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The 12 names you need to know before the Grammys

Sam Smith is nominated for an absurd number of Grammys this year.
Sam Smith is nominated for an absurd number of Grammys this year.
Kevin Winter/ Getty

The Grammys are the crowning moment of the year for the country's most popular musical artists. But "most popular artists" carries less and less weight in a world where the musical mainstream has mostly collapsed.

Many of the artists who will be honored at the awards on Sunday, or just appear on the red carpet, aren't the Taylor Swifts, Ariana Grandes, Nicki Minajs, and Beyoncés of the world. But they're artists whose names you should know if you're going to properly enjoy this year's awards.

Here's everything you need to know about the 57th Grammy Award nominees:

Sam Smith

Who he is: This English singer-songwriter is nominated for the biggest awards this year. Smith is a pop-soul singer known for his vocal range and depth and the song "Stay With Me."

What he's nominated for: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, New Artist, Pop Solo Performance, and Pop Vocal Album

Current controversies: Tom Petty was recently given songwriting credits because of the major similarities between "Stay With Me" and Petty's "Won't Back Down." There was some conversation around his sexuality, but that's recently been cleared up: he's gay.

The song you should know:

Iggy Azalea

Who she is: Iggy Azalea is an Australia-born, Atlanta-bred rapper and songwriter. She raps in a fast-paced Southern accent, but her songs are normally known for choruses sung by a featuring artist.

What she's nominated for: Record of the Year, New Artist, Pop Duo/Group Performance, and Rap Album

Current controversies: To list the controversies Iggy Azalea is involved in would be its own article. For this particular award show, you should probably know about three:

  1. Many, including many in the rap community, have accused Azalea of cultural appropriation because she's a white woman using a historically black genre to raise her profile and attain fame. Plus, the accent she raps with isn't her speaking accent. Thus, people will be upset if she beats out Childish Gambino and Wiz Khalifa. This is Macklemore all over again.
  2. To add to the debate, she's nominated for Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Fancy." Why is "Fancy" a pop song and not a rap song? Basically, the Record-Academy-categorizing formula is a mess.
  3. Many members of the rap community, including Nicki Minaj, think Azalea is lying about writing her own rhymes and that she is not truly a songwriter. Their evidence for this is sparse, but Iggy does stumble when asked to freestyle.

The song you should know:

Sia

Who she is: The Australian singer-songwriter spent her early career working mostly as a producer for other big-name artists but has broken through in a big way this year. She has a warbling, often trailing voice that holds pop notes to their height.

What she's nominated for: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Pop Solo Performance, and Music Video

Current controversies: Sia is well-loved and extremely complimentary of other artists' work. The only controversy she has had to date is that her video for "Electric Heart," featuring Shia LaBeouf and 12-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler in warring choreography was a trigger of former child abuse for some people. She apologized.

The song you should know:

Meghan Trainor

Who she is: The Berklee-educated singer-songwriter got her big break this year with the ubiquitous "All About That Bass." Trainor sounds like a mix of Rihanna and Taylor Swift.

What she's nominated for: Record of the Year and Song of the Year

Current controversies: There was some debate in the summer of 2014 over whether "All About That Bass" was really body-positive (I argued that it isn't), but that has mostly subsided. Her recent album, however, has bombed on the charts.

The song you should know:

Ed Sheeran

Who he is: This English singer-songwriter is a good friend of Taylor Swift. Sheeran sounds like an English John Mayer with a higher vocal range.

What he's nominated for: Album of the Year, Pop Vocal Album, and Song Written for Visual Media

Current controversies: Nobody knows how to say the title of his album XSheeran says the proper answer is "Multiply." C'mon, Ed. You can just say, "X."

The song you should know:

Pharrell Williams

Who he is: One of the most talented and most prolific producers in the record industry, Pharrell has been on tons of big hits in the last few years, such as Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." As a performer, Williams has a smooth voice in a higher register than many male artists and with a slight velvet R&B twinge.

What he's nominated for: Album of the Year (for his work with Beyonce, with Ed Sheeran, and on his own album), Pop Solo Performance, Urban Contemporary Album, and Music Video

Current controversies: Williams wears very popular hats. This is only controversial to some.

The song you should know:

Beck

Who he is: An American rock star with fluffy hair, Beck has been creating catchy, multi-instrumentalist rock since the early 1990s. You '90s teens may remember him for "Loser." Beck's lilting, mumbling voice is as identifiable on his nominated album Morning Phase as it was on 1996's "Devil's Haircut."

What he's nominated for: Album of the Year, Rock Performance, Rock Song, Rock Album, and Engineered Album Non-Classical

Current controversies: He once released the sheet music for his album and encouraged others to play his music. That was controversial. Sort of?

The song you should know:

Hozier

Who he is: Andrew Hozier-Byrne is an Irish musician. Hozier has a voice that sounds like it's trapped in a bottle and a backing band that plays basic bar chords. It's a classic-rock feel wrapped in folk tone. He's new, and his nomination came as a bit of a surprise.

What he's nominated for: Song of the Year

Current controversies: Hozier's first album did not qualify for this year's Grammy, as it was released on October 7, 2014, just one week after the cutoff date. Instead, he's being nominated for Song of the Year off his 2013 EP Take Me To Church.

The song you should know:

Bastille

Who they are: A four-piece English band with something of a new classical style.

What they're nominated for: New Artist and Remixed Recording Non-Classical

Current controversies: Literally none, ever.

The song you should know:

Brandy Clark

Who she is: A country artist who worked as a Nashville singer-songwriter for years before producing her first solo album in August 2014. Clark has the twinge of country with a hint of bluegrass. Her first album is as funny as it is groovy.

What she's nominated for: New Artist and Country Album

Current controversies: She's making a musical called "Hee Haw."

The song you should know:

Haim

Who they are: Haim is a three-piece American pop-rock band made up of all sisters with middle-parted hair. They're known for their triple harmonies and strong bass lines.

What they're nominated for: New Artist

Current controversies: They will be on Taylor Swift's upcoming tour. That's actually the opposite of a controversy. We just thought we'd mention it.

The song you should know:

Jessie J

Who she is: An English singer-songwriter who can sing with her mouth closed. The industry seems very intent on breaking her out to the American public. Jessie J is a powerhouse vocalist without the experience to know when to let that power shine through.

What she's nominated for: Pop Duo/Group Performance

Current controversies: She maybe rigged The Voice? She thinks sexuality is a choice? Frankly, all of her controversies seem like PR schemes.

The song you should know:

The 57th Grammy Awards will be broadcast on CBS at 8 pm EST on Sunday, February 8.