While culturally the Grammy Awards (like most awards shows) are simply a montage of publicity stunts that caters to the garbage of trash-talk media, last night’s 2015 Grammys was a notable exception. The awards show served as a platform for some of the greatest icons in music to take a progressive stand against the United States’ biggest issues, and in turn shaping U.S. collective consciousness.
1. Representing the Black Lives Matter movement
Before presenting the award for Album of the Year, music legend Prince gave a significantly subtle shout-out to the Black Lives Matter movement. “Albums . . . remember those?” Prince asked the crowd after he received a standing ovation. “Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter."
Pop star Pharrell Williams also gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement during his performance of “Happy”. Halfway through the song, the singer’s backup dancers, dressed in black hoodies (a likely reference to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s attire when he was fatally shot), along with members of the orchestra raised their hands in a demonstration for “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” — a gesture related to the alleged circumstances surrounding Michael Brown’s death.
The “Happy” performance’s demonstration certainly made many activists happy.
Choir members for Beyoncé’s performance of “Precious Lord Take My Hand” also raised their hands in solidarity
2. Crushing Media’s Biased Body Image
Sam Smith’s acceptance speech for Best pop vocal album eloquently hit a nerve for all inspiring singers who do not believe they have the right body image to make it in the music industry.
"Before I made this record, I was doing everything to try to get my music heard. I tried to lose weight, I was making awful music," Smith said. "It was only until I started being myself did the music start to flow and people start to listen."
In our society where thin, heteronormative bodies are praised, Smith’s success and his speech remind many that talent is not restricted to one size, shape or ideal.
3. Speaking Out on Sexual Assault
President Barack Obama used last night’s massive audience to make a critical statement on domestic violence. Obama surprised viewers with a televised address on the escalating problem of sexual assault against women in the U.S., urging individuals to take a stand against domestic violence as part of the Obama Administration’s anti-domestic violence campaign, It’s on Us.
After Obama’s video message, writer, activist, and rape survivor Brook Axtell took center stage to deliver a poem describing her own experience of abuse followed by Katy Perry’s performance of “By Grace of God”.
While the Grammys’ and the music industry in general still has a long way to go in taking an effective stand against injustice, the steps made at last night’s awards ceremony overwhelmingly speak to pop culture’s progress.