This Miley Cyrus/Billie Eilish Grammys split was the first of its kind since 1995

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The 2024 Grammy Awards defied almost 30 years of history. At the ceremony, Miley Cyrus’s “Flowers” and Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” were both nominated for Record and Song of the Year. While Cyrus took home Record of the Year (a performance, production and engineering award), Eilish won for Song of the Year (a songwriting award), a reflection of each song’s strengths. However, it was the first time since 1995 that two songs, both nominated for Record and Song of the Year, split those general field categories. What exactly made 2024 the year for that once-in-a-generation event to happen again?

If you think about the fact that many people probably don’t know the difference between the awards (as Meryl Streep joked while presenting Record of the Year this year), it makes sense that the same songs have often won both. Even before 1995, songs nominated in both categories splitting the awards wasn’t that common; it was only the eighth time that happened. However, it wasn’t super rare either, with the largest gap between instances being 14 years, from 1963 to 1977. What makes the latest 29-year gap even more interesting is that, after those 1995 Grammys, the Recording Academy implemented nomination review committees to review the top-voted contenders and make the final nomination decisions, which you’d think would have allowed them to arrange the nominees in such a way that the most lyrically impressive song would end up winning Song, while splitting more frequently with the most sonically impressive single in Record.

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It has only been three years since the committees were eliminated, so perhaps that has had some effect on the landscape of nominees and winners. Or perhaps voters are simply more attentive to the differences between the two categories. Either way, a few other factors probably contributed too. I think a big one was genre-based vote-splitting. While Eilish has been liked by pop voters, she is not beloved by them. In fact, despite having three general field-winning songs (“Bad Guy,” “Everything I Wanted” and now “What Was I Made For?”), Eilish has never won a song award in the pop field. In two of these three cases, Eilish lost Best Pop Solo Performance to a song she ended up beating in the general field. I suspect a big reason is that Eilish’s support is strong in other branches of the Recording Academy that end up pushing her across the finish line in the top categories, especially rock and alternative voters.

This year Eilish only had Lana Del Rey‘s “A&W” as competition in Song of the Year to get those votes, but considering Del Rey’s ultimately weak performance in the alternative field, I’d bet a lot of those academy members were more persuaded by Eilish’s Grammy-bait ballad. But in Record of the Year, Eilish likely lost a lot of those rock and alternative votes to Boygenius’s two-time Grammy-winning “Not Strong Enough,” which claimed Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. If it was a tight race between Eilish and Cyrus, these lost votes would have been enough to put Cyrus ahead.

Considering the style of “Flowers” and Cyrus’s country roots, it’s also likely that country and Americana voters supported the song in Record of the Year. However, in Song of the Year, Jon Batiste’s “Butterfly” — an American roots song — might’ve taken some of those votes. Regardless of the combination of the above factors, though, the prospect of the right songs winning in the right categories is very exciting. There have been some weird winners in both categories over the years that have made it look like voters don’t differentiate between the two awards. We are long overdue for better and more appropriate winners now.

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