In case you’re unaware, the 60th annual Grammy Awards were held Sunday, and reaction to the whole show was mixed, to say the least.
Don’t get me wrong, the night was filled with stellar performances by Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, P!nk and Bruno Mars, to name a few.
Lamar opened the show with U2 and Dave Chappelle in a politically-charged performance featuring Lamar’s “XXX.,” “DNA.,” and Jay Rock’s “King’s Dead.” Chappelle interrupted the music, introduced himself, and said “I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America. Sorry for the interruption, please continue.”
It was a powerful start to an otherwise safe awards show. Even the Recording Academy’s choices were safe, but I’m not here to talk about Lamar being robbed of Album of the Year for a third time.
I’m here to debate the role politics should or should not play in the music industry.
During the awards show, host James Corden introduced a segment in which different musicians and celebrities took turns reading excerpts from Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” The last part of the video shows Hillary Clinton reading from the book.
The clip drew immediate criticism on Twitter. Most notably, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted her disdain for the bit.
“Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it,” she wrote.
Others followed suit, saying that politics have no place in music. It’s a recycled defense, mostly used by conservatives, to take aim at Democrats and liberals, particularly in Hollywood, that they have no place having opinions because they can’t possibly understand the average American.
And it’s a fair argument. Celebrities don’t understand everyday America. I will be the first to admit it. I also took issue with the reading of “Fire and Fury,” and Clinton’s involvement in the whole thing. I’m not saying people can’t be upset about it. What I am saying is they need a better argument.
Conservatives try to say arts and politics can’t mingle, despite a long history of fraternizing. They have blasted Hollywood as a whole as elitist and blissfully unaware of the struggle of the average American, while openly supporting President Donald Trump, a reality television star who definitely does not understand average American life, and never has.
It’s also astonishing how quickly the narrative changes when it’s something conservatives don’t agree with. And I’m not here to say liberals don’t do the same exact thing, because they do. But the thing is, no conservatives have an issue when conservatism is brought into the arts.
At last year’s Grammys, singer Joy Villa showed up on the red carpet wearing a “Make America Great Again” dress. There was no objection to this political statement at the Grammys. In fact, conservatives and Republicans loved it. This year, she showed up in a “choose life” dress, which again was met with praise.
So the problem here is you can’t be in favor of politics in the arts only when it’s politics you agree with it. You have to allow both sides to be expressed.
My other issue with the defense is that music and politics have been intertwined for centuries, from colonial times with “Yankee Doodle,” to more contemporary tunes like “This Land Is Your Land,” musicians have been no stranger to challenging the norms of society through music.
Looking back to the Vietnam War, there is a sea of protest music, most famously Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Even across the pond, former Beatles member Paul McCartney wrote “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” in response to Bloody Sunday.
To say politics has no place in music is to ignore the history of music that contradicts that statement. In a much broader sense, to say that people can’t use art to express themselves or their frustrations with the status quo is to stifle one of the things that truly makes America great, and that is freedom of speech and expression.
Reach Brigid Edmunds at 570-991-6113 or on Twitter @brigidedmunds.