Record of the Year (ROTY) is one of the most anticipated prizes awarded on Grammy night. This year is no exception, with heavy hitters such as Adele, Beyoncé, and Kendrick Lamar among the 10 nominees. For a quick rundown, check out my hot takes on the top five contenders.
“Easy on Me” (Adele)
There is always a slight risk in nominating a piano ballad for an award like ROTY. It is essential that the vocal performance fills the space of the otherwise sparring production. Luckily, Adele is an artist who has the ability to fill the space, and do it exceptionally well. Whoever suggested an artist’s voice is simply another instrument would probably approve of Adele as one of their leading examples. In “Easy on Me,” Adele’s voice serves not only to enhance the solemn mood created by the piano melody, but actually adds weightlessness to it. As usual, Adele provides listeners with an impressive performance.
“BREAK MY SOUL” (Beyoncé)
The high energy of “BREAK MY SOUL” is very much the slick, matured sibling of Beyoncé’s older dance records (even “Crazy in Love” still lives on today). A dance floor ready record, the leading piano chords sampled from “Show Me Love” by Robin S are somewhat reminiscent of Drake’s 2016 hit, “One Dance.” Beyond the track’s danceability, the lyrical content defines the current social climate, where listeners facing the burnout of the post-pandemic world are searching for a new sense of self: “motivation, I’m looking for a new foundation.” Expect “BREAK MY SOUL” to dominate the club scene for years to come.
“The Heart Part 5” (Kendrick Lamar)
Kendrick Lamar continues a streak of powerful social commentaries through the release of “The Heart Part 5.” After a spoken message in the introduction, what follows is a stark transition into Lamar’s signature bold delivery as the listener ventures further into the hand-drum driven groove (sampled from Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”). Given Lamar’s expertise in the art of concept album creation, there’s a hesitancy to evaluate the record as separate from its parent album. Despite this, the unique contrast between Lamar’s delivery and the instrumental, along with the deep symbolism in the lyrics, allows the record to stand strong as a separate entity.
“Bad Habit” (Steve Lacy)
Among multiple Grammy winning veterans, Steve Lacy brings a sense of freshness to this year’s ROTY nominees. As an artist who is developing a unique sound space of his own, Lacy manages to combine indie rock and R&B elements with the ease of an experienced producer (notably, Lacy made production contributions to The Internet’s Grammy-nominated album Ego Death in 2016). The relatability of the lyrics is central to the record’s appeal: a description of the regret felt after failing to express one’s true feelings. The muted guitar tone featured on the track, a common feature of indie rock records, may be a point of contention for its tendency to drown vocals or other instrumentals. Fortunately, the fact that Lacy’s vocals are kept at the front of the mix helps avoid this potential pitfall.
“As It Was” (Harry Styles)
If you weren’t already a fan of Harry Styles before, “As It Was” was probably the record that changed your mind. The universal listenability is to blame for why this record has been everywhere since its release in April 2022. Put in on a party to get the crowd on their feet. Put it on in the car for a quick serotonin boost. The opening synth riff is the signature of an instant classic. Speaking of synth, the production of the record taps into a nostalgia that complements the lyrical content quite perfectly, “you know it’s not the same as it was.” Styles puts forth a strong contender in “As It Was.”
Who Should Win:
Adele, Beyoncé and Lamar would all be a ‘safe’ win. Each of these high-caliber artists set the bar for their respective genres and frankly, I would be content to see any of them take the prize. With that said, both “Bad Habit” and “As It Was” were massive hits this previous year, launching their respective artists to a new height of stardom. This is the quality I’m looking for in a ROTY: a song that captures the attention of listeners beyond an artist’s typical audience. On sheer replayability and universal appeal, Styles should take the win.
Who Will Win:
Based on previous winners, the Grammys likes to give this award in streaks. In the last seven years, Billie Eilish won the award twice, and if his role in Silk Sonic is included, Bruno Mars took home the prize three times. Adele took home ROTY the last two times she was nominated (2012 and 2017), so it would be no surprise to see her win this year.
To gain a fuller perspective on the competition on this year’s ROTY, have a listen to the other excellent nominees: “Don’t Shut Me Down” (ABBA), “Good Morning Gorgeous” (Mary J. Blige), “You And Me On The Rock” (Brandi Carlile Featuring Lucius), “Woman” (Doja Cat), “About Damn Time” (Lizzo).