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2015 Grammy Awards are tough to predict

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Guessing the Grammys is like throwing a dart into the middle of a horse race.

You'll hit something, but the right target is elusive -- and ever changing.

This year's 57th Annual Grammy Awards, taking place Sunday, Feb. 8, in Los Angeles and televised on CBS, is shaping up as a four-way contest between Beyonce, Sam Smith and Pharrell Williams, who have six nominations each, and Iggy Azalea on the outside with five. Detroit native Jack White, Beck and Sia, who also have five nods each, are more on the dark horse side of the equation -- although keeping in mind that it's an industry voting body and they're both industry darlings, they can't be ruled out.

In some ways it's a set-up for a year of parity Grammy, with many artists sharing the spoils rather than one dominating the night. Nobody among the forerunners feels like a walkaway favorite -- though British newcomer Smith has momentum based on his current North American tour and a recent Rolling Stone magazine cover.

And, before you ask, Taylor Swift has only three nominations this year for her hit "Shake It Off" since her "1989" album was released after the Grammy eligibility deadline. That, of course, makes her an early favorite for a sweep at the 58th Annual Grammys.

Back to this year's horse race, however... They're at the gate and waiting for the gun to go off. Here's what we think 10 of the nominees we're tracking most closely will look like at the finish line, roughly 11:30 p.m.

Beyonce: The surprise drop of her "Beyonce" album in December of 2013 and her ability to sustain its appeal through 2014 was one of the year's great stories -- bolstered by the fact it was also an excellent album. Place your bets on her for Album of the Year (though the Recording Academy's rock contingent might push Beck's "Morning Phase" through) as well as in several of the R&B categories.

Sam Smith: There's no question Smith crossed the pond with a big splash this year, which some feel could make him a successor to fellow Brit Adele's sweep in 2012. Don't count on that; while he'll likely walk off with the Best New Artist trophy, other factors -- notably the formidable competition of Swift's "Shake It Off" -- may allow Grammy voters to take a wait-and-see-til-next-time stance.

Pharrell Williams: No "Happy" here, but Williams is in the pleasurable position of having production and collaboration credits for fellow nominees such as Beyonce and Ed Sheeran. That will be enough to put a little more shine on his shelves by the time the night's over.

Iggy Azalea: Yes, a lot of the controversy that swirled around the Australian rapper has been pretty silly, but the noise was probably enough to steer Grammy voters towards others in the particularly competitive categories in which she's nominated. The only thing "Fancy" about Azalea's Grammy night will be what she wears.

Jack White: The music biz loves him, or least loves his spirit, and "Lazaretto," the former White Stripes' second solo album, was one of the year's best. He caught a break by having it nominated for Best Alternative Music album rather than in the tougher Best Rock Album category -- though even there the likes of Arcade Fire and St. Vincent will prove formidable. Elsewhere the Motor City expatriate is likely to run into the stone wall of...

Beck: Beck Hansen and his "Morning Phase" has the kind of narrative Grammy voters love -- his first new release in six years and a characteristically inventive, expectation-defying set that played to rave reviews. His father, string arranger David Campbell, is also well-known throughout the Grammy voting body, which may net Beck votes from some quarters that usually don't weigh in on the rock categories.

Sia: Another one with a compelling Grammy comeback tale, coming four years after its predecessor -- an interim during which the reclusive Australian artist she co-wrote songs for Beyonce, Madonna, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, Ke$ha and others, featured on songs by Eminem and David Guetta and battled Graves disease. There's a lot of love for her out there, and a lot of votes to be gotten. If there's going to be a surprise Grammy hoarder this year, it could well be her.

Taylor Swift: Yes, only three nominations, but for a monster of a song that also had the benefit of being very recent and top of mind while the Grammy voting was going on. She has a solid history with the Grammy votership, and though Swift left her country base with "Shake It Off" and "1989" she handled it in a classy enough manner that the country crowd will probably still support her. So "Shake It Off" is a frontrunner in all of its categories, including Record and Song of the Year.

Eric Church: Country's leading nominee, with five, could well run the board in his field thanks to a high profile and a big reception for his 2014 album "The Outsiders."

Eminem: The Detroit MC will likely add to his career tally of 13 Grammys, most likely winning the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration trophy for "Monster" with Rihanna. Don't rule out "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" for Best Rap Album, either.

The 57th Annual Grammy Awards

8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8

CBS, WWJ-TV (Channel 2) in Detroit

Performers: Madonna; Paul McCartney, Kanye West and Rihanna; Kanye West solo; Katy Perry; Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett; Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige; Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine; Ariana Grande; Beck and Chris Martin; Common and John Legend; Usher; AC/DC; Sia; Pharrell Williams; Ed Sheeran with ELO's Jeff Lynne and with Herbie Hancock, John Mayer and Questlove; Eric Church; Miranda Lambert; Tom Jones and Jessie J; Hozier and Annie Lennox; Brandy Clark with Dwight Yoakam; and Lang Lang. LL Cool J hosts.

The Grammy pre-show awards ceremony and red carpet arrivals will be webcast at www.grammy.com

Web Site: www.grammy.com

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