Beck's "Morning Phase" and Pharrell's "Girl" rounded out the selections for the Grammys' top category, which was revealed during Friday night's broadcast of the taped special "A Very Grammy Christmas."
Smith's "In the Lonely Hour" capped a major year for the neo-soul balladeer, who also scored nominations in five other categories, including best new artist along with song and record of the year. Smith earned six total Grammy nods, which places him alongside Beyonce and Pharrell for the most nominations.
The English folk singer Sheeran was also an expected nominee -- his album "X" also earned a nod for best pop vocal album and topped the Billboard 200 album chart upon its release in June.
Beyonce's nomination for her self-titled LP was the only major-category nod for the R&B singer, which comes as something of a surprise given her star power and the publicity around the album's surprise release. The critically and commercially beloved album has since gone double-platinum in the U.S. but failed to land her in either the song or record of the year categories for its lead single, "Drunk in Love," which featured her husband Jay-Z.
Still, this year's nomination haul vaults Beyonce past Dolly Parton to make her the most-nominated female artist of all time.
Beck and Pharrell were more left-field choices. Beck's indie-favorite "Morning Phase" was praised by critics for its meticulous California-folk sound and sturdy songwriting, and it debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, but it hadn't figured into many anticipated lists of album nominees. Williams' "Girl" did yield an inescapable single, "Happy," but the album as a whole earned mixed reviews for its scrubbed up, optimistic R&B sound.
Recent years have seen some unexpected wins for album of the year, including critical favorites