LBJ School Popular Culture

Pop Culture and Politics Collide at 59th Annual Grammy Awards

Photo: Dale Edwin Murray

Music’s biggest night got political as the industry’s stars used their air time to push their platforms. Jennifer Lopez kicked off the night with a call to action for her fellow artists to use their voices now to effect change. She then referenced Toni Morrison saying “this is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, and no room for fear. We do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Early in the night, Paris Jackson gave a shout out to #NoDAPL protestors when she introduced the Weeknd and Daft Punk’s performance, while looking out at the audience and stating “we could use this sort of excitement at a pipeline protest!” Katy Perry, in true purposeful pop fashion, performed her new single “Chained to the Rhythm” in a #PERSIST arm band and rose colored glasses, and host James Corden later made a not-so-subtle fake news joke.

Beyoncé looked like a goddess and evoked images of the Madonna in her stunning performance of “Love Drought” and “Sand Castles,” songs about overcoming struggle and forgiveness in a relationship.

Beyonce The Grammys GIF by Recording Academy / GRAMMYs - Find & Share on GIPHY

We saw other strong women take the stage like Maren Morris and Alicia Keys who dazzled us with lower-range harmonies in their rendition of “Once.” Their performance was introduced by Gina Rodriguez, of the CW’s Jane the Virgin, who stated “when women stand together, we can do amazing things.”

Chance the Rapper took home three Grammys including Best New Artist, the first time a black hip-hop artist has won the award since Lauryn Hill in 1999, thanks to the Academy’s policy change on admitting streaming-only releases like Coloring Book for consideration. Chance’s passionate performance took us to church and proved that an independent artist could receive the critical acclaim he deserves.

Chance The Rapper GIF by Recording Academy / GRAMMYs - Find & Share on GIPHY

In Beyoncé’s acceptance speech for Best Urban Contemporary Album for her work Lemonade, she discussed her desire to illustrate feelings of pain and loss, and “to create a body of work that will give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history, to confront issues that make us uncomfortable. It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror, first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House, and the Grammys, and see themselves. And have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent, and capable. This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.” See the full transcript here.

Actress and LGBT advocate Laverne Cox brought attention to the upcoming Supreme Court case Gavin Grimm. v. Gloucester County School Board, where a transgender student (Grimm) was prevented from using the men’s restroom after the school board of his county in Virginia filed a new policy following complaints from parents and students. Cox asked the roughly 25 million viewers to google the case and to #StandWithGavin.

A Tribe Called Quest joined by Busta Rhymes, Anderson Paak, and Consequence most definitely take the cake for the biggest political statement of the evening in their performance. Busta Rhymes thanked “President Agent Orange” for his unsuccessful Muslim ban. Into Tribe’s performance of We the People, the artists and a woman in a hijab broke through a wall, and closed with shouts of “RESIST” and fists up in the air, a symbol of black power and unified resistance.

Anderson Paak The Grammys GIF by Recording Academy / GRAMMYs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Even the president of the Recording Academy made a political plea for the President and Congress to update music laws, protect music education and renew America’s commitment to the arts.

A teary-eyed Adele Kanye-d herself while accepting Album of the Year for 25 when she said she could not accept this award without recognizing that Beyoncé is the “artist of [her] life” and “the Lemonade album is so monumental and so well thought out and beautiful and soul bearing.” Adele told Beyoncé “the way you made my black friends feel is empowering and you make them stand up for themselves and I love you.” Fans took to twitter to express their disappointment in voters for not recognizing underlying messages in Lemonade, and the Academy for snubbing black artists again.

If the SAG awards and Grammys are any indication, we can expect some more fiery acceptance speeches at the Oscars come February 26th.

Edited by: Elizabeth Petruy

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