By Karl Nelson
Karl Nelson, the social media manager of The Armstrong Williams Show, attended the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in New York City.
President Donald Trump entered the Oval Office a year ago, and ever since his administration took over, we’ve all witnessed an overwhelming mix of politics and entertainment. Of course, the most notable example is the slew of protests that have taken place in professional sports, which was sparked by Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest. However, for the sake of this topic and given what we saw throughout the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, let’s focus on the love/hate relationship between music and politics, which has also been on display as of late.
This past year, there have been several musicians who have used their platforms to speak, sing and rap boldly against the president – something that was inescapable if you watched or attended this year’s Grammys.
Rapper Kendrick Lamar and Comedian Dave Chappelle kicked off this year’s show with a bold performance, delivering a message about race in America with American flags in the backdrop of the performance as well as backup dancers marching in army uniforms.
“I just want 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,” Chappelle said mid-performance. “Is this on cable? CBS? Because it looks like he’s [Lamar] singing and dancing, but this brother is taking enormous chances! Rumble young man rumble!”
Kesha’s performance of “Praying” was another noteworthy political moment during the awards show, as her performance abstractly touched on her “long battle with music producer Dr. Luke over sexual abuse allegations,” according to The Washington Post. In fact, before Kesha took the stage that night, Janelle Monae introduced her with a heartfelt speech where she made a reference to the infamous “#MeToo movement and the Times Up initiative, which offers legal support to those dealing with sexual harassment or assault,” The Washington Post noted.
“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,” Monae said. “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.”
Hillary Clinton even joined in on the so-called fun at this year’s Grammys by participating in a skit with the likes of John Legend, Cher, Snoop Dogg, Cardi B and DJ Khaled. The prerecorded skit mocked President Trump, as those who participated read excerpts from Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury.”
“He had a longtime fear of being poisoned,” Clinton read. “One reason why he likes to eat at McDonald’s. Nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely pre-made.”
As if that wasn’t enough political references for one awards show, it didn’t end there. As the night concluded, Rapper Logic shared the stage with suicide attempt survivors as well as family members of victims who are no longer with us. The famous millennial took that opportunity to speak strongly about the American people and beyond.
“Black is beautiful, hate is ugly. Women are as precious as they are stronger than any man I have ever met,” Logic said. “And unto them, I say stand tall and crush all predators under the weight of your heart that is full of the love they will never take away from you. Be not scared to use your voice!”
It came as no surprise to me that while many praised the Grammys for taking political stances throughout the show, there were also many people who found it annoying and unnecessary.
I’ve lost count of the people I’ve encountered who have voiced their disdain for the way politics has been integrated into the world of entertainment, specifically this past year. I heard the same sentiments following the Grammys.
After hearing both sides of the political spectrum voice their opinions about the current relationship between music and politics, it brought me to a million dollar question: Why are we suddenly acting as if this is the first time in the history of this country that politics has been integrated into the music and entertainment industries?
It’s time for a history lesson.
This rocky marriage between music and politics has existed for centuries. In fact, politics and music are similar, as they both are “rooted in conflict and harmony,” according to Live For Live Music. In both of these arenas, the main players are trying to create some type of societal change. Both music and politics allow for expression – expression that comes as a response to whatever the current circumstances of this world are.
Still not convinced?
Just as politics seeks to inspire groups of people, the same applies for music, and when you think about where we are today on issues of immigration, potential war, racism, poverty, and the list goes on, it actually makes sense that many artists and music-inspired platforms would take advantage of the opportunity to push their agenda. After all, name one politician in the forefront of the conversation who is not pushing his or her own agenda, at least to some degree.
If we’re going to discredit the music industry for using its platform to combat the president and the current state of politics, then we must also credit the music industry for celebrating this country’s achievements at pivotal times.
“From protest songs to voter campaigns, campaign rallies to musical endorsements and musicians campaigning, there’s been no shortage of love between music and politics,” according to Live For Live Music.
Take Woody Guthrie, for instance. Guthrie, a singer, songwriter and poet, was an artist who used his platform to protest with songs like “This Machine Destroys Fascists,” which highlighted music’s ability to bring people together for a cause.
How about singers like Billie Holiday who touched on civil rights issues in songs like “Strange Fruit.”
There’s also Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’” that urged America to turn from its old ways.
Oh and we can’t forget about John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” which became an anti-war anthem in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, Republican Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office looking to get America back on track after what was a rough presidency under Jimmy Carter. Music would later come into play during Reagan’s presidency due to “his slow reaction to the Aids outbreaks, allowing the CIA to help worsen the drug epidemic in the inner cities.”
It was those times that gave birth to N.W.As “F*** Tha Police,” a controversial hip-hop record that came as a result of Reagan’s “War On Drugs.”
In the 1990s, there was Madonna’s “Rock The Vote,” which attempted to encourage more young people to get out of the house and go register to vote. What did that lead to? It led to Bill Clinton’s first presidential term thanks to a large number of young votes.
Then, following President George Bush’s eight years in office, there was “Yes We Can,” a song by will.i.am that was inline with President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign message of hope.
And now we fast forward to present day where the likes of rappers Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Jay-Z, and Logic have each touched on political issues in their latest songs and albums. In fact, Eminem’s performance last year at the BET Hip Hop Awards took several jabs at the president. Eminem delivered a cypher that “questioned the President’s patriotism, criticized his policies and ridiculed his campaign promises,” according to CNN.
I’ve written all of this because it’s time for Americans to move away from dialogues that point to a history where music and politics have never intertwined. That notion is simply not factual, that’s unless we’re talking about alternative facts. | KMN