“Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes and get us thinking and talking about what matters.”
I’m pretty sure President Barack Obama thought we’d all be talking about violence against women when he said that during his PSA at the Grammys Sunday night. It was followed by a stirring poem by Brooke Axtell, a survivor of human trafficking and domestic violence, and then one of Katy Perry’s most powerful performances ever.
I figured we’d at least be thinking about the “Black Lives Matter” movement, seeing how Pharrell, Prince, Beyoncé, Common and John Legend paid tribute to the cause.
Nope. We’re too busy crying over the big, bad wolf we love Kanye West to be.
We can all agree it’s never appropriate to jump on stage and interrupt someone’s winning moment, as Kanye did more than five years ago when Taylor Swift won at the MTV Video Music Awards. But Beck winning album of the year Sunday night was even more shocking. And of course, the always opinionated Kanye spoke out after the awards show.
But even Beck didn’t see the win coming. It was Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” night, triumphing in almost every category he was nominated in. And a lot of people, especially Kanye, thought Beyoncé deserved the gold. She released her surprise album with no marketing, no announcements. The project was highly conceptual, a departure from her usual work and a favorite among feminists. Plus, it sold 617,000 copies in its first week.
One of Beck’s biggest hits, “Loser,” came out in 1994, and I can honestly say the last song by him that I truly clung to was 2004’s “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes.” After Sunday’s show, I listened to Beck’s winning “Morning Phase,” considered a sequel to 2002’s “Sea Change.”
While I would have voted for Beyoncé, I understand how this album won the ears and hearts of voters. It’s beautiful, steeped in folk rock, sung with quiet soul. There’s a comfort in his voice, the strum of the guitar.
Let me tell you: It belongs on the list with album nominees Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Pharrell Williams and Beyoncé.
That being said, why are we stuck on what Kanye said after the Grammys? One man’s opinion about artistry, and the backlash against that one man, have us stuck in this cycle of tearing one another down — totally missing the spotlight that the Grammys put on social commentary.
Pharrell used “Happy,” the song of 2014, to pay tribute to the Ferguson rallying cry “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as well as to Trayvon Martin with his dancers clad in black hoodies. The protest of the killings of unarmed black men was a theme all night. Prince, when presenting the award for album of the year, subtly said, “Like books and black lives, albums still matter.”
Even Beyoncé, while singing gospel great Thomas Dorsey’s “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” had a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” moment. It was powerful and poignant. Common and John Legend then closed the show out with “Glory,” the politically charged and uplifting anthem of “Selma.”
But once again, social media was determined to overshadow the message with a manufactured fight. People are mad that the hymn was performed by Beyoncé, not Ledisi, who sang it in her role as Mahalia Jackson in “Selma.”
All of this arguing over Kanye West and Ledisi is distracting us from a bigger point. And trust me, the Grammys were trying to make one. Just like last year’s ceremony featured Queen Latifah officiating a mass wedding of same-sex couples as Macklemore performed “Same Love,” this year racial equality and the safety of women were given the stage.
As Obama said, 1 in 5 women are survivors of rape or attempted rape — 1 in 4 experience domestic violence. Let that soak in and tell me that who sang “Precious Lord” and what Kanye West said are the most important things that happened Sunday night.
Did you pay attention to Brooke Axtell’s poem?
Authentic love does not devalue another human being. Authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse. If you are in a relationship with someone who does not honor and respect you, I want you to know that you are worthy of love. Please reach out for help. Your voice will save you. Let it extend into the night; let it part the darkness. Let it set you free to know who you truly are — valuable, beautiful, loved.
Now that — that is something to talk about.