Socially aware award season gains momentum at Grammys

This year’s Grammy Awards dragged on for three-hours and 34 minutes, and although it seemed out of step at times, the show was full of powerful performances, statements and calls for change. 

To no one’s surprise, “music’s biggest night,” held on Sunday Jan. 28, followed the award season’s tradition of gowns, tuxedos and celebrity reactions shots.

Kendrick Lamar kept this award season’s trend toward political expressionism consistent with an explosive, poignant performance of his songs “XXX,” “DNA” and “King’s Dead.” To comment on violence against black Americans, the rapper appeared on stage surrounded by soldiers marching to the beat of his music. Comedian Dave Chappelle was also featured to provide grounded, comedic commentary on what it is like to be black in the United States. 

Watching Lamar perform is like watching Bruce Banner turn into the Hulk; the short and unassuming rapper performs with such energy and ferocity that you forget he is only 5’ 4.” As Lamar spits the last bars of his performance, gunshot sound effects were heard and dancers fell one by one on stage.

Keeping up with the trend of other award shows this season, the “#MeToo” movement was represented by supporters wearing white roses pinned to their designer outfits. About two hours into the program, R&B singer Janelle Monáe introduced a moving Kesha performance, declaring: “we come in peace, but we mean business,” referring to the women seeking to make changes in Hollywood and beyond. 

Kesha, surrounded by a chorus of women dressed in all white, sang the lead single “Praying”—nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance—off her album Rainbow, which was also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album. Kesha was joined by Cyndi Lauper and Camila Cabello, and she gave an emotional, solemn rendition of the song that left her visibly sobbing as she was engulfed in a group hug. This performance, and the movement it represents, were of particular significance since only one woman who was nominated—Alessia Cara for Best New Artist—won a televised award. 

The final performance of the night came after the show’s “In Memoriam” segment. After paying tribute to the late Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, Logic, Cara and Khalid took to the stage to perform their Song of the Year nominee; “1-800-273-8255.” People onstage for the anti-suicide anthem wore shirts that read: “you are not alone” and the number for the national suicide hotline. 

Concluding the performance, Logic gave an impassioned call for unity and action. The rapper declared, “black is beautiful. Hate is ugly. Women are as precious as they are stronger than any man I’ve ever met.” He concluded the speech by calling for us all to build “not just a better country, but a world that is destined to be united.”

Other political moments of the show included dramatic readings of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury as well as politicized performances by U2 and Sting. The many politically charged acts during the Grammys further exemplify a currently trending shift in socially focused award shows.