At 10:12 PM on January 28, 2018, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted: “I have always loved the Grammys but to have artists read the Fire and Fury book killed it. Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.”
Here is the video the Ambassador is referencing:
Ambassador Haley, along with many republicans at 1600 Pennsylvania took issue with Grammys’ host James Corden’s skit involving Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. ” Fire and Fury is a controversial book that has come under fire by the White House for not being truthful. If you’ve read anything from Wolff you would have suggested the White House steer clear. That, however, is for another story.
We really do not care much for “Fire and Fury”. However, we take issue with Ambassador Haley’s comments about loving “music without the politics being throw in it.”
Music has always been political, Madam Ambassador.
Let’s first recap the 2018 Grammy Awards. Arguably the best and most inspiring moments were…political.
Kendrick Lamar’s awe-inspiring opening started with a video of a giant American flag as he marched with solders in camouflage. He rapped about revenge, poverty and the American way. At one moment the soldiers who were wearing hoodies were shot. His performance did not need to be censored. He tailored his lyrics so everyone at home can cling on to every word he said. So everyone can feel everything he felt and hear clearly where he was coming from.
Dave Chappelle, winner of best Comedy Album, was part of Lamar’s performance. Chappelle, while Lamar took a breath, said “I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest America is being an honest black man in America.” The next time Chappelle appeared on screen in between another one of Lamar’s segments he said, “It looks like he’s singing and dancing, but this brother’s taking enormous chances.”
I know it might be a stretch but I think Lamar and Chappelle were addressing some issues that have become… “politicized.”
Then there was the inspiring Janelle Monáe who introduced Kesha. Monáe said: “Tonight, I am proud to stand in solidarity as not just an artist but a young woman with my fellow sisters in this room who make up the music industry. Artists, writers, assistants, publicists, CEOs, producers, engineers, and women from all sectors of the business. We are also daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and human beings. We come in peace, but we mean business. And to those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up. We say time’s up for pay inequality, time’s up for discrimination, time’s up for harassment of any kind, and time’s up for the abuse of power. Because, you see, it’s not just going on in Hollywood, it’s not just going on in Washington — it’s right here in our industry as well. And just as we have the power to shake culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well. So let’s work together, women and men, as a united music industry, committed to creating more safe work environments, equal pay and access for all women.”
Maybe also considered “political”?
Kesha during her heart-wrenching and emotional ballad of “Praying” off her album “Rainbow” was joined by Cyndi Lauper, Audra Day, Camila Cabello, Bebe Rexha and Julia Michael. Kesha trembled as she sung the lyrics: “You brought the flames and you put me through hell/I had to learn how to fight for myself” directed at Dr. Luke who Kesha accused of years of abuse in a 2014 lawsuit. Kesha ended her performance by falling into the women’s arms around her. Twitter was quick to call this “The Grammys #MeToo moment,” a movement that many have called “political.”
Camila Cabello took to the stage at another time in the night to speak on behalf of Dreamers. Another issue that many called political. Cabello eloquently said to applause and cheers, “Just like the Dreamers, my parents brought me to this country with nothing in their pockets but hope. They showed me what it means to work twice as hard and never give up.” Immigration and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers is political as it relies solely on laws created by those we elected to serve us.
At the end of Logic’s performance he said straight to the CBS camera and to the audience, “Black is beautiful. Hate is ugly. Women are precious as they are stronger than nay many I’ve ever met. And unto them I say stand tall and crush all predators under the weight of your heart that is full of love they will never talk way from you…Bring us your tired, your poor, and any immigrant who seeks refuge. For together we can build not just a better country, but a world that is destined to be united.”
Each of these moments were quickly called “political” on social media. Whenever there was an issue that was slightly divisive the response by those who did not agree, like Ambassador Haley, was something along the lines of: the Grammys shouldn’t be political.
But hasn’t the Grammys and music always been political? Isn’t the music we most remember year after year addressing the issues we are facing together?
Two of the Albums up for this past year’s Album of the Year, 4:44 by Jay Z and DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar were both considered political manifestos. They each addressed the adversity people of color, specifically black Americans face. Last year Beyoncé’s Lemonade was nominated for Album of the Year. If you recall winner, Adele stood on the stage and said Beyonce should have won.
Adele said: “I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humbled, and I’m very grateful and gracious, but the artist of my life is Beyoncé, “And this album to me, the Lemonade album, was just so monumental, Beyoncé, so monumental, and so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-bearing, and we all got to see another side to you that you don’t always let us see. And we appreciate that, and all us artists here fucking adore you. You are our light, and the way that you make me and my friends feel—the way that you make my black friends feel—is empowering, and you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you, I always have, and I always will.”
In 2016, Kendirck Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was nominated for Album of the Year and was called “a record for the times we’re in,” and “a masterpiece of fiery outrage, deep jazz and ruthless self critique…the year radical Black politics and formal Black music resurged in tandem to converge on the nation’s pop mainstream.” 2015’s Girl by Pharrell was nominated for Album of the Year. Girl was called a “feminist almost-concept” album. Beyoncé’s eponymous album, also nominated that year, was called “dark” because it looked at themes of feminism, sex and monogamy.
If you keep going back in history, you’ll notice there is always a place for “politics” in not just music. Espeically music nominated for a Grammy Award. Some more include: 2012’s Born This Way by Lady Gaga; 2011’s The Suburbs by Arcade Fire; 2009’s Viva La Vida of Death and All His Friends by Coldplay; 2007’s Taking the Long Way by The Dixie Chicks; and 2005’s American Idiot by Green Day. I can go on and on.
Ambassador Nikki Haley was born in 1972. Let’s go back to the years when she was discovering music. When America was great. And probably when she first tuned into the Grammys. Music of her generation included: Double Fantasy by activists John Lenon & Yoko Ono that won the Best Album award in 1982; Paul McCartney’s Tug of War which featured the single “Ebony and Ivory” with Stevie Wonder was nominated in 1983. The 80s saw albums by David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner, Prince & The Revolution, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Tracy Chapman. Each at some point during their careers have been accused of being too political.
In fact, the first few years that the category existed, we saw Harry Belefonte nominated multiple times. Once in 1960 the other in 1961. Belafonte is a man whose political and humanitarian activism at times outshines his musical career. At the same time Belefonte received his Grammy nominations he refused to perform in the American South. He was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidents — even providing for him and his family. To put this in some perspective in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. had a 41% approval rating in this country. 37% disapproved him entirely. Today it is close to 99%.
The year Belefonte first got nominated in 1960 he was openly campaigning for then presidential candidate John. F. Kennedy. The man who won Album of the Year that year, Frank Sinatra, was also a vocal Kennedy supporter.
The Grammys and music has always been political. Music, Ambassador Haley is a way that people can express themselves, anyway they choose. The moment you call it “political” as a slur you’re trying to silence someone’s feelings and someone’s way of expressing themselves. In 1960 many wanted to silence Harry Belafonte by calling his music political. The majority of America was not on board with his side of the Civil Rights Movement. Today an overwhelming majority of Americans praise Belafonte for his service to his country. In many years from now, the overwhelming majority of Americans will disagree with your tweet and see this as moment when brave artists stood up and spoke their minds, even if it was to get a laugh from the audience.