--THR’s senior music editor Mesfin Fekadu, in the new awards column "The Download," breaks down how Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer,” Miguel’s “Sure Thing” and other older songs that became hits this year can qualify at the Grammys. “Sure Thing” was released in 2010 and was named Billboard’s No. 1 R&B/hip-hop song of 2011. But TikTok resurrected the melodic track this year, and the platform thrust it to higher heights on the pop charts, as streaming platforms added it to current playlists and radio stations began replaying the song 13 years after its release.
Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” was released in 2019, but the addictive bop became a favorite on her ultra-popular Eras Tour, and now it’s in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Sia, thanks to TikTok, relaunched a platinum hit with “Unstoppable” late last year, though it was released in 2016. And Tems set a record when her 2020 track “Free Mind” spent 22 weeks at No. 1 on R&B/hip-hop radio this year.
When looking back at 2023, these songs will be part of the music that defined this year. But what does that mean at the Grammy Awards, which honor the best in new recordings, especially as the trend of older songs finding new life continues to explode? Here’s how artists can get an old song nominated at music’s biggest awards show.
SING IT LIVE
The most common way to get an older track nominated at the Grammys is submitting a live version. An artist can submit a live version of a track at any time; the only rule is the live rendition must have been recorded within the past five years.
John Legend’s “All of Me” and Pharrell’s “Happy” were released in 2013 but became No. 1 hits in 2014, and live versions of both tracks competed for best pop solo performance at the 2015 Grammys (“Happy” won). Adele dominated the 2012 Grammys with 21 and its singles “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You.” A year later, she won best pop solo performance for a live version of third 21 single “Set Fire to the Rain.” Beyoncé won best pop female vocal performance for “Halo” in 2010 and was nominated in the same category for a live version of the ballad in 2011. Sheryl Crow’s “There Goes the Neighborhood” lost best female rock vocal performance to Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited” at the 1999 Grammys, but two years later a live version of “There Goes the Neighborhood” won in the same category.
Those who have won Grammys for live versions are Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister,” Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” and Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” which was a hit in 1964 but gained new attention after the release of the 1990 classic Pretty Woman; it won a Grammy for its live version in 1991.
Songs that earned nominations for live renditions are Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind,” Beyoncé’s “Me, Myself and I,” Latto’s “Big Energy,” Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” McLachlan’s “Possession” and Sting’s “Fragile,” originally released in the ’80s but nominated at the 2003 Grammys. Live renditions of songs can only compete in performance categories — like best R&B performance and best pop duo/group performance, but not in categories like song of the year or best rock song.
MAKE IT A DUET
Collaboration is key if an artist wants to get their older song nominated for a Grammy. Making a track a duet is the way to go — just ask Dolly Parton. Her classic “Jolene” was nominated in the 1970s, but the singer rerecorded the song with the a cappella group Pentatonix in 2016, and it won them the best country duo/group performance Grammy in 2017.
For the duet or collaboration to qualify, both parts should be newly recorded. Though he has boycotted the Grammys, The Weeknd is in perfect shape for this. TikTok helped his 2016 track “Die for You” become a top 10 smash last year, and his duet version with Ariana Grande, released in February, immediately hit the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. If submitted, it would likely compete for best pop duo/group performance.
The smooth addition of Usher on Miguel’s “Sure Thing” could give the song and Miguel a chance to compete at the Grammys; what’s better is a young Miguel played “Sure Thing” for record executives for possible inclusion on Usher’s album years ago, and the song helped the singer-songwriter land a record deal.
Doesn’t Kelly Clarkson or Pink — or both — trading big vocals with Sia on a new version of “Unstoppable” sound like magic? Mariah Carey’s 2009 track “It’s a Wrap” became an R&B hit this year, and though she remixed the song with Mary J. Blige a while back, a new rendition with Jazmine Sullivan and her “Pick Up Your Feelings” energy would be heaven sent.
IT’S THE REMIX!
Remixes have always extended the life span of a song, whether it’s adding a rapper to the track or having a DJ transform it into a pulsating nightclub favorite. For older songs in hopes of getting Grammy love, remixing the track and adding new elements could help it get nominated in the best remixed recording category. And before you ask, those “sped-up” versions of songs on TikTok don’t count.
To qualify, a remixer “creatively adds to, alters or transforms [a previous recording] in such a way as to create a new and unique performance,” according to the Recording Academy’s rules and guidelines. The Academy adds that “the addition of a vocal performance by a featured artist without substantive change to the original music recording is not eligible as a remix.”
Think of Lana Del Rey’s pop groove “Summertime Sadness” and its upbeat dance remix by Cedric Gervais. The French producer’s reworking won him a Grammy in 2014. Getting a producer or remixer to rework Swift’s “Cruel Summer,” Miguel’s “Sure Thing,” Tems’ “Free Mind” or Beyoncé’s “My Power” — which saw an increase in streams following Blue Ivy Carter’s dance to the song on her mom’s Renaissance Tour — might be the easiest route to take to earn a nomination.
But note — for the artist to get a nomination in the best remixed recording category, the artist must be listed as a remixer. For instance, Lizzo won record of the year at this year’s Grammys for “About Damn Time,” but when Purple Disco Machine’s remix of her ubiquitous hit won best remixed recording, the award only went to the German producer, not Lizzo.
SHOOT A MUSIC VIDEO
A song could be years old, but making a new music video could help it land a Grammy nomination. The best music video category is awarded to the artist, director and video producer. And the good news is that some of the older songs that found new success this year never released an accompanying video, including Swift’s “Cruel Summer,” Tems’ “Free Mind” and Carey’s “It’s a Wrap.”
“If a single is released one year and the music video is released in a different eligibility year, both are eligible in their respective years,” Academy rules read.
Unfortunately for Miguel, this disqualifies “Sure Thing” because the song already has an official video.
THE LIZZO EFFECT
Lizzo dominated 2019 with the hit “Truth Hurts,” though it was originally released in 2017 as a stand-alone single. Normally, an artist would have to submit a live version of an older track to compete at the Grammys, but not Lizzo. The Academy deemed “Truth Hurts” eligible because it was never submitted for contention in the Grammys process and it appeared on an album released during the eligibility period for the 2020 show.
“Truth Hurts” gained major attention after it was featured in the Netflix film Someone Great, released on the same day as Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You. “Truth Hurts” wasn’t originally featured on the album, but two weeks after its release, Lizzo’s record label dropped a deluxe version of the album and added “Truth Hurts” to it. If you’re unsure about if your song qualifies at the Grammys or not, The Lizzo Effect is a reminder to shoot your shot because there’s a chance you could score big — just like she did.