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domingo, 8 de febrero de 2015

Sam Smith Rises in a Crowded Grammy Field


Before Sam Smith can be crowned pop music’s new prince, he will have to make it past the queen. While that mopey crooner is up for a pack-leading six Grammy Awards on Sunday night, including all four of the major categories — best new artist, and song, record and album of the year — Beyoncé, whose self-titled album shook the music game when it was released unannounced at the end of 2013, has as many nominations and, throughout her benevolent reign, 17 wins to Mr. Smith’s zero. Still, Mr. Smith, who offers both the thrill of the new and a safe retro sound, will probably be the one to watch when the 57th annual Grammys ceremony is broadcast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles beginning at 8 p.m. on CBS, owing to the strength of his debut album, “In the Lonely Hour,” and the single “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version).” But in a field crowded with music royalty — in addition to Beyoncé, there’s Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, Beck and more — his coronation is not guaranteed amid the night’s competing story lines. (Not that of-the-moment narratives have always been the Grammys first concern ... .) And although there is a precedent for filling an unproven artist’s arms with gold trophies — Norah Jones, for example, took home five awards, including best new artist and album of the year for “Come Away With Me” in 2003 — Grammy voters may be wary of going all in on Mr. Smith right away, according to industry experts. “For every Mariah Carey, who becomes a huge star after winning early Grammys, you have a Christopher Cross or Milli Vanilli — people who don’t pan out for the rest of their careers,” said Daniel Montgomery, who handicaps the Grammys for the awards show website Gold Derby. Even Adele, the most obvious parallel for Mr. Smith’s brand of anodyne and superselling ballads, took home only best new artist and best female pop vocal performance at her first show, losing both record and song of the year. “It wasn’t until her second album that she became the Grammy darling that we know her to be,” Mr. Montgomery said. Mr. Smith should at least have the new artist award locked up: Out of the nine previous artists ever nominated across the Top 4 categories, eight have won at least best new artist. (Only Mr. Cross swept, in 1981.) If Mr. Smith, the 22-year-old British singer, does face any conquering insurgents, it is Iggy Azalea, born Amethyst Amelia Kelly, whose radio-killing, rap-pop crossover hits make her hard to place in the Grammy hierarchy, or Brandy Clark, the lesser-known country singer and songwriter who could become this year’s Esperanza Spalding, a little-known jazz musician who beat out Drake and Justin Bieber for best new artist in 2011. Ms. Azalea has an even better shot in the rap album category, where her debut, “The New Classic,” faces less talked-about releases from hip-hop veterans — Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP2” and Common’s “Nobody’s Smiling” — and the Internet natives Childish Gambino, Schoolboy Q and Wiz Khalifa. Continue reading the main story None have Ms. Azalea’s buzz. “An Australian white rapper has totally captured the imagination of radio programmers and fans,” said John Sykes, a producer of the iHeartRadio Music Festival, describing Ms. Azalea. “She has incredible confidence and really understands who she is.” But questions about her authenticity loom in hip-hop circles, as does the specter of last year’s contest, when her fellow white rapper Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar, leading to a conversation about racial appropriation. “I don’t know how much the Grammy voters pay attention to or care about the backlash, but anyone who is paying attention doesn’t want that on their record,” Mr. Montgomery said. Even with a minor work, Eminem could notch a victory on name-recognition alone — he has won best rap album five out the six times he was nominated — but Common, who is set to perform his Oscar-nominated song, “Glory,” with John Legend at the Grammys, could sneak away with a legacy-honoring win. Regardless, any such controversy will live mostly on social media as the award for rap album, like most of the 83 prizes presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, is rarely televised. On screen, viewers are more likely to catch a glimpse of Ms. Swift, whose “Shake It Off” was nominated three times, including for song of the year, which goes to songwriters, and record of the year, awarded for performance and production. In both major categories, Ms. Swift’s smash is up against Mr. Smith’s hit and the work of two songwriters-cum-artists: Sia, whose “Chandelier” splits the difference between the catchiness of “Shake It Off” and the seriousness of “Stay With Me,” and Meghan Trainor for “All About That Bass.” “Competing with Taylor Swift is always perilous at these things,” said Tony Gervino, the editor of Billboard magazine. However, he added, “I would be completely shocked if Sam Smith doesn’t run the table this year.” Ever savvy, Ms. Swift released “Shake It Off” in time for the Grammys’ deadline, but the album it comes from, “1989,” was released after, leaving open the possibility that she will be nominated for music from the same body of work next year. (Ms. Swift has said she will not perform at Sunday’s show, citing preparations for her world tour, but has promised to host “a dance party/rage fest in the audience.” Those providing her live soundtrack from the Grammy stage will include Madonna, Katy Perry, Miranda Lambert and Kanye West, who will be joined by Rihanna and Paul McCartney.) Even without Ms. Swift, the album of the year category is stacked with options that should prove acceptable to both the Grammys voting establishment and mainstream listeners. Mr. Smith’s “In the Lonely Hour” may be the favorite partly because of momentum: It sold well throughout 2014, becoming only the third album of that year to move more than a million copies. “It comes to that point of critical mass where my mother in Florida is like, ‘I love that guy Sam Smith,’ ” Mr. Gervino said. “He combines all the things the Grammys looks for — the music is not controversial or combative, and he projects an aura of calm and sincerity that I think will resonate with the voters.” Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story The release of Beyoncé’s album was an event, sure, but one that occurred more than a year ago and did not spawn a huge single to sustain it. (“Drunk in Love,” the album’s highest charting track, was nominated for best R&B song and performance, but was left out of the major categories.) And yet the possibilities for an album-of-the-year upset don’t end there. It may not yet be time for Ed Sheeran, whose album “x” got a nod, but “Morning Phase” by Beck and “G I R L” by Pharrell Williams both represent industry stalwarts previously relegated to genre awards or collaborator roles finally being recognized for their solo achievements. (Mr. Williams is actually nominated three times in the category, including his work on “Beyoncé” and “x.”) Beck, in particular, could play rockist spoiler in a category that has gone recently to Mumford & Sons and Arcade Fire. But “real artists” and radio stars are not mutually exclusive, Mr. Sykes of iHeartRadio said, adding that “discovering great artists who will be around for a long time has become a priority” for his company in recent years. “We’re seeing a convergence happening” between commercial pop and the awards show, he said. “The Grammys are much more relevant to what’s happening right now in music.” Mr. Smith should hope so. 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