorgeous song for the film’s soundtrack expands on those themes—and feels like her most mature work yet. Could the massive cultural impact of the film help place this one in Grammy’s dream house?

Doja Cat, “Paint the Town Red” (RCA): This saucy hit, built on a sample of the Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick classic “Walk On By,” is a perfect illustration of Doja’s in-your-face appeal. Having demonstrated her tremendous versatility as an entertainer (and show host), she has to be a key target for Grammy’s performer list.

Other Contenders

Olivia Rodrigo, “vampire” (Geffen): The first salvo from O-Rod’s sophomore set, GUTS, shows a big leap in musical sophistication. Rodrigo is already a seasoned performer, and she and trusty collaborator Dan Nigro know how to give this sort of material a zeitgeisty zetz. Given that her debut helped catapult her to Grammy glory (including BNA), might “vampire,” too, draw blood come nomination time?

Morgan Wallen, “Last Night” (Big Loud/Mercury/Republic): Wallen, too, had an absolutely stunning year, ruling the album chart, the DSPs and a big swath of the culture. This insistent love song—a bona fide behemoth in the marketplace—is a prime example of his raw songwriting power and effortless charisma. It could find its way to a nom for ROTY, SOTY or both.

Zach Bryan f/Kacey Musgraves, “I Remember Everything” (Warner): This delicate duet from Bryan’s superbly wrought self-titled set encompasses all of his strengths; it’s lyrically incisive, melodically deep and emotionally direct. Having silver-throated Grammy darling Musgraves aboard recalls Americana touchstones like Gram Parsons’ great records with Emmylou Harris. A strong possibility for both ROTY and SOTY.

Eslabon Armado f/Peso Pluma, “Ella Baila Sola” (DEL/Ingrooves): The power of this música Mexicana marvel—one of the most-streamed songs of the year—lies in its canny combination of buoyant traditional currents and moody alternative energy. The presence of chart-rocking breakout Peso doesn’t hurt either.

Chris Stapleton, “White Horse” (Mercury Nashville): This cut—the lead single from the soulful country star’s Higher, due 11/10—swings for the fences with a huge classic-rock chorus (hat tip to co-writer Dan Wilson). As strong as Stapleton’s output has been since the breakthrough of “Tennessee Whiskey,” it’s sometimes felt as if he were holding something back. No more.

Lana Del Rey, “A&W” (Interscope): LDR’s fearless, genre-blurring portrait of what this world does to women—a bleak but bracing tale of sexual assault, drugs and oblivion—is a riveting listen. That the song manages to shape-shift from spare balladry to hip-hop earworm without losing narrative focus is astonishing. Will Del Rey's abundant artistry get the acknowledgement it deserves?

Travis Scott f/Bad Bunny & The Weeknd, “K-Pop” (Cactus Jack/Epic): If any single track illustrates how global and diverse the music marketplace has become, it’s this streaming giant from hip-hop superstar Scott, whose trap stylings are interlaced with Bunny’s Latin-dance vibe and The Weeknd’s sensual R&B-pop—in a song about being “high off the K-pop.” Grammy may well note the multigenre, international allure of this very big track for ROTY.

Usher, “Good Good” f/Summer Walker & 21 Savage (Mega/gamma.): Silky R&B made a triumphant return to radio via this blast of bedroom groove—with the unlikely theme of an amicable breakup—which trains the spotlight on Usher’s enormous charisma. Guests Summer and Savage helped extend the track’s reach.

Rihanna, “LIFT ME UP” (Westbury Road/Roc Nation/ Def Jam/Hollywood Records): The megastar and fashion maven returned to center stage after a long absence from music with this Oscar-nominated ballad from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which touchingly framed the film’s remembrance of late star Chadwick Boseman. Will its emotional halo—and the chance to have Riri on the telecast—lead to ROTY/SOTY love?

Jelly Roll, “Need a Favor” (Stoney Creek/BMG): Country’s fiery new star cuts to the bone with this rock-infused jam, a great song that shrewdly pairs themes of desperation with stadium-sized hooks. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Academy reward Jelly Roll with a big look for Song, Record or both.

David Kushner, “Daylight” (Virgin): The deep-voiced Kushner’s dark, intimate ballad—suffused with religious themes—is a runaway hit that in some respects recalls Hozier’s breakthrough, “Take Me to Church.” Unabashedly emotional and resonant, “Daylight” could well find its way to the winner’s circle.

Noah Kahan, “Dial Drunk” (Mercury/Republic): The banjo-spiced folk-pop and fleet groove in Kahan’s skillfully crafted arrival recall crowd-pleasing predecessors like The Lumineers, and Kahan exhibits an infectious confidence as both canny tunesmith and heart-on-sleeve troubadour. In a musical landscape filled with promising singer-songwriters, he’s among the most noteworthy.

Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice, “Barbie World” f/Aqua (Capitol/Atlantic): An established hip-hop star and rap’s rookie of the year hurl their bars with both velocity and finesse on this fleet but tough-minded gloss on Aqua’s ’90s hit, another chart-rocking selection from the Barbie ST. The chemistry here is undeniable and could certainly turn into a Grammy moment.

Tyler Childers, “In Your Love” (RCA): The Kentuckian's tale of romantic devotion between two men made headlines merely for its theme—notable in its defiance of the genre’s traditional conservatism—but it had staying power because it’s ravishingly beautiful. Indeed, it’s as strong as any love song that came out in the last year. Is it more likely for SOTY than ROTY?

JVKE, “Golden Hour” (JVKE/AWAL): This young singer-songwriter’s first shot over the bow begins with a sparkling piano figure and some indie-ish vocal riffs—and then flowers into a huge, unapologetically pop chorus. JVKE’s melodic aim is true, and this swoon-inducing tune hits the bull's-eye. No wonder he got a sync on And Just Like That.... Look for him to be recognized in genre categories and maybe more.

KAROL G f/Shakira, “TQG” (Bichota/Interscope): It’s been an unbelievable year for the Colombian star, and her duet with Latin legend (and countrywoman) Shakira, which assesses their respective breakups (the subject of much chatter on the Internets), is a stirring reggaeton triumph. The phrase referenced by the title roughly translates as “too big for you,” a claim KAROL G has more than backed up in 2023.

HARDY/Lainey Wilson, “wait in the truck” (Big Loud/Stem): Hit country songwriter HARDY’s rock-tinged murder ballad of spousal battery avenged is a powerhouse, sweetened considerably by Wilson’s gorgeous counterpoint—and a gospel choir. “Have mercy,” indeed. A dark horse for both Record and Song.

Lil Durk f/J. Cole, “All My Life” (Alamo): This streaming smash is about survival and striving to change, and in these dark times it’s virtually impossible to resist its relentless gravitation toward the light. Durk’s verses are both dexterous and deep, and Cole’s contribution is huge. This is the kind of hip-hop record the Academy has traditionally been most inclined to reward.

Lizzy McAlpine, “ceilings” (AWAL): McAlpine broke through with this intimate, beautifully arranged love song before inking with RCA, earning big streams, and her deft navigation of its emotional landscape indicates a true arrival (no wonder there’s big BNA buzz on her as well). Could she bust through in this crowded field?

boygenius, “Not Strong Enough” (boygenius/Interscope): Made up of three buzzy singer-songwriters—Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker—the indie-pop trio has won plaudits for its finely wrought songs. This hooky, soulful cut is a perfect distillation of the threesome’s charm.

Rema f/Selena Gomez, “Calm Down” (Mavin via Virgin/Ingrooves): This lulling yet danceable cut is surprisingly strong medicine, as evidenced by its terrific performance at DSPs. Blending Nigerian artist Rema’s ultra-smooth appeal and Gomez’s gentle, heartfelt delivery, it’s a balm in troubled times. Could it calmly grab a spot on the shortlist?

Also Watching

Dua Lipa, “Dance the Night” (Warner/Atlantic): Yet another big cut from the Barbie juggernaut, “Dance” is right in Dua’s power alley, a swirling, joyful disco excursion with a peerless vocal. This collaboration with studio geniuses Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, among others, is a state-of-the-art party jam.

Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank God” (RCA Nashville): This lush, tender love song would pack a punch even if it weren’t the first duet by the Browns—and if you already loved Kane, the sweet-voiced Katelyn was a revelation.

Megan Moroney, “Tennessee Orange” (Columbia Nashville/Columbia): This superb ballad does what country does best as Moroney’s Georgia girl explains to her mom that she’s met someone so special she’ll wear rival colors “for him.” The key to its impact: her exquisite, nuanced vocal.

Hozier, “Damage Gets Done” f/Brandi Carlile (Columbia): The Irish troubadour has been somewhat under the radar since his seismic, SOTY-nominated “Take Me to Church,” but his latest album has earned significant acclaim. Sturdy and emotionally direct, “Damage” is a standout, and the presence of Carlile kicks things up a notch—as you may know, she’s Grammy catnip.

Tanya Tucker f/Brandi Carlile, “Breakfast in Birmingham” (Ttuckaho/Fantasy): Did we mention that Grammy loves Brandi Carlile? The gifted artist-influencer has played a pivotal role in this interesting new chapter in country veteran Tucker’s career, and this lovely, vibrant travelogue will no doubt delight old-school genre aficionados.

Jung Kook f/Latto, “Seven” (BIGHIT/Geffen): The first solo hit by a BTS member is straightforwardly lusty and irresistibly funky, an R&B-leaning pop nugget that, well, cooks. Aided immeasurably by Latto’s saucy delivery, the K-pop heartthrob really sounds like a star.

Meghan Trainor, “Made You Look” (Epic): This cheeky, bouncy bop—from Trainor’s 2022 set, Takin’ It Back—was not only a hit but a decided return to form for the crafty artist-songwriter. Girl-group melodies, sassy hip-hop attitude and a jazzy groove (not to mention a verbal wardrobe of designer threads) converge in this irresistible sonic confection, which clocks in at a concise 2:14.

Myke Towers, “LALA” (One World/Warner Music Latina): The Puerto Rican breakout’s playful, reggaeton-spiced cut, boosted by TikTok action, flew to #1 on Spotify’s global chart and became that list's longest-running hit by a Latin solo artist. Could it sashay into ROTY territory?

VRRMMMM (5/17a)
Celebrity death match underway on album chart (5/17a)
Another talented journalist trapped in the career cul de sac (5/17a)
Cornering the market on surefire headliners (5/17a)
A genre mash-up at the home of the Cowboys (5/17a)
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