On the evening of Sunday 12th February, the 59th Grammy Award ceremony took place in Los Angeles. With stars such as Adele, Katy Perry, and of course Beyoncé, all known for singing about “the one who got away” or being “drunk in love,” this would potentially have been the last place you would have expected a political debate to take place. Opinions on the recent events in America however seem to have wriggled their way into every aspect of our lives. Popular culture, being fundamentally a form of self-expression, is probably the most appropriate place for opinions to come to light. Political opinions are perhaps slightly more controversial however, and there inevitably will come the question as to whether celebrity icons, such as the ones mentioned above, have a responsibility to be more discrete. This is not the first politically-charged Grammys: the Macklemore homophobia controversy characterised 2014 and 2015 saw the rape issue on college campuses unravel. The question remains however, as to whether this has a positive influence on fans.
James Cordon’s opening speech went straight in and introduced the debate with an indiscreet message that his audience should “live it on up” now as “with President Trump, we don’t know what comes next.” Busta Rhymes stole Corden’s wind slightly, rapping about the Muslim ban and “President Agent Orange,” and we begin to notice a recurring theme. Katy Perry’s outfit featured an armband with the word ‘persist,’ and the end of her performance of “Chained to the Rhythm” showed her backing dancers sporting blank protest signs that turned into a screen for the projection of the US Constitution. The artists were certainly not concordant, nor were they overt about the particular message they were trying to convey. The resounding theme was however to stand up for what you believe in, and that politics clearly has a place in the music industry.
It would be hard to disagree with this of course. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, and fundamentally we own the right to freedom of speech; the first amendment of the US Constitution. Music and performance is a form of self-expression, its entire purpose is arguably to present beliefs and evoke debate. With all the recent controversy in the States, is this, as Jennifer Lopez suggested “the time when artists go to work?” The value of music is that it binds us together, a form of empowerment that enables us to fight for what we believe in. It quite literally, gives a voice to those who don’t have one.
The argument is however slightly more nuanced than this. The question remains as to whether the likes of Beyoncé and Drake are in such a position of power that they need to be more discreet when it comes to expressing political opinions — particularly when it comes to the younger generation. They are highly influential and feature heavily in the daily lives of many. What’s more, their lyrics are often subconsciously learnt and re-enunciated, sometimes without any actual consideration for the meaning of the words that are said. Perhaps this is an extreme consideration, but often the tune, the music, and the celebrity status of the singer prevail over the words that they say. Their opinions in this way can travel through the minds of their followers who possess no recognition of the fact. Teachers, for example, and others in influential positions are not permitted to share their political values, for fear of manipulation, be it consciously or subconsciously — should the same not also be considered for celebrities? Can we really say that it is acceptable that these stars use their time in the spotlight to make digs at a political figure that they do not agree with?
Furthermore, if music is considered a point of unison and inclusion, does the expression of political beliefs not serve to do the opposite? Politics would not be political if everyone was of the same opinion. Expressing opinions could result in alienating those who do not agree, and be a medium that goes against its own values to promote exclusion and fragmentation within our society.
Lastly, we should consider the implications of the fact that The Grammy Award Ceremony, a point of celebration of talent and achievement, has become inundated with political opinion. Aside from some potential controversy as to the winners of each award, the Grammys has never before evoked such an atmosphere of tension and polemic. Is it right that political affairs, having an effect on all of us, need to be thoroughly integrated into our daily lives? Or is there more a time and a place for such discussions to occur? The result after all, is a detraction from the achievements of the artists themselves, and a movement away from the importance of music as a medium in itself within our daily lives.
Just as there are two sides to every political debate, there are indeed two sides to this one. Is music the food of politics? Or, have we reached the point where we need to establish some boundaries to prevent politically-charged opinions creating an irreconcilable divide amongst us in every medium possible?