Sam Smith vies with Beyonce, Pharrell for Grammy glory
LOS ANGELES - Agence France-Presse
Sam Smith performs at the 2015 Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala show at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, in Beverly Hills. AP PhotoFresh-faced Sam Smith could make history Feb. 8 at the Grammys with a chance to sweep top categories, but the music industry's big night could also coronate Beyonce or Pharrell Williams.
The 22-year-old Smith, who a few years ago was bartending in London, has enjoyed a phenomenal rise with "Stay With Me" -- a ballad about a one-night stand marked by rich, soulful tenor voice.
Smith, who will also perform at the ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, said the sensation of appearing before a global audience was "indescribable" and recalled attending the year before.
"I was in the back -- the very, very back. And I couldn't go to a party afterward because I had to record something in my label's building the next day," he said.
Smith is up Sunday for Grammys in the four most closely-watched categories -- Album of the Year; Record of the Year, which honors the top tune; Song of the Year, which recognizes the composer; and Best New Artist.
Only one artist has previously won all four categories at once -- Christopher Cross, whose 1981 triumph heralded a decade of soft rock as he controversially beat out Pink Floyd's now-classic "The Wall."
But Smith is tied with two big names for a total of six nominations -- Beyonce and Williams.
A Grammy victory for Williams would serve as vindication for the 41-year-old producer who achieved success in his own right with the globally viral song of optimism, "Happy."
In a forum on Twitter, Williams said that he recorded nine versions of "Happy" that were rejected before he came up with his hit.
"I had to change my approach to writing it -- stop thinking and start feeling instead," Williams wrote.
Williams last year enjoyed Grammy nominations for his work both on Robin Thicke's lustful "Blurred Lines" and with the French electronic duo Daft Punk, who were 2014's big winners.
In June, Williams is joining former vice president Al Gore in Live Earth global concerts aimed at building momentum for a climate change agreement later this year at talks in Paris.
Beyonce has already won 17 Grammys but never the most prestigious Album of the Year.
The 33-year-old singer offered some of her most personal work on her latest, self-titled album, which she recorded in secret and released with no previous publicity in December 2013.
The former teen star with R&B band Destiny's Child notably explores sexuality on "Beyonce," which includes the ode to marital bliss "Drunk in Love" sung with her husband Jay-Z.
A dark horse for Album of the Year is "Morning Phase" by Beck, the innovative Los Angeles rocker who for two decades has enjoyed critical acclaim and a cult following, if not the mainstream appeal usually recognized by the Grammys.
Also up for Album of the Year is "X" by Ed Sheeran -- like Smith, a British singer and relative newcomer -- who previously worked with pop giants such as Taylor Swift and boy band One Direction.
Another new star in contention is Iggy Azalea, who could be the first solo woman to win for Best Rap Album.
Azalea, who is also up for Best New Artist and Record of the Year, has become a cultural flashpoint as the white Australian raps in an accent that is markedly African American.
Her most prominent critic has been rapper Azealia Banks, who has accused Azalea of exploiting African American culture and regretted that the music industry does not offer more space to women of color.
Azalea is up against a packed field for Best Rap Album, including five-time winner Eminem. Other nominees for Best New Artist include alternative country singer Brandy Clark and three-sister rock band Haim.
The Grammys, which take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, are known for elaborate, surprise-filled shows meant to pull in television viewers.
This year's performers will include Madonna, who made an unannounced appearance at the 2014 Grammys as part of a mass wedding set to "Same Love," the gay rights anthem by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
The last Grammys also featured a reunion of sorts of the Beatles, with surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr joined by relatives.
McCartney will return to perform Sunday -- this time to showcase a very different venture, his collaboration with R&B singer Rihanna and hip-hop star Kanye West.