That seemed to be the theme of the 59th Grammy Awards. Yes, there was music. Adele opened the show and also performed George Michael’s Fast Love in a fabulous tribute to him. Neil Diamond sang with Beyonce’s daughter wanting to join in, a very pregnant Beyonce performed for nine minutes straight, Lady Gaga performed with Metallica. But all that paled in comparison to all that was said at the 59th Grammy Awards.
That the Grammys was going to be political was a given. That they’d have a white man rapping as the opening song, maybe not. Host James Corden, following US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the travel ban, had released a video of himself checking into LAX airport and had said he hoped it was as easy for everyone to travel. Even if they weren’t white. It was a short video but it had made its point with the message it ended with—“Freedom of movement should be this easy for all legal immigrants. Not just the white and Christian ones".
His rap though, was anything but oblique.
Live it all up because this is the best
With President Trump,
who knows what comes next.
We sit here tonight no matter our race,
where we were born or colour or face.
We’re using this art, remembered forever
And we can survive just by sticking together.
Before you could digest all that he’d said, Jennifer Lopez, who came on as the first presenter to announce Best New Artist said, “At this particular point in history, our voices are needed more than ever. As Toni Morrison once said, 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 civilisations heal. So tonight, we celebrate our most universal language, music, as we honour the voices of the past and the present."
Paris Jackson, Michael Jackson’s daughter, came on to introduce The Weeknd and Daft Punk’s performance. But began by saying, “We can really use this excitement at a Pipeline protest, guys. #NoDAPL." in a reference to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
The theme was taken forward by Katy Perry who made it a point to state that she hoped that the lyrics of her new song, Chained to the Rhythm would be inspirational to people in today’s America.
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble.
Perry’s politics are well-known. She is a Hillary Clinton supporter. But in case you weren’t sure of her stand on all things Trump, her performance made it amply clear. She wore an armband that said “persist" and screamed “No hate!" at the end of her song while standing in front of an image of the Constitution projected on a screen behind her.
Keep in mind that with Trump in the White House, it’s not that easy being political or taking a stand. This is a man who has shown that he is vindictive, childish and a bully—and now President.
Busta Rhymes though stole the political show with his speech in the middle of his performance. He said, “I just want to thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of the evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States. I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban". Then he and his co-performers broke through a makeshift wall before people representing various nationalities came on the stage and formed a line. Ending with a call to “resist".
But it wasn’t all anti-Trump. The Grammys also had a generous dose of feminism. As the American music industry has always had. Adele and Beyoncé were competing in the Best Song and Album Of The Year category. Celine Dion gave away the Best Song award. Rihanna clapped to the music while sipping from a bejewelled hip flask. Lady Gaga rocked the stage with Metallica.
While I’m not a great fan of Beyoncé’s music, you couldn’t but be gobsmacked at seeing a very pregnant Beyonce perform with two-dozen dancers, a live band offstage and with her stomach on full display.
The entire show was a feminist’s delight. Each of the female singers performing and honoured are success stories on their own steam. Financially independent women. Not where they are because of the men they’re dating or married to. Not living lives which are possible only because of the men in their lives. They’re single, married, mothers, pregnant, divorced, sexy, confident, even overweight—and millionaires and musical legends because of their talent and who they are.
If Beyoncé wasn’t married to JayZ, she’d still be as famous and have as comfortable a life as she does now. From JLo to Carrie Underwood to Adele to Katy Perry to Alicia Keys—these are women who are their own person. Unashamed of their success or sexuality—whether it was Beyoncé performing pregnant and without a pause, or Heidi Klum giving James Corden’s father a bit of a lapdance.
When Adele thought she was messing up George Michael’s song, she stopped and said she’d start over instead of mucking it up anymore. That’s confidence. To accept on such a massive stage, literally, that you’ve made a mistake. Yes, some of them have substance abuse problems and a propensity for picking up men who sponge of them or beat them up—but that’s a very small part of their lives, compared to everything else they stand for and achieve. If anyone is an inspiration for women, it is these women. That Album Of The Year was a head-to-head battle between Beyoncé, who leads this year with nine nominations for Lemonade, and Adele, the 25 album singer, who had five nominations and Lady Gaga was icing on the feminist cake.
I hope Trump was watching the show, and going by how much he loves watching and commenting on what’s happening on the telly, I’m guessing he was. The sight of professionally and financially independent women, and the same women and coloured people taking political stands may just make his brain implode. And maybe all the offending celebrities, led by Meryl Streep and Barbara Streisand, will get deported to India as punishment. And maybe they can give our celebrities and opinion-makers a crash-course in taking a stand. I understand that it’s unfair to expect our celebrities to take such stands, going by the backlash which they face whenever they do. But hey, at least this is something to aspire to.