NEW YORK -- The wattage in The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” wasn’t strong enough to compete at the Grammys – but the song isn’t the only electrifying No. 1 hit that the Recording Academy snubbed.
It’s been 10 years since a song that dominated the year in music didn’t garner a nomination at the Grammys, and that was “TiK ToK,” the drunken party anthem and multi-platinum debut single from pop singer Kesha.
And in the last 30 years, only five No. 1 songs of the year have missed out at the Grammys. Others joining The Weeknd and Kesha are the rock-pop hit “Hanging by a Moment” from Lifehouse, the top song of 2001; R&B trio Next’s racy hit “Too Close,” which won over 1998; and the 1996 pop culture moment that was the “Macarena,” by Spanish duo Los del Río.
“It’s horrible company to be in,” Ron Aniello, who produced “Hanging by a Moment” and discovered Lifehouse, said with a laugh.
“We’re talking about industry people voting, we’re not talking about the public, so it’s quite different,” Aniello continued. “I think that was a very popular song for the general public but I’m not sure how seriously (the Grammys) took the band to put them first for voting. If you remember it was their first hit. They had no history. ‘We’re going to vote for Lifehouse for best song of the year? Why should we? Who are they?’ They were undefined as artists, so maybe that had something to do with it.”
Like Lifehouse, Kesha was a new artist marking her breakthrough when her song became the year’s biggest hit. Though she launched multiple successes from her debut album, the girl who jokingly sang about brushing her teeth with Jack Daniels and described her personal style as a “garbage chic" wasn’t immediately seen as a serious musician, and it didn’t surprise many when she didn’t earn Grammy recognition in her debut year, especially for “TiK ToK.”
On the other hand, there are monster tracks like “Blinding Lights" that feel like a shoo-in at the Grammys. The Weeknd's song is spending its record-extending 50th week in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is also the longest-running No. 1 hit of all time on the R&B chart, spending 47 weeks — and counting — on top.
“It is kind of surprising because you think that someone with that kind of energy behind him or push or visibility would at least have gotten the nomination,” said Paul Jackson Jr., an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and Grammy-nominated musician who played on The Weeknd’s global hit “I Feel It Coming.”
“I’ll give you another one that’s surprising — if you look in 1984, ‘When Doves Cry’ was not nominated,” he continued. “Huge record.”
While Prince’s lead single from “Purple Rain” didn’t score a nomination, the soundtrack and the title track won Grammys. George Michael’s “Faith” won album of the year but the title track — the No. 1 song of 1988 — did not compete in any Grammy categories.
Jackson Jr. played guitar on the No. 1 song of 1986 — Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For” — which won the Grammys for song of the year and best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals.
“It was a big collaboration,” Jackson Jr. said of the tune which also featured Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John. “It was dealing with AIDS awareness and a lot of things like that. So there was a big push behind it from a lot of the (voting) members.”
“That’s What Friends Are For” is just one of nine Billboard year-end No. 1 hits to win the song of the year Grammy. Ten of the top songs of the year have been named record of the year.
Since the Grammys held its first show in 1959 — to honor the music of 1958 — Billboard has named 63 No. 1 songs of the year. Of the 63 hits, only 18 songs have missed out on Grammy nominations, including “Blinding Lights." Twenty-eight of the 45 nominated No. 1 songs have won Grammys, which currently has 84 categories.
Only five year-end No. 1 tunes have won both song and record of the year, including Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” in 2012, Kim Carnes' “Bette Davis Eyes” in 1982, Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in 1973, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in 1971, and Domenico Modugno’s “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu (Volare)” in 1959.
Aniello said one of the reasons a song may not get a Grammy nomination could be the result of record label politics.
When thinking of why “Hanging by a Moment" missed out, he said: “That year we were on DreamWorks and it was ‘I’m Like a Bird’ by Nelly Furtado, that’s the song that the label chose to push for a Grammy." Furtado’s offbeat Top 10 debut single went on to win best female pop vocal performance and was nominated for song of the year. Furtado also competed for best new artist and best pop vocal album.
“Is it fair? It’s just what it is," he continued. “We were all just new at it. We had no idea. ... We just kind of probably thought you had to pick a unicorn to win a Grammy somewhere, like it was magical. We didn’t realize it was probably more political than anything else.”
Grammy rules state that just because a track is the most successful song of the year does not mean it deserves to be nominated — that means chart placement, radio airplay or streaming success are not part of the voting process. The academy's voting body includes artists, producers, songwriters and engineers.
“It’s an industry award,” Jackson Jr. explained. “It’s not necessarily based on just popular vote. It’s based on people thinking that this has merits to win."
Aniello — who produced the Bruce Springsteen albums “Wrecking Ball,” “High Hopes,” “Western Stars” and “Letter to You” — said though The Boss has won 20 Grammys, he’s never picked up big prizes such as record or album of the year, despite being one of music’s most revered performers.
“It’s just a quirky thing,” he said. “The Grammys don’t make sense to me.”
When he thinks about what Lifehouse created two decades ago — opening doors for Christian-leaning rock songs to live on pop radio — he’s proud, and content.
“The song is very deep. I’m fine with not having a Grammy,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me because the song reached who it needed to reach.”