The play’s the thing for the Grammys.
With each passing year, more and more emphasis is placed upon facilitating vivid performances during the live television broadcast.
Shifting the focus away from the actual awards creates a baffling paradox: Winning a Grammy is, in theory, the music industry’s highest honor, but what’s talked about more the morning after?
The winners or the performers?
As industry pundit Bob Lefsetz recently put it, “congratulate those performing on the Grammys, they’ve already won.”
He’s not wrong.
A cursory glance at the roster of acts scheduled to take the stage at the Staples Center during the 57th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday tells you the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) is going all-in on making moments happen.
Performers such as Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Adam Levine, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett aren’t even competing in any of the major categories. (Never mind the fact that out of 83 total categories this year, only 13 Grammys will be awarded on air. The bulk of the Grammys are being given out prior to the telecast, during what NARAS now calls the “premiere ceremony.”)
Contenders like Sam Smith, Pharrell Williams and Miranda Lambert are scheduled to perform, but next to a trifecta like Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney (all performing Rihanna’s new single, Four Five Seconds), even the men and women of the hour feel like an afterthought.
Still, there will be Grammys to hand out, and for Beyonce, Smith and Williams, all with six Grammy nominations apiece, it will be a potentially golden evening.
Other top nominees include Iggy Azalea, Beck, Eric Church, Drake, Jay Z, Miranda Lambert, Sia and Jack White, all of whom have four nominations each.
So, to exhume the age-old question, resurrected every year around this time: Do the Grammys still matter?
Amid a sea of awards shows, it still clings to some of its establishment luster.
As a reliable barometer of the best the music industry has to offer, somewhat less so.
Will that stop me from making semi-educated guesses as to who walks away with a golden gramophone?
Record of the year
The nominees in this category read like a typical playlist plucked from any Top 40 radio station in the country. All of 2014’s smashes are here: Iggy Azalea’s inescapable Fancy; Sia’s octave-scaling Chandelier; Taylor Swift’s caffeinated Shake It Off and Meghan Trainor’s throwback body image anthem All About That Bass.
Less clear is why Sam Smith’s stately (and heavily Tom Petty-indebted) Stay With Me is being nominated in remix form, but such are the quirks of the Grammys.
Pre-ceremony buzz indicates that this could be Sam Smith’s coronation — a rapid ascent from unknown to pop superstar in roughly 15 months’ time — but the ever-fickle Grammys have also been known to stoke talk of sweeps in the past, only to end up spreading around the wealth. This race should come down to Swift, Azalea and Smith, although the final result will likely be a photo finish.
Should win: Sia, Chandelier
Will win: Sam Smith, Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)
Album of the year
A surprisingly well-balanced (for the major prizes) category with a little something for everyone.
It’s nice to see Beck, for his first album in almost a decade, getting a nomination for one of 2014’s best efforts, Morning Phase, as well as recognition for Beyonce’s late-2013, self-titled iTunes surprise (which, due to eligibility rules, missed the cut for last year’s Grammys).
Ed Sheeran’s X and Pharrell Williams’ Girl hold down the pop end of things, with Sam Smith’s multi-platinum debut, In the Lonely Hour, rounding out the list.
Sheeran and Williams offset each other, and Beck’s nomination feels more like an appreciation of his eclectic career to date than a viable chance to win (although he could play spoiler).
This contest comes down to Queen Bey and Smith, a pair of sensitive souls responsible for diametrically opposed albums. Both are great, but Beyonce deserves to win, not only for her stealth marketing abilities but for creating the first true masterpiece of her glittering career.
Should win: Beyonce, self-titled
Will win: Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour
Song of the year
With the exception of Hozier’s moody, gorgeous Take Me to Church, this category is a carbon copy of record of the year. That means, once again, Meghan Trainor, Taylor Swift, Sia and Sam Smith are vying for the prize.
Hozier, the eponymous Irish singer-songwriter, cuts a striking figure, and Church was one of 2014’s most arresting singles, but that won’t be enough to overtake the Trainer-Swift-Smith juggernaut.
Given how closely song and record of the year match up, the Grammys might be trying to split the difference with Swift, Trainor and Smith (and Sia, for that matter), honoring more than one musician. This category seems like Trainor’s to lose — having cut her teeth as a songwriter prior to her big solo break, it would give the academy a chance to acknowledge those often-overlooked contributors — but don’t discount Swift or Smith.
Should win: Hozier, Take Me to Church
Will win: Meghan Trainor, All About That Bass
Best new artist
As always, this most idiosyncratic of Grammy categories reads like a grab bag of critical darlings and mainstream favorites. Bastille and HAIM, two of 2014’s buzzier bands, are long shots, as is neo-traditional country upstart Brandy Clark (although it’s genuinely great to see the Grammys even acknowledging her existence).
That leaves Iggy Azalea and Sam Smith duking it out to see who claims the prize. Azalea has proved quite controversial in the months after her blazing success with Fancy, so Smith is arguably the safest, and most likely, choice here.
Should win: Brandy Clark
Will win: Sam Smith
Best rock performance
Any one of the five nominees in this category — Ryan Adams, Arctic Monkeys, Beck, the Black Keys or Jack White — could walk away with the Grammy, and it would be satisfying. (Well, maybe not for White’s deliberately opaque Lazaretto.) Adams, like Beck, enjoyed plenty of accolades for his 2014 “comeback,” as the Arctic Monkeys continue to demonstrate a robust shelf life beyond the initial buzz first created way back in the early ’00s.
The Black Keys are a legitimate arena act now, on a par with the sort of crowds White or Beck routinely draws, making this a pretty competitive and evenly matched bunch. While Beck will probably strike out in album of the year, it would be nice to see him go home with a Grammy.
Should win: Beck, Blue Moon
Will win: Beck, Blue Moon
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713
The 57th annual Grammy Awards
▪ 7 p.m. Sunday
▪ KTVT/Channel 11