All bets for Album of the Year are off. And what makes this race unpredictable is how diverse (and yet so similar) the line-up is. This year’s contestants include: One folk/rock album (Beck); two urban crossover acts (Beyoncé/Pharrell); and two male British singers (Sam Smith/Ed Sheeran).
Both Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith are debuting in this category. Smith became the tenth artist to gather all four nods in the general field in one ceremony. On the other hand, Beyonce made the line-up for the second time while this is Beck’s third attempt.
Let’s now take a look at the odds for each of the nominees. They are listed in order of likelihood of winning:
01. Beck — Morning Phase
Morning Phase by Beck, one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, was the surprise nominee for this category. And ironically, he now has the best chances at winning. Beck’s album features orchestration and live instrumentation that could attract the traditional NARAS’ voters. On top of that, he is also a veteran of the 1990s alternative rock. Also, the similarities between the other set of nominees could ‘split the votes’ making Beck win. And last but not least, this is his third time in the race.
Beck is a three-time GRAMMY winner and was previously nominated for Album of the Year for Odelay in 1997 and Midnite Vultures in 2001.
Bob Ludwig, the mastering engineer for Morning Phase, is a 7-time GRAMMY receipt including last year’s win for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
02. Beyoncé — Beyoncé
Beyoncé’s self-titled album is the other sure bet to win Album of the Year. Odds in Beyoncé‘s favour include: It was the best-selling record during the eligibility period, its innovative ‘visual’ concept, the notoriety of its release, universal acclaim, and well we are talking about 17-time winner Queen Bey. There are, however, some factors against it: Bey was completely snubbed from the Record and Song of the Year categories, which shows that there isn’t a whole lot of love for her in the Academy. Some panelists also claim that the over-production of the album could trigger her chances. Also, there is another ‘urban contemporary’ album in contention (Pharrell Williams’ G I R L).
Beyonce was previously nominated for Album of the Year in 2010 for I Am… Sasha Fierce losing to Taylor Swift’s Fearless. If she wins, she will be the third urban artist to do so.
03. Sam Smith — In the Lonely Hour
Sam Smith is nominated in all of the four general field categories. To date only Christopher Cross, back in 1981, managed to sweep the general field (Smith’s fellow compatriot, Adele also completed this task in two separate ceremonies). It is hard to imagine that Smith could actually win Album of the Year mostly because of the fierce competition he faces from Beck, Beyoncé and even former winner, Pharrell.
If Smith wins, he will be the fourth ‘new’ artist to do so after Bob Newhart (1961); Christopher Cross (1981); Alanis Morissette (1996); and Norah Jones (2003).
04. Pharrell Williams — G I R L
Pharrell Williams might be the fourth favourite to win but he actually has big chances as he is represented thrice in this category: For his own album, G I R L and also as the producer for Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran’s x. G I R L did not make a major critical or commercial impact but if NARAS wants to award the prize to the most versatile performer of the year then Williams will get it.
Williams won the award last year as a featured artist in Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
05. Ed Sheeran — x
Ed Sheeran’s inclusion in the Album of the Year category was somewhat of a surprise. Critics praise this album for its production, songwriting, and Sheeran’s ability to switch from folk pop tunes to more R&B-esque sounds. However, there are no other factors that could trigger a win.
This is Sheeran’s first ever appearence in the Album of the Year category. He’s also up for Best Pop Vocal Album alongside Sam Smith.