Sam Smith Headed for Grammy Glory
UPDATE (12/1): I'm still sure that Sam Smith's In the Lonely Hour, Beyoncé's Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran's x will be nominated. And I still feel good about Miranda Lambert's Platinum. But U2's Songs of Innocence, which I also had in there, may fall short. It never recovered from the band's iTunes gaffe—overblown though the criticism was. I'll go instead with Ariana Grande's sophomore album, My Everything, which consolidated her 2013 breakout success. Bubbling under: the mega-popular Frozen soundtrack, The Black Keys' Turn Blue, Beck's Morning Phase and Coldplay's Ghost Stories.

By Paul Grein
Sam Smith remains the artist to beat in this year’s Grammy sweepstakes. He was at the front of the pack three months ago when we took an early look at the prospective nominees in the Big Four categories. He’s still out front as the eligibility year draws to a close—it officially ends today.

When the nominations are announced in early December, Smith has a very good chance of showing 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 less than four years after her Grammy triumph. We’re rooting for Smith to both survive and prosper.

Meghan Trainor’s delightful "All About That Bass" has exploded in recent weeks and is likely to receive nominations for both Record and Song of the Year. But Trainor won’t be eligible for Best New Artist. To be considered in that category, an artist has to have released a full-length album or an EP with at least five songs. Her EP Title has just four songs.
Let’s take a closer look at the top categories. We’ll start off with Album of the Year. Tomorrow, we’ll look at Record of the Year. On Thursday, we’ll finish up with Best New Artist.


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 for Best New Artist last year.

U2 has a very strong track record in this category: Four of the band’s last eight studio albums were nominated for Album of the Year; two of them won. Besides, how can the Grammys not nominate Songs of Innocence after the band authorized a vinyl release to meet their deadline requirements? (Most critics wouldn’t mind: Rolling Stone gave Songs Of Innocence a rare five-star review.)

Miranda Lambert’s Platinum could round out the field. It was her first #1 "pop" album. It even put her on the cover of Rolling Stone. The panel usually strives for diversity. She’s the strongest country representative.

Nearly two dozen albums are ready to step up if any of these presumed front-runners falters.

is far and away the best-selling album of 2014, but soundtracks don’t always come through at Grammy time. Since 1995, when the Recording Academy first convened a panel of Grammy insiders to select the final nominees in the Big Four categories, just two soundtracks have received Album of the Year nominations—Waiting to Exhale and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Both of those soundtracks were overseen by producers with long lists of album credits—Babyface and T Bone Burnett, respectively. By contrast, Frozen is the work of movie music pros who aren’t as well known in recording circles.

Two rap albums—Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron—have a good shot. Eminem has been nominated in this category three times, beginning with the original The Marshall Mathers LP.

Ariana Grande’s hit-studded sophomore album, My Everything, is also a strong possibility.

Arcade Fire
, which won the 2011 Album of the Year with its previous release, The Suburbs, could make it back to the finals with its latest, Reflektor. Katy Perry, The Black Keys and Jack White, all of whom were nominated in this category with their previous albums, could also return with PRISM, Turn Blue and Lazaretto, respectively. Perry made the covers of both Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly.
Two traditional pop albums—Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga’s Cheek to Cheek and Barbra Streisand’s Partners—have a shot at a nomination. But no trad pop album has been nominated for Album of the Year since Bennett’s MTV Unplugged controversially won the 1994 award. (Even if these albums are passed over here, they’ll almost certainly face each other for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. Given the star power, the category belongs on TV this year.)

Cheek to Cheek won’t be the only collaboration to get a look: Toni Braxton & Babyface’s Love, Marriage & Divorce and Billie Joe + Norah’s Foreverly are also contenders.

U2 and Beyoncé may not be the only megastars in the finals. Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney are also contenders for their albums High Hopes and New, respectively. This would be Springsteen’s third nomination in this category; McCartney’s 10th (counting The Beatles).

Some panelists will be drawn to Pharrell Williams’ first album in eight years, G I R L. Williams is among the hottest artist/producer/songwriters in pop music. His smash "Happy" most likely won’t be eligible for Record or Song of the Year, so this would be the Academy’s best chance to give him his due.

Other top candidates include Eric Church’s The Outsiders, Dolly Parton’s Blue Smoke, Beck’s Morning Phase, Coldplay’s Ghost Stories, Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic, Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye, Arctic MonkeysAM, Rosanne Cash’s The River & the Thread and Eric Clapton & FriendsThe Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale.

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.

Read about Record/Song of the Year favorites here.

Read about Best New Artist contenders here.

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