The 2014 Grammy Awards are tomorrow night on CBS, and there are likely a lot of nominees you recognize from their top 40 hits or their off-the-radio antics. But as always there are quite a few unknown artists who’ve snagged nominations. In order to help you feel a little more in-the-loop when you hear their names read during the show, we’ve chosen nine nominees — in no particular order — whom you might not have heard of and given you a little background on each of them. There are even music videos. It’ll totally help you look cool at your Grammys viewing party.
By this time next year, a lot of these artists will probably have made the difficult transition from “Who? What? Huh?” to household name. Just look at how many unknown artists from last year are now totally known.
1. James Blake
Best New Artist
James Blake is a 25-year-old English singer-songwriter in the electronic and dubstep genres. He’s released two albums, a self-titled debut in 2011 and Overgrown in 2013. He’s arguably the least-known artist in his category, but his music makes quite the impression.
2. Alabama Shakes
Best Rock Performance
Blues rock band Alabama Shakes was nominated for Best New Artist last year, and they’re back this year with a nomination for “Always Alright,” which was featured in Silver Linings Playbook and which they performed on SNL last year. The band has four members: Brittany Howard, Zac Cockrell, Heath Fogg, and Steve Johnson.
3. Gary Clark, Jr.
Best Rock Song, Best Traditional R&B Performance
29-year-old Texas guitarist Gary Clark, Jr.’s versatile music scored him nominations in two separate genres. “Ain’t Messin’ Round” is nominated for rock, and “Please Come Home” is nominated for R&B. He’s also slated as a performer this year’s awards, so you’ll want to remember his name.
4. Kendrick Lamar
Best New Artist, Album Of The Year, Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Rap Song
You might have heard 26-year-old hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar’s name before, but unless you follow music closely you probably haven’t heard anything he’s done. That’s all certainly going to change soon, as his album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is up for seven awards. He’ll also be performing at the show, so listen up.
5. Lee Brice
Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Song
Even if you don’t listen to Country, you probably recognize artists like Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, but Lee Brice might not ring many bells. His song “I Drive Your Truck” is nominated twice this year. His song “Love Like Crazy” was Billboard’s Top Country Song of 2010.
6. Chrisette Michele
Best R&B Album
Chrisette Michele already took home a Grammy in 2009 for her song “Be OK,” but she’s still flown pretty under-the-radar. Her album Better, which debuted at number 12 on the U.S. Billboard chart, is nominated this year.
7. Kacey Musgraves
Best New Artist, Best Country Song (2), Best Country Album
25-year-old Kacey Musgraves is on the rise in the country music industry, but people outside the genre are just getting to know her. She has two songs nominated in the country category this year, “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “Merry Go ‘Round.” She won New Artist of the Year at last year’s CMA Awards and gave Miranda Lambert major stinkeye.
8. Calvin Harris
Best Dance Recording, Best Dance/Electronica Album
Calvin Harris is a Scottish DJ and singer-songwriter in the electronic/dance genre. He won a Grammy last year for Best Short Form Music Video for Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” His collaboration with Florence Welch on “Sweet Nothing” is nominated this year, in addition to his album 18 Months.
9. Imagine Dragons
Record of the Year, Best Rock Performance
You’ve probably gotten the line “Welcome to the new age” from “Radioactive” stuck in your head this past year at some point, but you might not have known who sings it. The answer is Imagine Dragons, an alternative rock band made up of Dan Reynolds, Ben McKee, Wayne Sermon and Daniel Platzman. They’ll be performing too, so study up beforehand.