Postponed from January due to COVID, the 2021 Grammy Awards will look different on Sunday, March 14, with an outdoor ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center featuring hybrid performances. With more than a year to write meaningful work because of the shuttered touring industry, this year’s Grammy-nominated songwriters include an encouraging number of women who are up for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and more. Since the awards show is taking place during Women’s History Month we’re spotlighting useful advice from the Grammy-nominated and award-winning female songwriters who you should look out for this Sunday:
Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell have undoubtedly taken the charts and industry by storm, and just last year, swept the Grammys, landing six nominations and five wins at a tender 18 and 22 years old, respectively. She first captured the world’s attention with “Ocean Eyes,” a song she and her brother uploaded to SoundCloud on a random Wednesday in 2015. In 2019, she released her debut album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? which charted at no. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. At the 2021 Grammy Awards, Billie is up for four nominations including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
Though Billie and Finneas are not a duo, they operate as one being, writing and producing nearly all of Billie’s music together. When talking about what makes their music so special, Eilish said in an interview with Spotify, “High quality audio means more info, there are things you will not hear if you don’t have a good sound system … we make music that wants to be heard the way it was made.”
Brittany “Chi” Coney and Denisia “Blu June” Andrews, collectively known as Nova Wav, are a songwriting and production duo who have crafted hits for some of the biggest artists in the game including Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Teyana Taylor, Britney Spears, Kehlani, and many more. In 2013, Nova Wav took home their first Grammy with their first big collaboration on Rihanna’s “Loveeeee Song,” which caught the attention of many in the R&B and pop music scene. In 2018, they received their second Grammy award from their production and songwriting work on The Carter’s Everything Is Love album. At the 2021 Grammy Awards, they are nominated as songwriters for Beyoncé’s track, “Black Parade.”
When describing their songwriting process to VIBE, Nova Wav says, “We pull from our own experiences but we also try to keep in mind that we are trying to deliver the vision for somebody else. But even songwriting, period, honesty is the best policy. We write everything from the heart.” This year Nova Wav is up for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song.
In 2019, 23-year-old songstress and multi-instrumentalist H.E.R secured two Grammy wins for Best R&B Album for her debut EP H.E.R. and Best R&B Performance with her timeless collaboration with Daniel Caesar on “Best Part.” However, this is far from the beginning of H.E.R.’s music career as she has been singing, playing instruments, and writing songs since she was a young child. When H.E.R. was 14, she signed to RCA Records and released her first single under her real name, Gabi Wilson. In 2016 Gabi reemerged under the new, alluring, and mysterious persona of H.E.R. (Having Everything Revealed) and gained the attention and support of the internet and several R&B legends, thus jump-starting her career as a major R&B artist with over three no. 1 chart-topping singles.
At the 2021 Grammy Awards, H.E.R. is up for Song of the Year for her social-justice protest song, “I Can’t Breathe” that she released in response to the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. When talking about her writing style with American Songwriter, H.E.R. says, “I love to write stories and be very descriptive without revealing too much, if that makes sense. It makes it universal.”
A frequent collaborator of H.E.R., and co-writer of the aforementioned song “I Can’t Breathe,” Tiara Thomas has been making her way up as a writer and artist for a while. Known for her viral musical content, as an artist, Tiara’s first break was when she connected with Wale and his label The Board Administration in 2009, which led to her most notable hit, “Bad” by Wale, released in 2013, which she co-wrote and was a featured artist. She has co-written hits, including “Slide” by H.E.R. featuring rapper YG, which spent more than 20 weeks on the Billboard charts.
When discussing her songwriting process in a radio interview, she said, “I like to really take my time with words, with my lyrics, because that’s a big thing for me. I’m really big on lyrics and how they make people feel. I’m trying to figure out a way to say something that I haven’t heard a bunch of other people say and I’m trying to be really creative with my words. So sometimes it just takes a little bit longer.”
If you haven’t heard of Emily Warren, you have definitely heard her writing as she has penned some of the biggest pop hits of the decade, including Dua Lipa’s three-time Grammy-nominated smash hit “Don’t Start Now,” which is up for Record and Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance. She also penned the Grammy award-winning hit “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Chainsmokers. However, Dua Lipa and the Chainsmokers are only two of many pop stars that Emily has collaborated with. She has co-written songs for Jessie J, Shawn Mendes, Khalid, 5 Seconds of Summer, Fifth Harmony, Bebe Resha, Alessia Cara, David Guetta, and many more.
Since COVID caused a lot of sessions to go virtual, Emily spoke with Songwriter Universe about her own experiences continuing her writing through the pandemic and a disrupted music industry. Emily says, “I’m absorbing and working through my own feelings, and writing things down and playing piano. I think it’s a good time for people who have the luxury to do so, to take a pause, because these are not normal circumstances. So it’s good to take some time to think, and be inspired by what you’re reading or watching or seeing, without the goal we normally have of turning it into something right away. At least, that’s what I’m doing right now.”
Another co-writer of Dua Lipa’s, Norweigan singer/songwriter Caroline Ailin is also up for the Grammy’s Song of the Year with “Don’t Stop Now.” In 2020 alone, Caroline has credits on songs by JoJo, Selena Gomez, and Lauv, just to name a few. After graduating from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2012, she signed a publishing contract with Oslo-based company Waterfall Music and worked as a waitress. In 2017, she got her first big break with her initial meeting and collaboration with Dua Lipa on her breakout hit, “New Rules.”
After writing on Selena Gomez’s most recent project, Rare, she talks about the process with Variety. Ailin says, “Lyrically, it just felt really personalized. I think that’s the best thing you could dream of in other writers: somebody who’s not scared to be honest.”
In 2018, Julia Michaels was nominated for Best New Artist and Song of the Year Grammys for her big hit, “Issues.” However, long before she showed up on the scene as an artist, for almost a decade, she has been a professional songwriter penning hits such as “Sorry” by Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez’s “Good for You” and even writing the theme song to Disney Channel’s Austin and Ally. She has also collaborated with Maroon 5, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, and several others. Her song “If the World Was Ending,” that she co-wrote with JP Saxe, is nominated for Song of the Year at the 2021 Grammy Awards.
As a prolific songwriter for other artists and herself, she said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “When I write for myself it’s usually very personal. It’s more about my perspective vs. when I write for, or with, other people, it’s sort of a blending of perspectives. It’s theirs and mine and whomever else is in the room. I think that writing for other people for so long has helped me be in touch with all different walks of emotions, which in turn has made me be able to be in touch with mine. So, if anything, I feel like writing for other people has helped me write for myself more than the reverse.”
In 2020, Natalie Hemby won the Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media for “I’ll Never Love Again” from the 2018 movie A Star is Born, which starred Lady Gaga. With more than five no. 1 Billboard charting singles, Natalie has become known as a masterful and sought after songwriter. Based in Nashville, Natalie signed her first publishing deal at 19 and accumulated more than eight no. 1 country singles. She also became a member of the award-winning and this year’s Grammy-nominated band the Highwomen, which comprises Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires.
After signing a record deal at the age of 43, Hemby said in an interview with Variety, “I’ve just been lucky in country music because I’m from Nashville and there’s a lot of artists that I love, and I would say probably a lot of artists that I’ve had success with have been a little bit more outside-the-box thinkers as well. But no, I grew up on Lilith Fair and I grew up on Sheryl, Paula, Sarah McLachlan, K’s Choice — all of the good ’90s women bands. Boy, that just runs in my veins pretty deep. I just haven’t had the opportunity to display it. So It’s awesome to be able to take your old influences and put ‘em to use and make them your own sound, if you will.”