Smith’s Grammy Blow-Out

Grammy Whisperer Paul Grein has been an uncanny foreseer of both nominees and winners. Behold his bold new prediction for Music's Biggest Night (and remember, they're for entertainment purposes only).

Sam Smith may well tie two records at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 8. One will likely fill him with awe. The other may give him pause.

He has a good chance of winning in all six categories in which he’s nominated. That would allow him to tie the record for the most Grammys won by a British artist in one night. Eric Clapton set the record 22 years ago. Adele tied it three years ago.

Smith is also likely to tie the record as the only artist to sweep the “Big Four” awards—Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist—in one night. Christopher Cross set that record 34 years ago. Alas, that night of Grammy glory proved impossible to follow. (I’ve always thought that Cross would have been better off winning just Best New Artist.)

Smith’s tightest race is probably going to be Album of the Year. Beck’s Morning Phase could manage an upset, since it’s the only rock or alternative album in the finals. The category includes two Brit pop albums (Smith’s In the Lonely Hour and Ed Sheeran’s x) and two pop/R&B crossover albums (Beyoncé’s BEYONCÉ and Pharrell WilliamsG I R L). That means that pop-oriented voters (in the broadest sense of the word) will split four ways. Rock-leaning voters will mostly rally behind Beck.

It would help Beck’s chances if a song from Morning Phase had cracked the pop chart. By contrast, a song from each of these other nominated albums reached #1 or #2 on the pop chart.

I’m starting to overthink this. You can slice and dice it a dozen different ways. I think it’ll be Smith, followed by Sheeran, Beck, Beyoncé and Pharrell.

Smith’s blue-eyed-soul ballad “Stay With Me” is the clear frontrunner for both Record and Song of the Year.

The other finalists for Record of the Year are all by women. They are Sia’s “Chandelier,” Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX.

Note: In the previous paragraph, and throughout this story, I’m listing the other nominees not alphabetically (that would be too easy), but in descending order of the likelihood that they’ll win in that category. (So if something that I list last winds up winning, you’ll know it was a big surprise—at least to me).

This is only the fourth time in Grammy history that female artists have taken four of the five nominations for Record of the Year. If Smith wins, it will be the second out of those four times that the sole male nominee has taken the prize. Thirty-seven years ago (gulp), the Eagles’ “Hotel California” beat hits by Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gayle, Barbra Streisand and Debby Boone.

Smith co-wrote “Stay With Me” with James Napier and William Phillips. The other four Song of the Year finalists are “Take Me to Church” (which Hozier wrote by himself), “Chandelier” (which Sia co-wrote with Jesse Shatkin), “All About That Bass” (which Trainor co-wrote with Kevin Kadish) and “Shake It Off” (which Swift co-wrote with Max Martin and Shellback).

Smith is a lock to win for Best New Artist. He’ll become the first openly gay artist to win in that category. Few were surprised when Boy George later came out, but he played it coy in interviews at the height of his success with Culture Club, the 1983 winners. Tracy Chapman, the 1988 champ, has always kept her personal life private. The other four nominees are Iggy Azalea, Bastille, Brandy Clark (who is also openly gay) and HAIM.

Here are my picks in the Best Album categories in nine top fields:

Best Pop Vocal Album: Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour is the front-runner. Ed Sheeran has a chance of scoring an upset because he is more pop than Smith, whose music is more blue-eyed-soul. Also nominated: Coldplay’s Ghost Stories, Ariana Grande’s My Everything, Katy Perry’s Prism, Miley CyrusBangerz.

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Barbra Streisand’s Partners and the Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga tandem Cheek to Cheek are locked in a tight race. Bennett and Streisand have gone head-to-head five times in this category. Bennett has won every time. And this time he has Gaga along with him. That opposites-attract dynamic is usually surefire Grammy bait (see: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss). But Partners did much better than expected. And Streisand worked it, appearing on The Tonight Show and a Michael Bublé special. I think Streisand just may be headed for her first Grammy in 28 years. (That would be the Grammy equivalent to Meryl Streep winning her first Oscar in 29 years a few years ago.) Also nominated: Annie Lennox’s Nostalgia, Barry Manilow’s Night Songs, Johnny MathisSending You a Little Christmas.

Best Dance/Electronic Album
: Deadmau5’s while (1<2) is the front-runner. He was nominated in this category with his two most recent albums. Also nominated: Aphex Twin’s Syro, Röyksopp & Robyn’s Do It Again, Mat Zo’s Damage Control, Little Dragon’s Nabuma Rubberband.

Best Rock Album: Beck’s Album of the Year nomination for Morning Phase may give him an edge over The Black KeysTurn Blue and Tom Petty & the HeartbreakersHypnotic Eye. Beck, who won Best Alternative Music Album twice in the 1990s, is vying to become the fifth act to “graduate” from an Alternative win to a Rock Album win. (The first four were U2, Green Day, Coldplay and the Black Keys.) Both of the Black Keys’ last two albums won Grammys, so the band is potent. Petty has yet to win in this category, on his own or with the Heartbreakers, so he’s overdue. Also nominated: Ryan AdamsRyan Adams, U2’s Songs of Innocence.

Best Alternative Music Album: Jack White’s Lazaretto will probably win. White won in this category three times with The White Stripes. If he wins again, he’ll become the first four-time winner in the category’s history. White’s strongest rivals are St. Vincent’s St. Vincent and alt-J’s This Is All Yours. St. Vincent would be just the second female solo artist (following Sinéad O’Connor) to win in this category. Also nominated: Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, Cage the Elephant’s Melophobia.

Best Urban Contemporary Album: Beyoncé’s first three solo albums won for Best Contemporary R&B Album. If she wins in this category, she’ll become the first artist to win four times in R&B album categories. Pharrell WilliamsG I R L will give Beyoncé a run for its money. Also nominated: Jhené Aiko’s Sail Out, Chris Brown’s X, Mali Music’s Mali Is…

Best R&B Album: Love, Marriage & Divorce by Toni Braxton & Babyface is the front-runner. The two R&B vets have won a combined total of 16 Grammys. Voters will admire the thematic album’s ambition and sense of purpose. Also nominated: Sharon Jones & the Dap-KingsGive the People What They Want, Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio 2, Aloe Blacc’s Lift Your Spirit, Bernhoft’s Islander.

Best Rap Album: Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 has a narrow edge over Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic. (If either wins, this will mark the second year in a row that a white artist has taken home this award; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won last year.) Eminem is very hard to beat in this category. Five of his last six studio albums won this award. (Only Encore fell short, losing to Kanye West’s Late Registration.) Azalea would become the first female solo artist to win in this category. (As a member of Fugees, Lauryn Hill won for 1996’s The Score.) Azalea is hot, but she’s polarizing. Also nominated: ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron, Wiz Khalifa’s Blacc Hollywood, Childish Gambino’s because the internet, Common’s Nobody’s Smiling.

Best Country Album: Miranda Lambert’s Platinum, which won the CMA award for Album of the Year in November, is the front-runner. Platinum is vying to become the fourth album to win both the CMA award and the Grammy as the year’s top album. (The first three were Dixie ChicksFly, George Strait’s Troubadour and Taylor Swift’s Fearless.) This would be the second year in a row that a female artist has won in this category; Kacey Musgraves won last year. Also nominated: Eric Church’s The Outsiders, Dierks Bentley’s Riser, Lee Ann Womack’s The Way I’m Livin’, Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories.

Grein writes about music for and other fine sites, as well as this one.

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