Ghostwriter Wants Grammy for AI-Assisted Song. There's a Lot to Unpack

The song Heart on My Sleeve used AI to mimic the vocals of Drake and The Weeknd, and it has really stirred things up for the group behind the Grammy Awards.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
5 min read
A person dressed as a ghost, wearing a bedsheet and sunglasses.

A musician who goes by Ghostwriter used AI to help create a song submitted for two Grammy nominations.

Video screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

Could artificial intelligence help someone win a Grammy Award? The song Heart on My Sleeve, released by an anonymous creator who goes by the name of Ghostwriter, is testing that question.

The song used generative AI to mimic the voices of musicians Drake and The Weeknd, though apparently neither of those stars had anything to do with it. That AI element stirred a backlash when the song was released earlier this year, but now the team behind the song has submitted it for Grammy Awards in two categories: best rap song and song of the year.

Though the song pays homage to the two singers, it's mostly original, written and recorded by humans. AI vocal filters were used to imitate the two musicians. A representative for Ghostwriter told The New York Times this week that "Ghostwriter attempted to match the content, delivery, tone and phrasing of the established stars before using A.I. components."

The Ghostwriter team also told the paper it would like to help build a platform where artists could choose to license their voices, and control and get paid for the use of them.

Representatives for Drake and The Weeknd didn't respond to requests for comment.

Since the launch of AI chatbots such as ChatGPT, the pitfalls and benefits of artificial intelligence have been widely debated. Some praise AI for taking care of busywork, but AI-generated errors, opportunities for plagiarism, and the potential for the technology to replace human jobs are concerns.

After the song was released in April, Universal Music Group, the parent company of The Weeknd's and Drake's label, Republic Records, requested that it be pulled from major music streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal, USA Today notes.

The streaming services may have removed it, but social media has helped the track spread. A YouTube channel under the username @officialghostwriter977 reposted a video for the song back in May with the caption, "They took my Youtube account @officialghostwriter down at 20k subs. Run this one up for me gang."

The video shows an image of someone dressed as a ghost and wearing large white sunglasses. The catchy tune includes references to Justin Bieber and Lamborghinis, among other things.

Will AI songs qualify for music awards?

The song has been submitted, but that doesn't mean it'll qualify for the nominations. Generative AI is still new enough that even the group behind the Grammys isn't quite sure how to deal with it.

"Only human creators are eligible to be submitted for consideration for, nominated for, or win a Grammy Award," a representative for the Recording Academy, which presents the Grammy Awards, told CNET in a statement. "A work that contains no human authorship is not eligible in any categories."

Human-authored work that features AI elements, however, could be eligible in certain categories. The category in which the song is submitted certainly matters. In this case, Ghostwriter's team submitted the song in the songwriting and song of the year categories, both of which honor a song's composition, not its performance. And with Heart on My Sleeve, it's the performance where AI was involved.

The Grammy statement went on to note that the human authorship of the work must be more meaningful and relevant in the category, whether that's in the performance, songwriting or something else. AI authors themselves aren't eligible to be nominated for or to win a Grammy, but human authors are, the statement said.

Harvey Mason Jr., chief executive of the Recording Academy, told the Times, "as far as the creative side, it's absolutely eligible because it was written by a human." But it may not meet Grammy commercial availability requirements, which say a track must have "general distribution," which involves things like widespread availability on streaming services and at brick-and-mortar stores.

Then on Thursday, in an Instagram video post, Mason said that Ghostwriter's Heart on My Sleeve would not be eligible -- but he specified reasons separate from the involvement of AI: "Even though it was written by a human creator, the vocals were not legally obtained, the vocals were not cleared by the label or the artists, and the song is not commercially available."

The Recording Academy adopted new rules for the Grammy Awards surrounding AI back in June, saying, "Only human creators are eligible to be submitted for consideration." But it did allow for artists to utilize AI tools to create music, as long as the work submitted is meaningful.

"We're not going to be giving a nomination or an award to an AI computer or someone who just prompted AI," Mason said in an interview with Variety in July. "That's the distinction that we're trying to make. It's the human award highlighting excellence, driven by human creativity."

Artists and AI

Though representatives for Drake and The Weeknd seem not to have made a public comment on the song, it appears that Ghostwriter, for one, thinks artists should financially benefit if AI copies their distinct voices.

"Artists now have the ability to let their voice work for them without lifting a finger," Ghostwriter said on social media. "If you're down to put it out, I will clearly label it as A.I., and I'll direct royalties to you. Respect either way.'" 

No less a musical legend than Beatle Paul McCartney has used AI. Back in June, we reported that McCartney used AI to extract the late John Lennon's voice from an old demo tape to create what he called the final Beatles record.

And music isn't the only art form where AI is shaking things up. In February, the US Copyright Office pulled some protections from a graphic novel that was made with AI. In that case, the Copyright Office decided that a new copyright would protect the text and the author's instructions to AI, but not the artwork the AI had produced.

A US District Court judge last month also ruled that an AI-created piece of art isn't entitled to copyright protections. "Human authorship is a bedrock requirement," Judge Beryl Howell ruled on Aug. 18. "Copyright protection does not extend to the creations of non-human entities." 

YouTube listeners have posted a mix of comments, mostly positive, about Ghostwriter's Heart on My Sleeve, with many mentioning the Grammys.

"Yoooooo i just saw this song got submitted as possible Grammy nomination," said one. "I'm so happy for you, you deserve it your writing is on point and you deserve to have crown for A.I. music."

But another person wrote, "Welcome to the death of art."

Ghostwriter isn't done. On Tuesday, a new song went up on social media, this time mimicking Travis Scott and rapper 21 Savage.

"The future of music is here," the post on X (formerly Twitter) reads. "Who wants next?"

Editors' note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more, see this post.