In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of The Grammys, we’re stumping for songs we think should have been nominated for “Song Of The Year.”
By almost any measure, 2015 was a banner year for Fort Worth, Texas soul purist Leon Bridges, whose debut album Coming Home was released to rave reviews. He landed on several prestigious year-end lists, fully capitalized on his coveted Saturday Night Live slot, and got some choice screen time during the 2016 Grammy Awards, at which he was nominated for Best R&B Album. Granted, Bridges didn’t get his shine during the actual show—he lost his category to D’Angelo And The Vanguard—but in a high-profile ad for Squarespace that chronicles his journey from a busboy at a chophouse chain to a widely acclaimed singer-songwriter. Though it was a year of abundant blessings for Bridges, it’s surprising he didn’t get more Grammy recognition for Coming Home’s title track, a song that wallops the listener through sheer simplicity.
The list of nominees in the general categories for this year’s Grammys demonstrates the recording academy’s preference for artists who went big and pushed beyond their personal limits. Kendrick Lamar pulled down the most nominations with To Pimp A Butterfly, a wildly ambitious artistic statement, while Taylor Swift was recognized for her shift from quasi-country to beat-driven pop, and The Weeknd bounded from the indie-soul fringes into the mainstream. Bridges, by comparison, made a far less ambitious record. It’s straightforward throwback soul, in the vein of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, and Bridges has no desire to push conceptual boundaries or add bells and whistles to his stripped-down sound.
But Song Of The Year is a songwriting category, and “Coming Home” is one of the year’s most tightly constructed pop songs. It’s such an earnest homage to Bridges’ influences, it initially seems underwhelming, then burrows into your brain. If ambition is the criteria, no one would argue “Coming Home” is on the level of Lamar’s “Alright,” or even Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” which roiled country radio last year with its vague suggestions of same-gender sexual attraction. But writing an austere earworm of a pop song is no easy feat, and while Bridges might not have reinvented the wheel with “Coming Home,” he built a hell of a sturdy wheel.