Grammy for Best Song: Inside the Eight Nominated Songs


Tonight, Sunday, January 26 is the annual Grammy Awards, being held again this year at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. American Songwriter will be there, both on the red carpet for arrivals, and backstage in the press room when winners come back to talk, and will be bringing it to you live all day.
The red carpet arrivals start at high noon Pacific Time.

Before the televised portion of the show, there are several hours of the pre-televised ceremony, in which the majoriity of Grammys are given out. We will bring you the words of winners and presenters from that unseen Grammys. [And those who decry the unfairness of winning a Grammy but not being on the TV show, keep in mind that the award has the same lifelong impact on a career, forever granting that artist the appellation “Grammy-winning” to precede their name from now on. It’s no small thing.

During the show, the preeminent songwriter’s award is given, for Best Song of the Year. This is not to be confused with Best Record – which is for a single, or Best Album, for an album, which are awarded to the artist and producer.

Best Song, however, is a songwriter’s award, and is given to honor not the performance or the production, but the songwriting. It is awarded not to the singer or producer, unless they contributed to the songwriting.

Of course, whether academy voters make the distinction between a great performance, record and song is a subject of some debate.

For now, here are the eight nominated songs this year. The only one written by one songwriter only is “Lover” by Taylor Swift.

Song of the Year.  A Songwriter(s) Award. A song is eligible if it was first released or if it first achieved prominence during the Eligibility Year. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.

    Natalie Hemby, Lady Gaga, Hillary Lindsey & Lori McKenna, songwriters (Lady Gaga)

To write songs for A Star Is Born, Gaga rang Dave Cobb, who  organized a songwriting retreat in L.A. and invited his favorite Nashville songwriters: Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby and Hillary Lindsey. The singular songwriting prompt? To write songs for Ally, her character in the movie.  “It was magic,” Cobb said to Esquire. “[Gaga] got in the vocal booth on the microphone and the writers were in the control room. I was playing with the band, and it just happened. Her voice was as big as the house. All of us had goosebumps.” McKenna agreed: “There was a moment where we all got choked up,” she said, “Whenever that happens when writing a song, it’s gotta stay!”

  • 2. BAD GUY
    Billie Eilish O’Connell & Finneas O’Connell, songwriters (Billie Eilish)

Written with her brother Finneas O’Connell, who also produced, “Bad Guy” was the fifth single from Billie Eilish’s debut album.  Playing with pop conventions of men as the eternal aggressors, the singer, then all of 17 years old, paints a boldly dark portrait which she suggests with an iconic “duh!” is self-mockery. As Eilish told NME, the song “makes fun of everyone and their personas of themselves – even mine.”  To KIIS-FM, she explained, “The initial idea for the song is people that have to tell everybody that they are a certain way all the time… They’re not that certain way.” 

Steven Cheung, Eric Frederic, Melissa Jefferson & Jesse Saint John, songwriters (Lizzo)

“Truth Hurts” is one of those songs, and she’s one of those artists, who has made an undeniable cultural impact. From the TikTok app to Hillary Clinton’s Twitter account to the film Someone Great, echoes of Lizzo’s self-love hook were everywhere this past year:  “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100 percent ….” 

Lizzo has acknowledged that the title of the song was inspired by a 2017 Twitter post by the UK artist Mina Lioness, and said she would share songwriting credit with her. Mina, in a series of posts, expressed her gratitude. “I just took a DNA Test, turns out I’m a credited writer for the number one song on Billboard,she wrote. “I have received nothing but love from her through our communications, so I truly do thank her. I want to publicly thank Lizzo and her entire management team for embracing me and reaching out.”

Lizzo, on Instagram, wrote: “There was no one in the room when I wrote ‘Truth Hurts,’  except me, Ricky Reed, and my tears … That song is my life and its words are my truth.” As to the line, “Why are men great until they gotta be great?, she posted its meaning: 

“Men hold the highest seats of power on the planet. They’re constantly appointed greatness and yet cannot seem to do any good with it.”

 “The men who now claim a piece of `Truth Hurts’ did not help me write any part of the song. They had nothing to do with the line or how I chose to sing it… that song is my life, and its words are my truth.”

Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth & Tanya Tucker, songwriters (Tanya Tucker)

Tanya Tucker

It  was Brandi Carlile and songwriters Tim and Phil Hanseroth who convinced Tanya to make a new album, her first in seventeen years, and tailor-wrote a song cycle for her. But for the album’s final song, they started with a chorus Tanya wrote herself decades earlier about living for the living. Together they wrote the verses in 20 minutes. “So,” Tanya said to NPR, “it took me 40 years and 20 minutes to write the song!’’ About its main metaphor, she said, “I’ve always wondered, even since I was a kid, why they sent flowers… at a funeral. That didn’t make sense to me. It just kind of had it back-asswards to me.”

Ruby Amanfu, Sam Ashworth, D. Arcelious Harris, H.E.R. & Rodney Jerkins, songwriters (H.E.R.)


Written on acoustic guitar in Nashville, the achingly melodic “Hard Place” is H.E.R’s soul reflection on love in conflict. “It’s one of those songs,” H.E.R. told Radio,com, “like a torn song…. you know when something isn’t good for you, or maybe it is good for you, but you don’t know what it is that you want. You’re caught between that addiction of love and knowing this isn’t good for me…it’s like that temporary high that you get from somebody.”

Taylor Swift, songwriter (Taylor Swift)

Taylor Swift

Her fourth Best Song nomination, “Lover” is the first one Taylor wrote alone, and the only self-written song nominated this year.  As she told Rolling Stone, it represents a “return to the fundamental songwriting pillars that I usually build my house on. It’s really honest; it’s not me playing a character.” It emerged, she said,  “very very, very quickly… I was working out the cadence of the first verse and it just sort of fell together.” 

Jack Antonoff & Lana Del Rey, songwriters (Lana Del Rey)

Lana Del Rey

Co-writing with Jack Antonoff had many benefits, as Lana told Apple Music, especially his whimsical spirit which kept her from taking herself too seriously. That spirit led to this song about a ‘genius artist” who “thinks he’s the s—-.” She evoked the name of the legendary painter because, as she said to KROQ,  “there is something familiar about the name, nostalgia in a couple words.” As for the expletive in the title, she said, she used it “just to let you know there’s a little bit of lightness somewhere in the album.”

8. SOMEONE YOU LOVED Tom Barnes, Lewis Capaldi, Pete Kelleher, Benjamin Kohn & Sam Roman, songwriters (Lewis Capaldi) 

Lewis Capaldi

Catching himself still writing mournful songs about a relationship that had long since ended, Lewis Capaldi wrote this tune in just under 10 minutes. “I was trying to write about a relationship that I had been writing about for two years,” he said. Although “Someone” is interpreted as another romantic heartbreak song, he said, “it’s actually a song about loss [on] a wider spectrum. It’s about bereavement, or people breaking up, or just losing touch with friends over the years.”

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