Grammy Predictions: 'Big Four' Categories

Paul Grein, Writer

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

Smith is likely to become only the second 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. This is the problematic one: That night of Grammy glory proved almost impossible for Cross to follow. It was widely seen as a case of “too much, too soon.”

Smith actually 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.

 

Let’s see who Smith is up against…

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

This will probably be Smith’s tightest race. Beck’s Morning Phasecould manage an upset, since it’s the only rock or alternative album in the finals. The category includes two British 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 Williams’s GIRL). That means that pop-oriented voters (in the broadest sense of the word) will split their votes four ways. Rock-leaning voters will mostly rally behind Beck.

 

But Smith’s strengths will probably help carry him to a win here, as elsewhere. It would help Beck’s chances if a song from Morning Phase had cracked Billboard’s Hot 100. By contrast, a song from each of these other nominated albums reached #1 or #2 on that chart. The Grammys aren’t supposed to be about sales, but familiarity never hurt.

If Smith prevails for Album of the Year, he’ll become the youngest male solo artist ever to win in that category, edging out Stevie Wonder. Smith will be 22 years and eight months old on Grammy night. Wonder was 23 years and nine months old in March 1974 when he won his first Album of the Year award for Innervisions.

RECORD OF THE YEAR

The other finalists for Record of the Year are all by women. They are (listed in descending order of their likelihood of winning): Sia’s “Chandelier,” Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX.

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, this will be the second out of those four times that the sole male nominee has taken the prize. Thirty-seven years ago, 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. (Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne were awarded a co-writing credit on the song, owing to its similarity to Petty’s 1989 hit “I Won’t Back Down,” which they co-wrote. But that doesn’t alter the songwriter credits in the Grammy process. Bottom line: If “Stay With Me” wins, Petty and Lynne won’t be receiving a Grammy.)

 

SONG OF THE YEAR

The other Song of the Year finalists, besides “Stay with Me,” are “Chandelier” (which Sia co-wrote with Jesse Shatkin), “Take Me to Church” (which Hozier wrote by himself), “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 and his songwriting partners Napier and Phillips are likely to take this one as well. “Stay With Me” is a classy, adult record that appeals to a broad cross-section of Grammy voters. Luckily for Smith, the messiness of the songwriting credit change involving Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” occurred after the close of voting.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Smith is vying to become the first openly gay artist to win for Best New Artist. 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 Best New Artist. winners. Tracy Chapman, the 1988 champ, has always kept her personal life private. Smith is also vying to become the third English solo artist to win in this category. Amy Winehouse and Adele were the first two.

 

Smith is a lock to win this prize. The other four nominees are Iggy Azalea, Bastille (which is also English), Brandy Clark (who is also openly gay), and HAIM.

Bastille’s debut album, Bad Blood, and HAIM’s debut album, Days Are Gone, were released in the previous eligibility year. Those groups got a second shot in this category this year because of a rule that is meant to give developing artists a little extra time to develop.

 

On the other hand, Meghan Trainor and Hozier weren’t allowed to compete in this category because their first full-length albums weren’t released prior to the Sept. 30 cut-off for entries. Barring a rule change, they won’t be allowed to compete in this category next year either because they were nominated in other categories this year.

The Grammy gods giveth, and they taketh away.