The Grammy Awards took a major step toward recognizing those who work behind the scenes with the creation of the Songwriter of the Year category for the 2023 Grammys.
While singer-songwriters like Taylor Swift and Brandi Carlile might be excellent choices for Songwriter of the Year, the Recording Academy decided that performing artists would not be eligible for this award. Instead, it’s designed for those who work behind the scenes, writing songs for other artists.
“This isn’t intended to just award an artist or producer with another award,” explained Evan Bogart, Chair of the Songwriters and Composers Wing of the Academy. “This is focused on honoring the professional songwriters who hit the studio every day and try to craft the next song for somebody.”
There was already a Grammy for Song of the Year, which is awarded to the writers of a particular song. But this new category takes into account a writer’s entire body of work during the year, much like the similar Producer of the Year category.
The Grammys officially describe the category thusly: “Recognizes the written excellence, profession and art of songwriting honoring the most prolific non-performing and non-producing songwriters for their body of new work released during an eligibility year.”
So the 2023 Songwriter of the Year nominees are mostly names that aren’t familiar to the average music fan. Let’s rundown the nominees, analyze why these folks were chosen over some other songwriters who had been viewed as top contenders, and make a prediction.
Songwriter of the Year Nominees:
Tobias Jesso Jr.
The most well-known name in the field is hip hop and R&B producer The-Dream. For two decades, he has worked on some of the biggest hits in pop music, earning songwriting credits on tracks like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and “Run the World (Girls),” Britney Spears and Madonna’s “Me Against the Music,” Jay-Z’s “Holy Grail,” Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body,” and numerous others.
After 20 years, The-Dream is still as prolific as ever. He was nominated for his work last year on six tracks on Beyonce’s Renaissance, including “Break My Soul,” and for two tracks by Brent Faiyaz and one by Pusha T with Kanye West and Kid Cudi.
The-Dream has been a performing artist in the past, and has several hits under his own name.. But since he worked primarily as a songwriter this year, he’s technically eligible for the award.
Because of his name recognition, his lengthy track record of success, and his connection to Beyonce, The-Dream has to be considered one of the favorite in the Songwriter of the Year category.
Who could beat The-Dream? One possibility is Tobias Jesso, Jr. Jesso earned fame in 2015 by co-wroting Adele’s “When We Were Young,” and has written for Shawn Mendes, John Legend, Pink, Conan Gray, Ellie Goulding, and King Princess since then.
Jesso’s list of credits this year is extensive. He co-wrote two more Adele tracks, as well as songs by Harry Styles, FKA Twigs, Orville Peck, Omar Apollo, and Marcus Mumford. Because of his connection to Adele, Jesso could grab a lot of votes.
Jesso also co-wrote a couple tracks for Amy Allen, who ended up being one of his competitors in this category. Allen wrote for Styles, King Princess, Lizzo, and Charli XCX, so she should receive a decent number of votes.
Nija Charles is the newcomer in the category, having begun her writing career in 2017. She earned credits for Cardi B, Beyonce, Megan Thee Stallion, and Chris Brown, before branching more into pop music with Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, and Lady Gaga.
Charles had another co-write with Beyonce in 2022 (“Cozy,” one of the best tracks on Renaissance) and also co-wrote “Sweetest Pie” by Dua Lipa and Megan Thee Stallion. Still, it would be an upset if Charles were to win this category.
Country music is a genre associated with songwriting and storytelling, so it makes sense that there’s a country writer in the mix. Laura Veltz already has a Grammy nomination to her credit, scoring a Best Country Song nod in 2020 for Dan + Shay’s “Speechless.” This year, she wrote for Maren Morris, Eli Young Band, and Ingrid Andress, while also branching out into pop music by co-writing several tracks on Demi Lovato’s Holy Fvck.
Who Else Could’ve Been Nominated?
One of the biggest surprises was the number of high-profile songwriters who were not nominated this year. Country music giant Shane McAnally has been one of the most successful songwriters of the past decade, but he was overlooked.
Others who were thought to be in contention for the award include Songwriters Hall of Fame member Desmond Child, country music hitmaker (and member of The Highwomen) Natalie Hemby, and James Fauntleroy, who has written for Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, and Bruno Mars in the past. Justin Tranter and Lori McKenna were two more names who could’ve been strong contenders, although McKenna was not one of the 62 songwriters who submitted their name for consideration.
McKenna – co-writer of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and Taylor Swift’s “I Bet You Think About Me,” among many others – was excited when the category was announced. She told Vulture, “I think it’s great that it’s not genre based — it’s all of us, because a songwriter’s a songwriter at the end of the day.”
It will be fascinating to watch this category evolve over the years and watch who the Recording Academy chooses to honor. The Producer of the Year category often tends to reward those who play the industry game, at the expense of younger and more cutting-edge outsider types. We’ll see if Songwriter of the Year goes the same direction.
Songwriter of the Year Prediction: 2023 Grammy Awards
Should win: Tobias Jesso Jr.
Will win: Tobias Jesso Jr.
Should’ve been nominated: Shane McAnally
Ultimately, this may come down to The-Dream vs. Jesso. Dream’s legacy and his work with Beyonce will earn him lots of votes, while Jesso’s work with Adele will make him a default choice for some Academy voters.
It could really go either way. But with hip hop producer Nija Charles in the category, she may steal a few votes from The-Dream, allowing Jesso to take the prize.