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And with Smith’s rising stature in the LGBT community (he graced the cover of Out’s annual “Out 100” issue), latching onto a figure calling for such awareness would give the Grammys some non-Macklemore gay advocacy they’ve been missing in the past.
How many awards can Smith win at the Grammys? Many. If we’re looking for a benchmark, Adele won six at the 2012 Grammys (tying Beyoncé’s mark from two years prior), a feat only bested by Michael Jackson in 1984.
Beyoncé is back on the Grammy hunt this year, so Smith has his work cut out for him. Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz recently named Smith a best bet for a nomination in three of the “Big Four” categories, only leaving him as an outside contender for album of the year, a category where Beyoncé will be tough to beat, amongst stiff nomination competition from the likes of Katy Perry’s PRISM, Ed Sheeran’s x, and obligatory genre-reppers (hello, Jack White!). This is Smith’s biggest challenge out of the Big Four, but let’s back up first.
More on the 2015 Grammys:
Best new artist is where the odds are most in Smith’s favor, and it would be a slam dunk if it weren’t for the similar breakout of Iggy Azalea. She’s had the No. 1 single that’s just eluded Smith (“Stay With Me” peaked at No. 2) but Smith’s time-tested brand of stately adult R&B is a much better fit for the Grammy voters than Azalea. The soulful vocalist’s success nods firmly to the industry’s past, a quality that’s no doubt helped Adele, Bon Iver, Amy Winehouse, and Esperanza Spalding win this category before. We’re chalking this one up as a win for Smith.
In the songwriting category, song of the year, where “Stay With Me” — a warm-hearted, radio-dominating track — is as safe a bet as any for a nomination. Smith wrote the song alongside collaborators James Napier and William Phillips, who aren’t particularly big names themselves, but Fun. and Lorde (with Joel Little) have won the last two years, so the voters haven’t been shy with handing this one to fresh faces. What about the competition? Ed Sheeran and Pharrell Williams is an enticing combo in the songwriter’s category and John Legend’s “All of Me” might have beat “Stay With Me” at its own slow-jam game. But we’re feeling some positive mojo on Smith’s side this year.
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Record of the year is a little different, as it focuses on the producer and performance over songwriting. “Stay With Me” certainly offers a dizzying vocal performance, but its greatest achievements lie in its musical DNA, rather than its studio treatment. Can it score a nomination? Absolutely. “Stay With Me” offers that rare combination of commercial success, critical acclaim, and cross-generational appeal that the Grammys crave. Yet for a studio standout, a track like Beyoncé and Jay Z’s “Drunk in Love” makes more sense.
And finally the big prize — can Smith cap off the Grammy telecast by taking home album of the year? Just getting nominated here will be a challenge, as the Grammys prefer to represent a range of genres in the nominations. But In the Lonely Hour is no underdog. It’s sold 723,000 copies to date (according to Nielsen SoundScan), has been warmly received by most critics, and flows like a classic soul/R&B LP from start to finish. Beyoncé’s game-changing self-titled album is more deserving, but the Grammys would still make many music fans happy by giving Smith the honor.
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If you’ve been keeping score, that’s two of the Big Four Grammys we’re predicting Smith to win. Of course, there are numerous other categories — like best pop solo performance and best pop vocal album — that Smith could score. He’s a lock for numerous nominations since there’s hardly an artist not named Beyoncé with a better shot at a game-changing evening. Six awards is a stretch, but it’s not impossible. Sam Smith is a gifted, inspiring artist on his own, but after the 2015 Grammys — like it or not — he may have to get used to the “male Adele” tag a lot more.