Sam Smith had a breakout year in 2014, and he isn’t showing signs of slowing down. The British soul upstart won the record-of-the-year Grammy for his “Stay With Me,” besting the smash hit “Shake It Off” from Taylor Swift.
Though it’s steeped in soul classicism, “Stay With Me” wasn’t without controversy. In the weeks leading up the Grammy Awards, the songwriters added Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne to the writing credits after finding it bared a coincidental resemblance to Petty’s “I Won't Back Down” (the matter was handled last year, but the story broke weeks before the Grammys).
FULL COVERAGE: Grammy Awards 2015
Still, “Stay With Me” is a showcase for the malleable, upper-register vocals of the 22-year-old artist, which often veer toward a vulnerable falsetto on “Stay With Me.” The winning version of the song was produced Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, a hitmaker who has worked with everyone from the likes of Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige. The album version of the track is similar, although Jerkins’ rendition has been praised for showcasing the song’s gospel undertones.
Released in June, “In the Lonely Hour” was 2014’s largest-selling debut and one of the year’s biggest releases (behind Taylor Swift and the “Frozen” soundtrack) and landed him six nominations tonight. To date, the album has sold just shy of 1.4 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. “Stay With Me” alone has sold about 3.6 million downloads.
Smith’s win is in line with past Grammy trends in the category. Though record of the year is meant to favor production, with few exceptions Grammy voters tend to award the prize to tracks that celebrate old-fashioned song craft. Winners in the past five years have included the Kings of Leon, Lady Antebellum, Adele and Gotye. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” which won last year, was one of the few recent winners that placed studio wizardry frontandcenter.
Smith had some powerful competition. Swift had one of the year’s most ubiquitous songs in “Shake It Off,” and pop confectionary Meghan Trainor tapped into 2014’s obsession with the booty in "All About That Bass.” Rounding out the field was Sia with “Chandelier,” a slow-building dance anthem with a transfixing video starring young dancer Maddie Ziegler, and the bouncy “Fancy” from Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX.
The Grammys are determined by about 13,000 voting members. The eligibility period for nominated recordings was Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014. The 57th awards are being held at the Staples Center and telecast on CBS-TV. They are broadcast live except for viewers on the West Coast. The latest headlines and any breaking news will be posted here on Pop & Hiss.