Grammys 2015 Preview: Beyonce, Sam Smith & Other Artists Vying for Album of the Year Honors Dish on Their Discs

Robin Harper

Having trouble keeping track of what's nominated for Album of the Year at the 2015 Grammys? Billboard breaks down the five nominees.

In the Lonely Hour - Sam Smith
Producers: Steve Fitzmaurice, Komi, Howard Lawrence, Zane Lowe, Mojam, Jimmy Napes, Naughty Boy, Fraser T. Smith, Two Inch Punch, Eg White
Engineers/Mixers: Michael Angelo, Graham Archer, Steve Fitzmaurice, Simon Hale, Darren Heelis, James Murray, Jimmy Napes, Mustafa Omer, Dan Parry, Steve Price, Eg White
Mastering Engineers: Tom Coyne, Stuart Hawkes
Label: Capitol Records

At just 22, Sam Smith is the king of this year's Grammy nods. Although Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams tied his total of six, Smith is the only performer recognized in all four general-field categories -- album, record and song of the year and best new artist. Following in the Brit-soul tradition of Adele and Amy Winehouse, In the Lonely Hour, the second-best-selling album released in 2014 at 989,000 copies, was inspired by heartbreak. "I was working with people who'd written Rihanna songs, and I'm going, 'I want to make a Rihanna record.' But then I'd go into the studio and start pouring my heart out," says the breakout voice of 2014.

Billboard Cover: Sam Smith on 'Stay With Me,' 'SNL' Jitters and 'Striving to Be a Career Artist'

Girl - Pharrell Williams
Producer: Pharrell Williams
Engineers/Mixers: Leslie Brathwaite, Adrian Breakspear, Andrew Coleman, Jimmy Douglas, Hart Gunther, Mick Guzauski, Florian Lagatta, Mike Larson, Stephanie McNally, Alan Meyerson, Ann Mincieli, Kenta Yonesaka
Mastering Engineer: Rob Ludwig
Label: Columbia Records

With Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and his own "Happy," seven-time Grammy winner Pharrell Williams dominated pop in 2013. And he didn't slow down this year, coaching on The Voice, launching clothing and fragrance lines and releasing his second solo album, G I R L, an ambitious dance-pop-disco blend with a surprisingly feminist slant. "A world where 75 percent of it is run by women -- that's a different world," says Williams, 41. "That's going to happen, and I want to be on the right side of it when it does."

Pharrell Williams' 20 Biggest Billboard Hits

x - Ed Sheeran
Producers: Jeff Bhasker, Benny Blanco, Jake Gosling, Johnny McDaid, Rick Rubin, Pharrell Williams
Engineers/Mixers: Andrew Coleman, Jake Gosling, Matty Green, William Hicks, Tyler Sam Johnson, Jason Lader, Johnny McDaid, Chris Scafani, Mark Stent, Geoff Swan
Mastering Engineer: Stuart Hawkes
Label: Atlantic

A 2013 nominee for song of the year ("The A Team") and best new artist, Ed Sheeran is fast becoming a Grammy favorite. With more than 430 million streams, x (said aloud as "multiply") was Spotify's most-streamed album in the world this year. Working with such studio wizards as Rick Rubin and Jeff Bhasker resulted in more depth from the 24-year-old, both musically and emotionally. "The last album was more young and dewy-eyed and innocent," says Sheeran. "I've still got very nice songs on this record. But some of them are bite-y."

Ed Sheeran is Spotify's Most-Streamed Act for 2014

Beyonce - Beyoncé
Producers: Ammo, Boots, Noel "Detail" Fisher, Jerome Harmon, Hit-Boy, Beyoncé Knowles, Terius "The Dream" Nash, Caroline Polachek, Rey Reel, Noah "40" Shebib, Ryan Tedder, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Key Wane, Pharrell Williams
Engineers/Mixers: Boots, Noel Cadastre, Noel "Gadget" Campbell, Rob Cohen, Andrew Coleman, Chris Godbey, Justin Hergett, James Krausse, Mike Larson, Jonathan Lee, Tony Maserati, Ann Mincieli, Caroline Polachek, Andrew Scheps, Bart Schoudel, Noah "40" Shebib, Ryan Tedder, Stuart White, Jordan "DJ Swivel" Young
Mastering Engineers: Tom Coyne, James Krausse, Aya Merrill
Label: Columbia Records

With six nods, Beyoncé, 33, is now the all-time queen of Grammy nominations among women, with 47. In 2013, she shocked the world with 17 new songs, each with a video, released with no advance notice. "I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it," she said at the time. "I am bored with that." Beyoncé has sold more than 2 million copies.

Beck's 'Morning Phase': The Billboard Cover Story

Morning Phase - Beck
Producer: Beck Hansen
Engineers/Mixers: Tom Elmhirst, David Greenbaum, Florian Lagatta, Cole Marsden, Greif Neill, Robbie Nelson, Darrell Thorp, Cassidy Turbin, Joe Visciano
Mastering Engineer: Bob Ludwig
Label: Capitol Records

Twenty years after "Loser" made him a reluctant Gen X icon, Beck lands a surprise nomination in this category. Morning Phase, his first full-length release in six years, was initially presented as a "companion piece" to his acclaimed 2002 album, Sea Change, and marks a return to that record's mellow melancholy. All of the songs on Beck's 12th studio album, which was mostly recorded in a three-day sprint, are set during daybreak (hence the title), capturing the fuzzy mood -- full of both promise and uncertainty -- that arrives with each new dawn. "I put all my time into this, and I still feel like I'm still figuring it out," says the three-time Grammy winner, 44. "There's still more to do."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 26 issue of Billboard.


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