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A Grammys correction


At this year's Grammy Awards, Lizzo took home the trophy for record of the year for her hit "About Damn Time."


LIZZO: (Singing) In a minute, I'ma need a sentimental man or woman to pump me up.

DETROW: But the award for song of the year went to "Just Like That" by Bonnie Raitt.


BONNIE RAITT: (Singing) And just like that your life can change.

DETROW: In 2016, Bruno Mars won record of the year for "Uptown Funk."


BRUNO MARS: (Singing) I'm too hot. Hot damn.

DETROW: And song of the year went to Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud."


ED SHEERAN: (Singing) So, honey, now...

DETROW: The difference between song and record of the year can be confusing - so confusing that we actually messed it up on a story at, and we had to issue a correction. Look, we mess up, and we want to try and show our listeners how we deal with our mistakes behind the scenes. And in this case, I will say it's confusing. Song and record are interchangeable to many people. Even more confusing - records weren't a thing anymore, and then they were again. So we are going to try and clear this up, and there is one clear person at NPR who can help us do that - Stephen Thompson of NPR Music. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Scott. Great to be here.

DETROW: So I will admit that at this moment, talking to you, I truly do not know the difference between song and record of the year. So can you explain it to me before you explain it to anybody else?

THOMPSON: Well, first of all, Scott, in the spirit of the segment, I have to correct you on something you said in your intro. You said "Uptown Funk" is by Bruno Mars. It is actually by Mark Ronson, a record producer working with Bruno Mars.


THOMPSON: So we are all about accuracy.

DETROW: Clearly.

THOMPSON: To answer your question about the difference between song of the year and record of the year, basically the Grammys split these categories up to differentiate between the complete package of a song and simply the writing of a song.


THOMPSON: So one is a composition award; one is a composition and performance and production award.

DETROW: So based on your correction of me in this correction segment, I'm going to guess that record of the year is the songwriting focus.



THOMPSON: Song of the year is the songwriting focus.


THOMPSON: The mnemonic device I use is just song is short for songwriting.

DETROW: OK. So let's just parse this out a little bit. When you say songwriting, do you mean the lyrics on paper? Does that mean the musical composition? I mean, what exactly are we talking about here?

THOMPSON: It's both.


THOMPSON: Music and lyrics - so melody, words, anything that goes into writing the song. And so when they gave Bonnie Raitt song of the year for "Just Like That," they were looking at the composition of that song, the lyrics of the song. And if you listen to "Just Like That," it is a beautiful lyric. It's a song about organ donation and kind of - there's a little bit of a storytelling angle to the song where a mystery is kind of solved over the course of the track.


RAITT: (Singing) It was your son's heart that saved me and a life you gave us both.

THOMPSON: And it's a little bit different from a song like Lizzo's "About Damn Time," which is this really rich, lavish production where just, like, every second of that song just sounds perfect. This year was a case where I thought it was pretty - there was a pretty clear delineation between what was a songwriting award versus what was a song-making award.

DETROW: And when you talk about the full package of the song and the song-making, what would the different things that voters are thinking about be?

THOMPSON: You know how every year we have a discussion around, like, what is the song of the summer? What are we going to remember as the song of the summer?


THOMPSON: And it's whatever song was, you know, blasting out of boomboxes and car stereos and whatever. I think of record of the year as kind of that same sort of thing. What is the song that really represented the sound of popular music in a given year? I think "Uptown Funk" is a really good example of a song that really felt like a record of the year because that song was so ubiquitous. It was inescapable. It was just, like, a very full and rich and vibrant production. You know, as opposed to song of the year - I think of somebody, like, sitting at a piano and kind of crafting some really heartfelt piece. And obviously, there have been many years in which the song of the year is just - is, like, a song that is just, like, a richly produced pop hit that isn't necessarily deeply, lyrically and melodically brilliant. But I think of record of the year as being kind of the, what one song represents the sound of music in a given year?

DETROW: Well, Stephen Thompson of NPR Music, we've made corrections today. We've been corrected. We've listened to some music. Thank you for going on this journey with me.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

DETROW: We always strive to get it right. But when we don't, you can send us an email at


Scott Detrow
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a host, writer and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist and guest host on All Songs Considered. Thompson also co-hosts the daily NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created with NPR's Linda Holmes in 2010. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)