Grammy award show delivers socially-charged performances

Meghan Schmitt, Crier Staff

Music has always been a medium that has allowed artistic expression of the cultural and sociopolitical tensions of the era.  At the 2017 59th Grammy Awards, hosted by James Corden, several artists stood up and used their performances to send significant messages to the audience, to the viewers, and to the nation at large.  Like Broadway, many music artists use their talent to take a stand against hate, bigotry, and repressive regimes.

A Tribe Called Quest and Anderson Paak collaborated and performed the most overtly-political sequence of the night.  They sang with rapper Busta Rhymes, who addressed the President as “Agent Orange” and openly criticized him for his proposed Muslim ban.  Agent Orange was not only a jibe at the president’s complexion, but also a callback to Agent Orange, the caustic chemical agent used as an herbicide in the Vietnam War.  Seeing as this agent was responsible for destroying much of the Vietnamese landscape and causing harm to any person exposed to it, the group’s symbolism was very thinly-veiled.

A Tribe Called Quest burst through a makeshift wall (meant to represent Trump’s proposed border wall) as Busta Rhymes was making his callout.  As the group was singing, several people, Mexicans, African Americans, and Muslim women wearing hijabs, processed through the audience and stood onstage for the rest of the performance.  The group’s message ended with a shout of “Resist!” and the iconic image of a fist raised in the air, a sign that will not be shaken for a very long time.

Another artist who gave a performance with a political message was Katy Perry.  She sang her new single “Chained to the Rhythm,” alongside artist Skip Marley, which featured a visual display of moving pieces shaped like pickets of a wood fence.  The pieces were covered in mirror panels, and thus reflected computer-generated images of ocean waves for the performance. At the end of Perry’s number, she stood in front of the mirror panels, which were displaying an image of the Constitution, the famous words “We the People” prominent.

No artist shook the Grammys like Beyoncé did with her rendition of “Love Drought”/”Sandcastles” from the Lemonade album.  Dressed like a Yoruba goddess of fertility, Beyoncé gave a stunning visual performance with the help of two dozen backup dancers.   Preceding her singing was a dramatic reading of the poems by Kenyan-British author Warsan Shire, from her book “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth to Me.”  Shire’s words appear multiple times throughout the album as well.

Beyonce’s entire performance evoked the theme of Lemonade, which is about Black womanhood and motherhood.  While there was no elaborate dancing due to her pregnancy, Beyoncé’s performance reminds everyone why she is one of the best, putting her heart and soul into all of her work and leaving no detail un-nuanced.

Other memorable performances from Grammys night were heartwarming homages given to artists who had passed away in 2016.  Adele delivered a hauntingly slow and sweet rendition of George Michael’s “Fast Love”, so intent on perfection that she asked to start over when she thought she had made a mistake.  Bruno Mars donned purple and gave stunning tribute to Prince alongside the Time with the song “Let’s Go Crazy.” With high energy and a jaw-dropping guitar shred at the finale, Mars definitely gave an impressive performance.

From clearly-stated resistance to modern bigotry, to uplifting artists like George Michael and Prince, who were criticized throughout their careers for their sexuality, artists at the 59th Grammy Awards did not shy away from their beliefs.