This is America by Childish Gambino, an incendiary song of social commentary, won the prestigious Record of the Year category at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Earlier tonight This Is America became the first hip-hop composition to win in the song of the year category.
Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover) did not attend the ceremony. Soft-spoken Swedish producer Ludwig Goransson, a key collaborator for Childish Gambino’s music, accepted the Record of the Year trophy. Childish Gambino was nominated a year in the same category for the “stay woke” hit Redbone.
This Is America topped a tight field of nominees that included some of the biggest commercial hits of the year, two contenders from high-profile Hollywood film soundtracks and tracks that varied in theme from socio-political commentary to the polarizing politics of the heart.
The other nominees for Record of the year coming into tonight were the plaintive duet Shallow by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper; the ethereal All the Stars from rap auteur Kendrick Lamar & SZA; God’s Plan by Canadian rap superstar Drake; The Joke by folk/country stalwart Brandi Carlile; Rockstar by Post Malone featuring 21 Savage; The Middle by Zedd featuring country singer Marren Morris & the EDM duo Grey; and I Like It the ubiquitous, bilingual radio hit by Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin.
The field this year was marked by numerous connections to Hollywood films. Shallow from Gaga and Cooper was the cornerstone soundtrack recording and screen performance for the Warner Bros. film A Star is Born. Lamar’s All the Stars, meanwhile, was the breakout hit from the soundtrack to the Disney/Marvel Studios film Black Panther, the top-grossing domestic release of 2018. (Goransson, the Swedish producer, was also a contributor to the Black Panther music and he won a Grammy for that work tonight.)
Nominee Childish Gambino, meanwhile, is the musical alias of Donald Glover, whose screen credits include Solo: A Star Wars Story, Atlanta and Community.
Glover/Gambino’s most debated screen appearance, however, was likely his performance in the art-house video for This is America, which was both hailed and criticized for its jarring imagery, abrupt violence and tonal juxtapositions.
The record of the year category is widely viewed as the marquee prize on music’s biggest night. Past winners include era-defining classics such as We are the World, Beat It, Hotel California, Killing Me Softly and Bridge Over Troubled Water. The record of the year prize recognizes the best overall single recording released during the eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018). The song of the year category, by contrast, honors songwriting.