Among the political turmoil that has swept the United States in the past few months since the election of Donald Trump as the president, many members of the entertainment industry have used their platforms to express solidarity with those they feel are being oppressed. In the Screen Actors’ Guild Award last month, for example, many winners used their victory speeches to promote charity foundations, or to to speak against the politicians who they felt were wronging the nation.
And this year’s Grammy Awards, which will be held this Sunday in Los Angeles, promise to continue this trend, not only by being a celebration of African-American “urban” music, but also by offering a platform for political expression.
First of all, many black artists with be center stage during the ceremony. Beyoncé, the pop and R&B idol, and her latest album Lemonade, racked up the most nominations: eight. But following her are other prominent black North American artists. Canadian rapper Drake, Barbadian pop icon Rihanna and American rapper and producer Kanye West have eight nominations each; while Kanye’s fellow Chicagoan rapper Kanye West has seven.
Out of this group, Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper are scheduled to perform in the awards ceremony. They will join other live performers from many genres on the agenda. And perhaps the most notably outspoken will be A Tribe Called Quest, the legendary New York hip-hop crew who released their last-ever album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, late last year.
The album includes the last vocals recorded by member Phife Dawg, who died last March before the completion of the album, and is both a heartfelt tribute to him, and a politically charged manifesto that calls for racial solidarity and political resistance in the face of rising injustice.
The album was probably one of the timeliest of 2016, as it came right after the electoral victory of Trump, now the President of the United States, whose government seems to endanger the rights of minority in the United States. Tribe, which will perform alongside the rapper, singer and percussionist Anderson .Paak, will most definitely have something to say when they take the stage.
And if the SAG Awards earlier this year were any indication of the commitment of celebrities to speak their politics in that country, it’s likely that the other attendees at the Grammys will not hold back either.
In particular, there are many expectations for Beyoncé, who is reportedly “very pregnant” with twins, and whose 2016 Super Bowl performance was heatedly debated for using wardrobe and imagery relating to the Black Panthers, the revolutionary socialist black party from the 1970s.
Beyoncé’s latest album was hailed as a “black feminist record,” and though her status as a symbol of black feminism has been disputed, many expect some form of political statement in her show.
Something similar is expected from Lady Gaga, another notoriously outspoken artist, who was the performer at the Super Bowl halftime show this year. After much speculation over the possible political content of that performance, Gaga only subtly mentioned politics with a rendition of “This Land is Your Land” at the beginning of her show (and less subtly in her lyrics, which generally talk about inclusion, LGBT rights and anti-discrimination stances).
But in the Grammys she is scheduled to play a duet with the heavy metal band Metallica, whose members have not been shy of their opinions in the past, and have already expressed their distaste of President Trump. They might take the chance to produce a message beyond music.
Of course, that will not be the end of it. The American R&B musician John Legend and the British singer and actress Cynthia Erivo will perform together a medley of artist who passed away last year, a list which includes Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Leonard Cohen and others who did not back away from inserting powerful social and political messages in their lyrics.
It wouldn’t be the first time that the Grammys become political. Back in 2003, American country group Dixie Chicks were maligned by media and fans throughout the United States for publicly opposing the Iraq War started by then-President George W. Bush. The Dixie Chicks also said they were ashamed that Bush was a Texan like them. Their music was censored and boycotted, and they received death threats.
But in 2007, when public opinion about the war had already begun to shift, the Dixie Chicks swept the Grammy Awards, winning the five categories in which they were nominated, including record, song and album of the year. It was a public vindication, and the Dixie Chicks didn’t let it sly in their thank you speeches.
With an even more convoluted political life in the United States right now, these awards might have everything going to be remembered as one of the most political ceremonies yet.
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