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2023 Grammys: a breakdown of the first-ever Songwriter of the Year award (and win)

Updated: Mar 20

What you’ll read in this article:

If you’re a professional songwriter, winning a Grammy award might be one of your dreams or goals. Until 2022, you could do that by being lucky enough to have worked on a song that would end up being nominated for Song of the Year or Best Contemporary Classical Composition by the Recording Academy.

Things are different for songwriters in 2023, though. Non-classical songwriters now have their own category at the Grammys. The Grammy Award for Songwriter of the Year, Non-Classical was launched in November 2022, and inaugurated during the 65th edition of the Grammys, on February 5th, 2023, with Tobias Jesso Jr. becoming its first-ever winner.

To anyone who loves music, the Grammy Awards is always a must-watch ceremony for entertainment purposes; but for music professionals, it’s also for research. And for songwriters, that’s a lot to learn from the Songwriter of the Year.

If you want to know if you have a shot at ever being nominated for Songwriter of the Year at the Grammys, or if you want to know what its first win says about how the Recording Academy rates music, this article is for you.

Check our recap and analysis of the first Grammy award for Songwriter of the Year, Non Classical.

Who can be nominated for Songwriter of the Year at the Grammys?

Are you curious as to whether you’d be eligible for the Songwriter of the Year award?

According to the 65th Grammy Awards Rules and Guidelines, the songwriters that can qualify for the Songwriter of the Year, Non Classical category are those who:

  • have songwriter and/or co-writer credits in a minimum of 5 songs during the eligibility period (cannot be songs from albums released in a previous year, even if they were released as a single during the current eligibility year, or rereleased, added to a new album or reissue, if they’re a remix, a cover, or a historical recording of a song);

  • are credited only as a songwriter or co-writer in these songs (cannot be credited as an artist or any other role);

  • submit a minimum of 5 songs and a maximum of 9 (of which 4 can be songs in which they are credited as an artist or performer)

Please note that these rules may not stay the same in the upcoming years, as the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy can vote to change the qualification criteria for any Grammy Awards category.

Adele’s “To Be Loved” was co-written by Songwriter of the Year winner Tobias Jesso Jr.]

The nominees for Songwriter of the Year at the 2023 Grammys

Five songwriters were nominated for the first-ever Songwriter of the Year award at the Grammys.

Let’s check their profiles and see if we can learn anything from it.

Amy Allen

  • Age: 31 years old

  • Nationality: USA

  • Songs submitted:

  • For My Friends (King Princess)

  • The Hardest Part (Alexander23)

  • If We Were A Party (Alexander23)

  • If You Love Me (Lizzo)

  • Magic Wand (Alexander23)

  • Matilda (Harry Styles)

  • Move Me (Charli XCX)

  • Too Bad (King Princess)

  • Vicious (Sabrina Carpenter)

  • Other nominations at this year’s Grammys: None

  • Previous years’ Grammy nominations:

  • 2021 - Album Of The Year: Justice (Triple Chucks Deluxe) (Justin Bieber)

Nija Charles

  • Age: 25 years

  • Nationality: USA

  • Songs submitted:

  • Cozy (Beyoncé)

  • Ex For A Reason (Summer Walker With JT From City Girls)

  • Good Love (City Girls Featuring Usher)

  • Iykyk (Lil Durk Featuring Ella Mai & A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie)

  • Lobby (Anitta & Missy Elliott)

  • Ride For You (Meek Mill Featuring Kehlani)

  • Sweetest Pie (Megan Thee Stallion & Dua Lipa)

  • Tangerine (Kehlani)

  • Throw It Away (Summer Walker)

  • Other nominations at this year’s Grammys:

  • Album of the Year: RENAISSANCE (Beyoncé)

  • Previous years’ Grammy nominations:

  • 2019 - Best R&B Song: No Guidance (Chris Brown feat. Drake)

Tobias Jesso Jr. [WINNER]

  • Age: 37 years

  • Nationality: Canada

  • Songs submitted:

  • Boyfriends (Harry Styles)

  • Can I Get It (Adele)

  • Careless (FKA Twigs Featuring Daniel Caesar)

  • C'mon Baby Cry (Orville Peck)

  • Dotted Lines (King Princess)

  • Let You Go (Diplo & TSHA)

  • No Good Reason (Omar Apollo)

  • Thank You Song (FKA Twigs)

  • To Be Loved (Adele)

  • Other nominations at this year’s Grammys:

  • Album of the Year: Harry’s House (Harry Style) - WINNER

  • Album of the Year: 30 (Adele)

  • Previous years’ Grammy nominations: None


  • Age: 45 years

  • Nationality: USA

  • Songs submitted:

  • Break My Soul (Beyoncé)

  • Church Girl (Beyoncé)

  • Energy (Beyoncé)

  • I'm That Girl (Beyoncé)

  • Mercedes (Brent Faiyaz)

  • Rock N Roll (Pusha T Featuring Kanye West and Kid Cudi)

  • Rolling Stone (Brent Faiyaz)

  • Summer Renaissance (Beyoncé)

  • Thique (Beyoncé)

  • Other nominations at this year’s Grammys:

  • Best Dance Recording: BREAK MY SOUL (Beyoncé) - WINNER

  • Best R&B Song: CUFF IT (Beyoncé) - WINNER

  • Record of the Year: BREAK MY SOUL (Beyoncé)

  • Album of the Year: RENAISSANCE (Beyoncé)

  • Song of the Year: BREAK MY SOUL (Beyoncé)

  • Previous years’ Grammy nominations: This songwriter has been nominated to Grammy Awards 15 times in previous years. Those nominations include wins in the following categories/songs:

  • 2020 - Best Rap Song: Savage (Meghan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé)

  • 2012 - Best Rap/Sung Collaboration: No Church in the Wild (Jay-Z & Kanye West feat. Frank Ocean and The-Dream)

  • 2011 - Best Rap Song: All of the Lights (Kanye West feat. Rihanna, Kid Cudi)

  • 2009 - Song of the Year: Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) (Beyoncé)

  • 2009 - Best R&B Song: Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) (Beyoncé)

Laura Veltz

  • Age: 42 years

  • Nationality: USA

  • Songs submitted:

  • Background Music (Maren Morris)

  • Feed (Demi Lovato)

  • Humble Quest (Maren Morris)

  • Pain (Ingrid Andress)

  • 29 (Demi Lovato)

  • Other nominations at this year’s Grammys: None

  • Previous years’ Grammy nominations:

  • 2021 - Best Country Song: Better Than We Found It (Mareen Morris)

  • 2020 - Best Country Song: The Bones (Mareen Morris)

  • 2019 - Best Country Song: Speechless (Dan + Shay)

Average profile of nominees

  • Average age: 36 years old

  • Nationality: USA

  • Grammy nominations past: 80% of nominees have earned Grammy nominations in previous years.

Interestingly, though, only one songwriter goes against the average nationality and history with Grammy nominations. And that one songwriter ended up being the winner.

The winner

Tobias Jesso Jr. made history as the first winner of the Songwriter of the Year award at the Grammys.

It wasn’t his only win in the 2023 Grammys. Harry Styles’ Harry’s House, which featured Jesso's co-write “Boyfriends”, won the Album of the Year.

Other songs submitted by Jesso were featured in nominated albums, such as Adele’s “Can I Get It” and “To Be Loved” (featured in 30, nominated for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album), and Diplo & TSHA’s “Let You Go” (featured in Diplo, nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album).

Jesso also co-wrote a song for Omar Apollo (“No Good Reason”), which was nominated for Best New Artist.

The songwriter reportedly sold 100% of his publishing rights and his share of performance to Hipgnosis Song Management, as it was announced merely two days after his historical win (although it was not disclosed whether such transactions took place before the Grammys).

Tobias Jesso Jr. - Picture credit: Shore Fire Media

Was Tobias Jesso Jr.’s victory unexpected?

Although new, the award for Songwriter of the Year did not get as much attention as others (such as the famous “Big 4”). Therefore, it didn’t make many predictions lists and bets. And of course, because it was the first time this category was awarded, it was hard to know what to expect from it.

There were a few hints, though.

Nija Charles has built considerable popularity for a non-recording artist, due to her massive presence in mainstream pop and hip hop, having co-written many hits at an impressively young age. In online communities and social networks, many music fans were betting on Charles, and her loss was not well received. “Nija Charles deserved and was robbed BADLY”, Twitter user Steven wrote*.

But there was also The-Dream, who has already built his very own legacy. Given that 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip hop, which even got a 14-minute celebrative performance at the Grammys ceremony, his win would be symbolic.

Among music critics, The-Dream was among the most talked-about names expected to win the award. For LA Times, music critic Mikael Wood wrote that “songwriter of the year should go to The-Dream if only for the depth of his work on Beyoncé’s “Renaissance.” Wood also wrote that the award could play some sort of “lifetime-achievement” role for the songwriter.

Although LA Times noted that Jesso had a chance due to his work in Adele and Harry Styles’ ballads, they listed The-Dream in both their “should win” and “will win” bets.

The Rolling Stone India staff highlighted the two same names plus Amy Allen, but their final hunch was just right: they listed Jesso in their “will win”. “It’s hard to look past Tobias Jesso Jr”, wrote David Britto. “His volume of successful work speaks for itself.”

Harry Styles’ “Boyfriends”, among other songs, helped Tobias Jesso Jr. become the first winner of the Songwriter of the Year award at the 2023 Grammys. It also helped Styles’ Harry’s House win Album of the Year.

How does Jesso’s victory fit the overall landscape of the 2023 Grammys?

On the night of the Grammys, when Beyoncé was announced as the winner of the Best Dance/Electronic Recording category with “Break My Soul”, then becoming the most awarded artist in the history of the Grammys, many people felt that it could be a sign. Maybe 2023 would finally be the year when she would win Album of the Year, a category to which she has been nominated 4 other times (including 1 for her participation in Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster). But that didn’t happen.

When Bad Bunny opened the ceremony and performed songs from his massive album Un Verano Sin Ti, many people felt that it could be a sign too. After all, there is a mix of pattern and superstition that the opening artist wins Album of the Year. Maybe 2023 would finally be the year when an album sung in Spanish would be crowned Album of the Year. But that didn’t happen.

At the end of the night, Harry Styles beat the odds and won the ceremony’s most desired award. The Grammys are known for being predictable in parts, but Harry’s House surprised even the most conservatives. Above Beyoncé, Adele was the most rated to win. The most optimistic fans also believed in a Bad Bunny victory, since his very nomination was a shot of hope, to say the least. Although not as present in many people’s lists, a Kendrick Lamar or Lizzo would not come as much surprise either, given their powerful albums and the symbolism of their very own presence.

Many stakes pointed at 2023 being the year when the Recording Academy would finally reflect its so-called diversity in its biggest category (or the year when they’d finally make justice to Beyoncé). Styles’ win is significant given his One Direction past (which could work against him if the Recording Academy was prejudiced against boy bands), but it was unexpected.

Hints or criticisms aside, Harry’s House win is the win of a team of talented songwriters. In that sense, it’s inevitable to associate the album win with Tobias Jesso Jr.’s. When the Songwriter of the Year award was announced, many Styles fans even celebrated that it could be a sign of Harry’s House having a shot at Album of the Year.

Out of all Songwriter of the Year nominees, Jesso and Allen were the only ones to have writing credits in at least two Album of the Year nominees. That could also have weighed in Jesso’s favor.

It might be worthless trying to identify any pattern in how the Recording Academy votes, as the Grammy Awards always ends up bringing surprises. We shall see how the Songwriter of the Year will roll out in the future. For now, the very existence of this category feels like a win for the talented professionals who don’t always get the spotlight they deserve.

* * *

What did you think of the nominees and the winner of the Songwriter of the Year category at the Grammys?

If you’re a songwriter, we would love to get to know you better and would love for you to get to know us. The world is changing and SPARWK wants to make it better for music creators.

Join SPARWK as we work towards a brighter future for all the stakeholders in the music ecosystem.

This content is published for informational and entertainment purposes and does not constitute promotion of any of the artists here mentioned.

*SPARWK only cites/embeds tweets from public people (celebrities, people of public interest and/or people with verified accounts) and organizations.

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