Song of the Year/British Single sponsors for more than twenty years, Mastercard has teamed up with music professor Dr. Joe Bennett to delve into what makes a winner at the BRIT Awards. He analysed nominees and winners from the last four decades, picking out some of the key characteristics that seem to make a song a hit.
One of the key factors in song popularity comes from social media influence. Back in the 2000s it was MySpace launching careers, this generation on the other hand has TikTok. Wellerman by Nathan Evans, 220Kid and Billen Ted is probably the most obvious example on this year’s list, but Glass Animals’ Heat Waves, Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits, Adele’s Easy On Me, KSI’s Holiday and Cold Heart (Pnau Mix) by Elton John & Dua Lipa have also been popular on the video sharing platform.
Shorter songs are also most likely to be nominated for Song of the year, with the average song length dropping 83 seconds from 4:30 in the 80s to just 3:07 today. Indeed, the shortest song this year is Central Cees’ Obsessed With You at 1:48, with Wellerman following close behind. A1 x J1’s Latest Trends, Becky Hill & David Guetta’s Remember, Friday (Dopamine Re-Edit) by Riton x Nightcrawlers Ft Mufasa & Hypeman and Bed by Joel Corry, RAYE and David Guetta are all under three minutes long.
And it’s not just the shorter songs that have taken over pop tastes, but shorter song titles too. More than 50% of the Song of the Year nominees had one-word titles in 2021, while short song titles only accounted for around 27% in the 80s and 90s. It’s just under 50% for this year with Bed, Friday, Wellerman, Remember, Holiday, Tion Wayne & Russ Millions’ Body and Clash by Dave ft. Stormzy.
Opening with a chorus might also bag a song a SOTY nomination; while traditionally songs tended to start with a verse, these days winners are more likely to begin with a punchier intro; and choruses certainly make for more memorable tunes. Obsessed With You, Clash, Heat Waves, Friday, Don't Play by Anne-Marie, KSI and Digital Farm Animals, and Tom Grennan’s Little Bit Of Love all start with choruses - or at least some kind of repeated refrain.
While it was popular for bands to have a single songwriter and soloists generally wrote their own music 40 years ago, it seems pop songs of today average around five songwriters. In fact, the only song on this year’s nominee list to have one songwriter is Heat Waves.
Perhaps one factor that doesn’t need a musicologist to work out is that most nominees and winners include lyrics about love. Love songs are just the gold standard when it comes to pop songs, with 60% of nominees over the years featuring romantic lyrics. No fewer than nine tracks can be described as love songs among this year’s nominations: Easy On Me, Don't Play, Remember, Obsessed With You, Cold Heart, Heat Waves, Bed, Holiday and Little Bit Of Love.
“The BRIT Awards Song of The Year dataset has provided us with wonderful insights into trends in British musical preferences across a 40-year period, since the first Song of The Year award in 1982”, Dr. Joe Bennett said in a statement. “We have uncovered noticeable characteristics of songs: track duration, title length, according to new technologies, listener preferences, and cultural trends. There is no perfect way to write a song, though listening to the whole 21-hour playlist it revealed the enormous diversity of artistic approaches and musical styles prevalent in British music between the 1980s and today.”
On the statistics that he’s uncovered alone, it seems that the most likely winner is among Remember, Obsessed With You, Holiday, Wellerman and Friday. But then again, how do the winners of the last five years fare against these statistics?
Only two of them were under 3:07 (Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar in 2021 and Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved in 2020), and just one had a one-word title (Human by Rag'n'Bone Man in 2018). Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa’s One Kiss in 2019 was the only song to open with a chorus, but all of them had more than one songwriter at the helm. Someone You Loved and One Kiss were the only real love songs to win in the last five years, unless you count Little Mix’s Shout Out to My Ex in 2017 but that really is more of an anti-love song.
But let’s look at this year’s nominees’ previous nods for Song of the Year. Adele has been nominated three times and won twice, Dua Lipa has had three nominations, winning once and Ed Sheeran has had five nominations and never won yet. Anne-Marie, KSI, Stormzy, Dave, Elton John and Joel Corry have all had one past nomination for Song of the Year apiece. Going by this info, the most likely winners are Adele’s Easy On Me and Dua Lipa & Elton John’s Cold Heart (Pnau Mix). On the other hand, it’s about time Ed Sheeran finally won - but is Bad Habits strong enough?
2022 BRIT Award nominations for Song of the Year:
A1 x J1 - Latest Trends
Adele - Easy On Me
Anne-Marie, KSI, Digital Farm Animals - Don't Play
Becky Hill & David Guetta - Remember
Central Cee - Obsessed With You
Dave ft Stormzy - Clash
Ed Sheeran - Bad Habits
Elton John & Dua Lipa - Cold Heart (Pnau Mix)
Glass Animals - Heat Waves
Joel Corry, RAYE, David Guetta - BED
KSI - Holiday
Nathan Evans, 220Kid, Billen Ted - Wellerman
Riton x Nightcrawlers Ft Mufasa & Hypeman - Friday (Dopamine Re-Edit)
Tion Wayne & Russ Millions - Body
Tom Grennan - Little Bit Of Love