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.
If the biggest song of the year (Morgan Wallen‘s “Last Night”) has a chance in any of the major all-genre categories, it would be here — SOTY technically honors the song’s four co-writers and not him. Ultimately, though, Wallen’s stumbles could rule out a win, or even a nomination. (“It takes me a while to warm back up to someone who loosely throws around the N-word when they’re pissy drunk,” says Ebro Darden, the global editorial head of hip-hop and R&B at Apple Music). That’s just one reason this year feels like a showdown between Taylor Swift and SZA, with the former being the safest bet. “I like Taylor, she’s a generational talent,” says Darden. “In my world, it was more SZA, but when it comes to Grammy voting, I don’t know if SZA has the cachet and the relationships that Taylor has.” Here are our predictions for the nominees — and who will (and should) take home the statue on Grammy night.
Expect Swift to earn her seventh nomination — and first win — in this Big Four category. “Anti-Hero” is a nuanced pop smash that spent eight weeks at Number One on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Swift’s longest-running chart topper. “Everybody should buckle up,” says Darden, “because it’s shaping up to be Taylor Swift’s year.”
In a few short years, Rodrigo went from a phenom newcomer to a major superstar “who is authoring the zeitgeist,” says J.J. Italiano, head of global music curation and discovery at Spotify. “To follow up Sour, which was so explosive, with a song that’s reacted this well on a high level is a very cool story.” Sour earned Rodrigo seven noms (and three wins) two years ago. Her chart-topping return song will earn her a return trip to the Song of the Year category.
“Lift Me Up”
Despite more than 30 Grammy nominations, Rihanna has never earned a SOTY nod. But this ballad from the Wakanda Forever soundtrack is “the first we’ve heard from Rihanna in a while,” says Italiano. “That, in and of itself, makes it a cultural moment.” The slow-building ballad reached Number Two on the charts, and with its touches of gospel, soundtrack strings, and rawly emotive vocals, it showed a different side of the singer. “It was refreshing,” Darden says.
“Kill Bill” is the rare combo of commercial smash and critical darling. It’s “one of the most important songs of the year,” says Italiano. “It’s catapulted her to a whole other level in the pop-music ecosystem.” “Kill Bill” was also the only song popular enough to interrupt Morgan Wallen’s multimonth chart reign earlier in the year, elevating SZA from critical favorite to arena headliner. “The song is just well written, well done, and well worth the wait,” says Darden, who views SZA as “one of the greatest songwriters of a generation.”
A commercial smash that mixes modern production with lyrical traditionalism? That’s almost a blueprint for a Grammy nomination. And “Last Night” is not just any hit — it’s by far the most commercially successful single of 2023. “The numbers speak for themselves,” says Italiano, citing the song’s superhuman longevity on radio, streaming platforms, and the charts, where it crossed over from country to the Number One perch on the Hot 100. More than that, as Italiano says, “it has no sign of slowing down.”
Despite Cyrus’ lackluster history with the Grammys (she somehow has just two nominations), “an established artist having a supersmash hit,” as Darden puts it, is a tough combination for the academy to resist. And “Flowers” wasn’t just a hit, it broke records, becoming the fastest song to reach a billion streams in Spotify’s history. “I would be surprised if this wasn’t nominated,” says Italiano.
Lil Durk feat. J. Cole
“All My Life”
In a year where hip-hop has had fewer Top 40 blockbusters than usual, Lil Durk’s retro-leaning sing-song collaboration with J. Cole feels like a contender. The “self-reflecting,” socially conscious hit “transcended hip-hop,” says Darden. The Dr. Luke-produced Number Two song was an immediate crossover success, says Italiano: “It was really noticeable how quickly this exploded into a broader audience.” The featured verse from J. Cole, with his 16 past Grammy nominations, gives the song an extra boost.
Zach Bryan feat. Kacey Musgraves
“I Remember Everything”
Bryan crafted one of the saddest breakup songs of the year with this atmospheric ballad — and knew he needed the right voice to sell it. Enter Kacey Musgraves, whose performance, as pained and searching as Bryan’s, should remind voters why she went four-for-four at the Grammys in 2019. She’s a co-writer too, which means they both could walk away with gold. And for lines like “The sand from your hair is blowin’ in my eyes/Blame it on the beach, grown men don’t cry,” it’d be well-deserved.
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.