With the 2009 Record of the Year honor now awarded to Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," I thought it time to reflect on two decades worth of ROTYs.
An interesting trend in the ROTYs of the 2000s vs. the 1990s is the lack of chart hits. During the 1990s, five of the winners were #1 Hot 100 hits: Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise," Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," Seal's "Kiss From a Rose," Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," and Santana feat. Rob Thomas's "Smooth." Four others were top 10s, Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" (#2), Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" (#2), Eric Clapton's "Change the World" (#5), and Shawn Colvin's "Sunny Came Home" (#7, although I saw it suggested it would have peaked higher had the single been released sooner, as I remember this being a huge hit at top 40 radio). Only Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable" missed the top 10, peaking at #14.
In contrast, none of the ROTYs of the 2000s were #1 hits, and in fact, many weren't even top 40 hits. The biggest were Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," which peaked at #2, Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Be Nice" and Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," which both hit #4, and Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," which hit #9. Three other ROTYs were top 40 hits: U2's "Beautiful Day" (#21), Coldplay's "Clocks" (#29), and Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why" (#30). The last three never appeared on the Hot 100: U2's "Walk On," Ray Charles & Norah Jones' "Here We Go Again," and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's "Please Read the Letter." "Walk On" hit #10 on the alternative songs chart, but the other two songs don't appear to have charted at all, according to data on Billboard.com.
I'm not quite sure what to make of this trend. One potential cause is a greater diversity of nominees. With the growth of the Grammy genre awards, ROTY has become representative of the best across genres, whereas in the past, it was pretty much all just pop and rock nominees. Despite the differential, it's not the case that ROTY went to the biggest hits during the '90s. Sure that's true for "I Will Always Love You" and "Kiss from a Rose," but "All I Wanna Do" was up against bigger hit "I'll Make Love to You" by Boyz II Men, "Tears in Heaven" against Vanessa Williams' "Save the Best for Last," and "Unforgettable" defeated #1s by Bryan Adams ("Everything I Do, I Do It For You") and Amy Grant ("Baby Baby").
Another interesting trend is what type of song constitutes a ROTY winner has changed. In the '90s it was adult pop: Collins, Cole, Houston, Crow, Seal, Colvin, and Dion all certainly fit this bill. This decade it was rock: U2 (twice), Coldplay, Green Day, and Kings of Leon.