Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) is the next-generation technology that is required to deliver areal densities in excess of 2 terabit/in2 for high-capacity, low-cost hard drives.The recording process relies on spatially and temporally localized heating of the media surface to lower its coercivity during the magnetic writing process. This scheme drives substantial changes to the recording head write element architecture, combining the conventional electromagnet structure with integrated optical light delivery layers, focusing optics, and plasmonic nanostructures to generate subwavelength optical spots. Power losses associated with the strong optical fields required for heating the media can cause local temperatures in excess of 400°C at the recording head surface. Coupled with high pressures, an oxidative/corrosive air-bearing environment, and a sub-3 nm head-media spacing, this introduces new challenges for the functional materials in recording heads required to balance performance and long-term reliability demands. Here, we briefly review specific challenges associated with HAMR heads, highlighting the major requirements, failure modes, and needed innovations for the near-field transducer and optical-waveguide subsystems.