Leading up to the Grammy nominations on Nov. 10, Rolling Stone is breaking down 16 different categories. For each, we’re predicting the nominees, as well as who will (and who should) win on Grammy night.
Of all the top categories at the 2024 Grammys, Record of the Year — which rewards the best finished song, not the underlying songwriting — might be the hardest to predict, with variables everywhere you look. “Anti-Hero” may seem like an obvious pick, but Taylor Swift has never won this category, despite four noms over the years. There’s no shortage of other hits that could claim the title in her place, from Miley Cyrus‘ “Flowers” to SZA‘s “Kill Bill” to Luke Combs‘ Tracy Chapman cover. Plenty of other songs have a shot at crashing the party, too. “I could see Ice Spice with PinkPantheress getting Record of the Year for ‘Boy’s a Liar,’” says Alex Tear, the vice president of music programming at SiriusXM. That said, Tear sees this one coming down to toss-up between SZA and Miley Cyrus. “Miley stayed on our playlist for months and months. People just aren’t getting tired of it,” he says.
Rob Kruz, the program director of Hot 99.5 in Washington, D.C. isn’t nearly as torn. “It’s going to be ‘Kill Bill,’“ he says. “Based on what we’ve seen from the Grammy voting, I think that’ll be a very interesting choice. And it’s well-deserved.”
After years of sharing the spotlight with bigger names on huge songs (“Love Galore” with Travis Scott, “The Weekend” with Calvin Harris, “All the Stars” with Kendrick Lamar), SZA dominated the charts on her own with “Kill Bill.” Over atmospherics that are part movie soundtrack and part nightmare, SZA unfurls a modern murder ballad in the vein of “Goodbye Earl,” by the Chicks, with a video that pays loving homage to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, culminating in a gruesome scene where a ninja SZA rips her ex’s heart out of his body and licks it. The song rose up the charts throughout early 2023, eventually knocking Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” out of the top spot. “The lyrics are pretty wild,” says Kruz. “And its honesty was refreshing. Anyone that’s been through a bad breakup thinks those things, but they don’t say them. Congrats to SZA for saying it out loud and creating something that really got into people’s souls.”
On the leadoff single from Midnights, Swift’s return to straight-ahead pop after the alt-leaning quietude of Folklore and Evermore, she poured out years’ worth of anxieties and insecurities. “I struggle a lot with the idea that my life has become unmanageably sized, and not to sound too dark, I struggle with the idea of not feeling like a person,” she wrote to fans when it came out. “This song really is a real guided tour throughout all of the things I tend to hate about myself.” It’s Swift at her most vulnerable (“Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism/Like some kind of congressman?”), and it connected instantly. “Anti-Hero” shattered streaming records the day it came out, racking up a record 17.4 million plays on its first day on Spotify, and it sat at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks, lingering in the Top 10 for much of the year. “We do a lot of audience research,” says Tear. “They tell us when they’re tired of things, but people never got tired of ‘Anti-Hero.’ It just kept pushing forward.”
Perhaps the most surprising hit of the year is Luke Combs’ cover of Tracy Chapman’s 1988 classic “Fast Car.” It’s remarkably faithful — he doesn’t even change the line “I work in the market as a checkout girl” to present things from the point of view of a man. The song broke out first on the Country Airplay chart, then crossed over to the Hot 100, peaking at Number Two. Some pointed out that Chapman, as a 59-year-old Black woman, would likely never have had a chance at a country hit herself — though her pop breakout as a 24-year-old folkie was enough of a surprise in 1988 — but Chapman told Billboard she was thrilled. “I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there,” she said. “I’m happy for Luke and his success, and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’” The massive success of Combs’ record — and the way this hit crosses lines of gender, race, and generations — make it perfect for the Grammys, which lean toward the big-tent paradigm. But it’s a cover, and the questions it raised about country music’s embrace of performers of color still linger. “It would be one thing to see a nomination there,” says Kruz. “I think it would be fairly unlikely it would win. But you can’t argue with his tactic. Take a great song that people love, don’t change it around too much, and do it justice.”
Prior to “Flowers,” it had been 10 long years since Miley Cyrus had a Number One hit. After years of stylistic shifts — from alt-rock stoner to Malibu hippie singer-songwriter — it was unclear she still had a hold on the mainstream pop audience, especially after the modest performance of her 2020 Dua Lipa collaboration, “Prisoner,” which failed to crack the Top 40. “Flowers” answered those doubts practically overnight. Written in the aftermath of her divorce from actor Liam Hemsworth, it’s a song of self-empowerment and cathartic rage, its bubbling shifts between darkness and light courtesy of Harry Styles collaborators Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson. The song hit in January 2023, was played a record 96 million times in its first week on Spotify, and spent eight weeks at Number One. It’s still in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio. “It’s just so memorable,” says Tear. “You can hum it, sing along to it. It has a great lyric and melodic flow. It all came together in this song.”
When Olivia Rodrigo wrote the songs on her 2021 debut, Sour, she was a teenage actress reeling from a breakup with her co-star. Few people over the age of 20 had ever heard of her. The huge success of Sour, driven by monster singles “Drivers License,” “Deja Vu,” and “Good 4 You,” transformed her into a superstar almost overnight. Two years later, she returned with another song, “Vampire,” and another bitter breakup. It starts as a “Drivers License”-esque piano ballad before the guitars and drums kick in, and it becomes a furious pop-rock tune where she rips an ex to pieces, labeling him a “famefucker” and a “goddamn vampire.” “We juxtaposed the lyrics with these big drums and crazy tempo changes,” Rodrigo said. “So now it’s like a heartbreak song you can dance to.” It debuted at Number One on the Hot 100. “The lyrics hit hard,” says Tear. “It’s a peer-to-peer conversation that a lot of people can relate to. It’s also really just hooky and memorable. I like the fact that she just went for it.”
This recounting of a drunken, late-night lovers’ quarrel has dominated the Hot 100 in 2023, spending 16 weeks at Number One between March and August. Produced by Joey Moi (known for his work with Nickelback and Florida Georgia Line) and Charlie Handsome, “Last Night” blends the spare operatics of a power ballad with Wallen’s syrupy vocals, forgoing drums almost entirely and floating on finger snaps that recall trap snares. With Wallen as one of the most-streamed artists between January and September, he’s certain to be nominated in the general fields, and just as certain to dominate in the country categories. But though it’s clear his audience has moved past his public controversies, it’s not a given that Grammy voters have. “Some voters may hold something in their pocket,” says Tear. “But I think if you step back and recognize his efforts and his music and his artistry and what he’s doing, he should get a fair shot. And that song is just a juggernaut. It’s a testament to how he’s plowed through.”
“Eyes Closed” began as a love song, but Sheeran reworked it as a tribute to his friend, British DJ Jamal Edwards, who died from a sudden heart attack in 2022 at just 31. It injected the song with incredible pathos and sorrow. “Just dancin’ with my eyes closed,” Sheeran sings. “ ’Cause everywhere I look, I still see you/And time is movin’ so slow/And I don’t know what else that I can do.” An all-star team of Max Martin, Shellback, Fred Again, and Aaron Dessner of the National helped turn the song into a pop anthem with depth, and it’s become a highlight of Sheeran’s stadium shows. “The lyrics to that song are so touching,” says Tear. “He’s so vulnerable and raw. It’s just a beautiful song.”
On Travis Scott’s first album since the 2021 Astroworld tragedy, the Houston rapper does his best to press forward, with help from A-list guests like Beyoncé, the Weeknd, Young Thug, Kid Cudi, Bad Bunny, and Future. On “Meltdown,” he teams up with Drake and proclaims himself the king of the rap game. “How many Texas boys done ran it up? A couple, maybe,” he boasts. “Swanging in the pickup truck, baby, fuck Mercedes.” Drake, meanwhile, takes shots at all their competitors. “Don’t talk to the boy ’bout comparisons, shit,” he raps. “Or come to the boy on some arrogant shit/The weapons we got are some terrorist shit.” Riding a tidal wave of bass, “Meltdown” crossed over to Top 40 radio, albeit in censored form. “Pop means popular, so we played it,” says Tear. “The song works because of his cadence, his pacing, his attitude, his lyrics. He just captures everything in the lifestyle lane. And when you get Drake and Travis together, you can’t go wrong.”
This story is adapted from Rolling Stone’s fourth annual Grammy Preview issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting on Oct. 13. We featured SZA on the cover, spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come February, made our best predictions for the nominees in the top categories, and more, providing a full guide to what to watch for leading up to the 2024 awards.