Grammys 2015: First impressions on the first batch of nominations

Grammys 2015: First impressions on the first batch of nominations
Sam Smith performs at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Sep. 29, 2014. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

The first 20 artists nominated for Grammy Awards serve as a tiny sample of the volume to come. Part of a day's worth of staggered announcements that will roll out through television and social media, "CBS This Morning" teased the new format by announcing four categories out of the gate: best country album, best pop vocal album, best urban contemporary album and record of the year. Then they started tweeting more nominees.

For a rundown of the nods so far, keep it at Pop & Hiss. Below, some subjective first impressions:


-- A strategically gathered quadrant tailored to morning show viewership – perhaps why Ed Sheeran didn't announce best metal album? -- the categories offer a big-tent glimpse of where we are as pop music consumers. We like our pop music upbeat and innocuous -- no biting commentary here -- our stars as young and beautiful as possible. (No duh.)  A little guitar is still OK if you're a redheaded charmer like Ed Sheeran (nominated in the best pop music album for "X") or Coldplay (nominated in the same category for "Ghost Stories").

The best urban contemporary album category includes a few wonderful surprises: the upstart singer Jhene Aiko, best known for her work with Drake on his "Nothing Was the Same," and for her own mixtape "Sailing Soul(s)," earned a nod for "Sail Out." (Aiko's doing a gig at Club Nokia on Sunday night and next Friday.)

Another surprise in that category arrived via Mali Music, the moniker of the inspirational vocalist Kortney Pollard. A breakout who few tipped for recognition here, the artist's major label debut, "Mali is …" was propelled by the hit "Beautiful." Also nominated: Beyonce, for her self-titled album, one sure to land an album of the year nod; Chris Brown, for "X" (not to be confused with Sheeran's album of the same name); and Pharrell Williams for "Girl." My bet: Beyonce wins.

-- The Grammy Awards' country music wing confirmed its good taste with a few surprises in its best country album category. In addition to sure-thing nods to the excellent albums from Eric Church (the blistering "The Outsiders") and Miranda Lambert (for her smart, expansive "Platinum"), the cutting songwriter Brandy Clarke earned recognition for "12 Stories," one of my favorite albums of last year. Clark, who has written hits for Darius Rucker, Kacey Musgraves, Lambert and others, tackles down-beat topics like addiction, poverty and disappointment but injects them with wit, raw truths and luminous lyrics.

And Lee Ann Womack's comeback album "I'm Living," which sees her interpreting songs by Julie Miller, Hayes Carll, Bruce Robison and others, is warm like a campfire on a chilly night. One listen to her take on Neil Young's "Out on the Weekend" should silence doubters.

-- Another likely outcome: Prepare for an onslaught of "Year of the Woman" think pieces. In the most prominent category thus far announced, record of the year, four of the five nominees fit the bill. Sia's excellent "Chandelier," Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off," Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" and Iggy Azalea's "Fancy," which features Charli XCX on the hook, will compete against the lone man: British vocalist Sam Smith, whose "Stay With Me" is sure to soundtrack slow-dances for decades to come.

Locked out of the category? Fellas including Maroon 5, MAGIC!, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Williams, all of whom had hit singles this year. None, however, resonated like "Fancy" or "Shake It Off."

-- A few minutes later, Ryan Seacrest announced another category, best pop vocal performance, just to keep us prognosticators on our toes: John Legend "All of Me (Live)"; Sia, "Chandelier"; Sam Smith "Stay with Me"; Taylor Swift, "Shake It Off"; and Williams, "Happy."

With that fifth category arrived the first batch of multiple nominees: Sam Smith leads with three so far, and Sia, Swift and Williams have two.

Oh wait. Jared Leto just dropped a new nomination. This is going to be a crazy day.

Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit