Sam Smith Headed for Multi-Award Glory?
As we watched fireworks shoot across the sky on the Fourth of July, we all had the same thought: "Can you believe we’re less than three months away from the end of the Grammy eligibility year?"

OK, maybe I was the only one who had that thought, but the fact remains that we’re far enough along in the eligibility year to see how the major races are shaping up.

When the nominations are announced in December, Sam Smith may well show up in each of the Big Four categories (Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist). He would be only the second male solo artist to receive a nomination in each of those categories (following Christopher Cross in 1980) and only the second British artist to achieve the sweep (following Amy Winehouse in 2007).

It’s no secret that Cross was unable to sustain his early success, and that Winehouse died tragically just four years after her Grammy triumph. We’re rooting for Smith to both survive and prosper.

The Recording Academy stirred some controversy last year when Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, 2013’s best-selling album, wasn’t nominated for Album of the Year, while Sara Bareilles’ less-heralded The Blessed Unrest was. What will that mean for this year? Will the committee of Grammy insiders that determines the final nominations in the top four categories stick more closely to the wishes of the rank-and-file voters this time around?

Let’s take the Big Four categories one by one.

Album of the Year
Three albums seem like sure things to be nominated: Sam Smith’s debut album, In the Lonely Hour; Beyoncé’s fifth studio album, Beyoncé; and Ed Sheeran’s sophomore album, x. Beyoncé is a long-time Grammy favorite (17 awards). Her album may get bonus points for its innovative, no-build-up marketing approach. Sheeran is fast becoming a Grammy favorite. He was nominated for Song of the Year two years ago and Best New Artist last year.

Nearly 20 albums will be duking it out for the remaining two slots. Pharrell Williams’s first album in eight years, G I R L, has a good chance. Williams is probably the hottest artist/producer/songwriter in pop music. Also, his megahit "Happy" won’t be eligible for Record or Song of the Year (see below), so this would be the Academy’s best chance to give him his due.

Eminem’s seventh studio album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, is also a prime contender. Eminem has won 13 Grammys, but none, after all this time, in one of the Big Four categories. The original The Marshall Mathers LP was nominated for Album of the Year for 2000, but lost to Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature. Will the sequel (or its smash single "The Monster") finally give Eminem a Grammy in a marquee category?

Other top candidates include Miranda Lambert’s Platinum, Eric Church’s The Outsiders, Coldplay’s Ghost Stories, Katy Perry’s Prism, Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic and The Black KeysTurn Blue.

What about Frozen? The Disney soundtrack may very well wind up as the best-selling album of 2014, but soundtracks don’t always come through at Grammy time. Since 1990, The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou? both won for Album of the Year, but such other mega-sellers as The Lion King and Titanic weren’t even nominated in the category. The panelists may decide to salute Frozen by nominating "Let It Go" for Record and/or Song of the Year.

Also possible: Miley CyrusBangerz, Jack White’s Lazaretto, Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, Toni Braxton & Babyface’s Love, Marriage & Divorce, ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron, August Alsina’s Testimony, Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP, Brantley Gilbert’s Just As I Am and Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes.

Record of the Year
Iggy Azalea
could pull a Pharrell Williams, landing two of the five Record of the Year slots. Azalea’s "Fancy" (featuring Charli XCX) and Ariana Grande’s "Problem," on which the Aussie rapper is featured, are both strong bets for nominations. (Williams was featured on two of last year’s finalists: Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke’s "Blurred Lines.")

Sam Smith’s blue-eyed-soul ballad "Stay With Me" is also looking good for a nom. (Ken Ehrlich, the Grammys’ long-time executive producer, loves to use gospel choirs—and this song practically cries out for one.)

Numerous other hits, including Idina Menzel’s aforementioned "Let It Go," are competing for the two remaining slots. (The big question: Would Grammy producers dare ask John Travolta to introduce her performance?)

Five high-charting collabs are in the mix: "Say Something" by A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera, "The Monster" by Eminem featuring Rihanna, "Talk Dirty" by Jason Derulo featuring 2 Chainz, "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry featuring Juicy J and "Drunk in Love" by Beyoncé featuring Jay Z.

"Dark Horse" and "Drunk in Love" were both performed on last year’s telecast. Until the late 1990s, the Academy wouldn’t allow artists to perform material unless it was nominated that year—and especially not new material that might be in play for nominations the following year. Now that it does, it complicates matters when the material becomes eligible a year later. Does the exposure on the previous year’s telecast give a song an unfair advantage in the voting? Or does it put it at a disadvantage by giving it a sense of "been there, done that"? (It probably cuts both ways, depending on the situation, and shows the wisdom of the original restriction.)

Ed Sheeran’s "Sing" (which was produced and co-written by Pharrell Williams) and Coldplay’s "A Sky Full of Stars" (which was co-produced and co-written by Avicii) are also strong candidates, unless the commercial calculation is judged to be too overt.

Elton John’s 1971 classic "Your Song" wasn’t nominated for Record or Song of the Year, but Aloe Blacc’s "The Man" (which borrows the key line "and you can tell everybody") is a contender in both categories this year.

Other possibilities include KONGOS’ "Come With Me Now," Nico & Vinz’s "Am I Wrong," MAGIC!’s "Rude," Lorde’s "Team," Imagine Dragons "Demons," Paramore’s "Ain’t It Fun," Pharrell Williams’ "Come Get It Bae," MKTO’s "Classic" and Charli XCX’s "Boom Clap."

Five records that would have had a great shot at a nomination aren’t eligible, because they were entered last year: Pharrell Williams’ "Happy," John Legend’s "All of Me," Bastille’s "Pompeii," Passenger’s "Let Her Go" and "Latch" by Disclosure featuring Sam Smith. Also out of luck: "Love Never Felt So Good" by Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake. (Jackson recorded his part in 1983.)

Song of the Year
For the most part, the same works are under consideration for both Record of the Year (which honors a specific recording) and Song of the Year (which honors the song itself). The final nominees usually vary somewhat, but the prime contenders are generally the same.

Best New Artist
Sam Smith
and Iggy Azalea are the clear front-runners. These two have reached the Top 10 both on their own and as a featured artist on another artist’s recording, a neat trick. Smith may become the first openly gay artist to be named Best New Artist. Few were surprised when Boy George later came out, but he played it coy in interviews at height of his success with Culture Club (the 1983 winners). Tracy Chapman (the 1988 winner) has always kept her private life private.

Azalea would be the third female hip hop artist to be nominated in this category. She would follow Lauryn Hill, the 1998 winner, and Nicki Minaj.

Leading contenders for the three remaining spots include Aloe Blacc, ScHoolboy Q, 5 Seconds of Summer, A Great Big World, KONGOS, Jhene Aiko, Cole Swindell, Kid Ink, and August Alsina, who won Best New Artist at the BET Awards on June 29.

Other contenders include Charli XCX, YG, Of Mice & Men, Cassadee Pope and Dan + Shay.

Ariana Grande
presumably won't be eligible in this category. Her debut album, Yours Truly, opened at #1 three weeks before the end of the previous eligibility year. (According to the Academy, the award is "for a new artist who releases, during the eligibility year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist.")

Grein, who writes frequently for Yahoo Music, has been tracking the Grammys since "Stay With Me" was a hit by Faces and "Fancy" was a hit by Bobbie Gentry.
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